A Picture Can Mean A Thousand Words. A Comic Strip Can Mean Millions.

Graphic novels & comic books are an interesting genre to explore. A lot of people (probably your parents) probably didn’t see flipping through these ‘picture’ books as ‘really reading’ like textbooks & literature, and that they perceived it as more of a past time than anything. You were having too much fun to really be reading & learning—but that is precisely the value of these graphic texts.

We learned a lot of morals and values through those super-hero comics, or Dr Seuss books, believe it or not. And as children with minimal attention span, being able to want to continue reading and not perceive it as the traditionally tedious ‘reading’ that we usually avoid is HUGE. Visually-saturated text masters the skill of grabbing your reader’s attention.

But with high reward comes high risk. Using visuals—especially if you choose to go completely wordless in your text—requires heavy perspective-taking and empathy-building with the reader to ensure that your metaphorical imagery conveys what you mean to convey. Here are some things to keep in mind as you lay out the story of your visually based adventure:

  • Shock your reader… occasionally. Experiment with using visually complex imagery that may challenge your reader’s predictability for what they expect you to do. Surreal and unreal art, when appropriate, can bring a lot of attention to the reader to an exaggerated feature in your imagery. Just make sure you don’t abuse this too much such that your reader is just left plain-out confused.
Source: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/1-montreux-jazz-festival-keith-haring-.jpg

It’s hard to not get drawn to Keith Haring’s exaggeration of this person’s elongated body. The simple depiction of an uncommon feature draws our attention.

  • Colours tell a story. Especially with black and white graphics, the colours you decide—from hue, brightness, and contrast—can invoke certain feelings and focus the reader’s attention on certain sections of the panel. Colours are a very subtle way to emphasise something with a low likelihood of confusing the reader.
  • Think outside the frame. Change up the spatial mode of the comic strip or organisation of your visuals. Add variance to the gutter (space between each frame) or the size, shape & organisation of the frames themselves. This is a great way to manipulate the reader’s perception of time on a still image (how long or short they read the panel).
Source: http://img09.deviantart.net/ec71/i/2012/289/e/7/unconventional_comic_pg__5_by_stargnome-d5i1wfn.jpg

One of the top image results for ‘unconventional comic’ in a popular search engine. Notice how panels bleed over each other, the dialogue that leaks outside the frames, the vertical organisation of the story progression, and the sizes & shapes of the frames.

  • Perspective-taking is #1. Because you won’t be as explicit in describing a character or setting, you need to empathise with whether a reader would be able to feel and imagine the same things you want them to through your more ambiguous representations.
  • Be very intentional. Like any text, take into close consideration what you are deciding and not deciding to include in your text. Unlike the traditional word-heavy text, though, you have a very small & limited number of panels to communicate your message versus a book’s tens-of-thousands of words. A reader is likely to spend half a minute just staring at one panel, trying to consume all the information, even.
  • Take advantage of visuals. You can now literally draw things of important value to a character or plot development without having to depend on slightly imperfect words. Focus on painting vivid panels, focus on drawing facial & gestural expressions to invoke feeling, etc. You can also better convey movement and action by drawing these in, making a still image come alive. Words should complement your visuals, not be your main focus.
Source: https://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/001/204/462/8b6.jpg

This meme could be our metaphor for substituting heavy text with detailed imagery. Think of it like this: with less vivid visuals, the more you probably will have to explain via text what you want to convey, which just exacerbates the messiness of a panel and a potentially uninteresting paragraph to the reader.


The graphic & visual text genre is a massive genre with many underlying branches. Take a look at just a handful of the many graphics, including Keith Haring’s artistry to understand the importance of art form in graphics.

Keith Haring’s ‘Pop Shop Quad II’ (1988).

Source: www.haring.com/!/art-work/816#.W9OjNmhKiUk.

Consisting of a collection of four of Haring’s ‘Pop Shop II’ art pieces, this collection focuses on displaying an interesting level of surrealism in his art that is frequently seen in all his art pieces in different forms. Haring plays with the limitations of the human body by creating a four-legged figure, a hovering figure, an elongated & highly flexible figure, and two figures combining bodies together. By experimenting with the uncommon and unimaginable, Haring’s simplistic yet signature art styles draw the attention of many who are simply intrigued by this unusualness. The unsettling uncomfortableness with the unreal is visually attractive. Often times, these pieces also only include one figure (or one conjoined figure), showing that it is important to not create an information overload with too many moving parts in the visuals that may confuse the reader.

Keith Haring’s ‘Retrospect’ (1989).

Source: www.haring.com/!/art-work/822#.W9OiS2hKiUk.

This large collection of Haring’s works throughout his career as an artist displays the numerous techniques he uses to distinguish his artistry. He frequently includes straightforward pictures with a single anomaly to attract the viewer’s eyes (i.e. two figures in the portrait, except one of the figures is looped inside the other figure’s body that has a gaping hole in it). Haring’s simplistic yet bright colours also make the imagery easy to understand despite the surrealism, which is important when trying to ensure complex imagery is still easy to consume. Another interesting concept that Haring uses is his motion lines that help to show movement in the visual, such as a moving joint or limb. This is also highly significant for static imagery, since this allows us to convey moving parts to communicate a mini-story as the figure moves.

Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918).

This popular wordless graphic novel exhibits the significance of choice in including certain imagery in each frame. For instance, some may include a highly simplistic illustration of only an individual supported by a black or white background, whereas others may include many individuals or objects in the portrait to explain relativeness or a de-focus on the subject and instead the environment & setting. With limited space to convey explicit detail and movement, attention is drawn to facial expressions and the gestural mode to show action. Black and white colours also allow Masereel to contrast the darkness versus light, which allow him to play with many emotions that this may connotate.

Frans Masereel’s The City (1972).

Similar to Masereel’s other pieces, he uses his black and white visuals to develop a story without linguistics. The City especially emphasises Masereel’s usage of intricate details and create a highly detailed environment for the reader to immerse themselves in. Instead of construing story and character information through many frames, Masereel creates complex visuals that allow the reader to get a highly detailed understanding of the context solely through one or two frames. This showcases the value of providing enough information, especially with a short comic strip, to quickly develop a meaningful plot without losing the reader’s interest.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000).

Persepolis is a graphic autobiography that describes a young child’s development to adulthood whilst in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The black-and-white visuals effectively complement the text to communicate a fluent narrative that allows the reader to directly engage in the text through visualization. The colour choices in which sections were either black or white help to communicate ‘dark’ and ‘light’ in terms of what could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Satrapi’s mastery of colour draws focus and invokes feelings, crucial for any visually-heavy text. Additionally, the spatial organisation and size of the comic frames alter the reader’s sense of time in consuming the text and order (or lack of order) of reading it.





The Happy Medium Between Science and Personality

For my past experimentation, I took a more scientific approach on a personal experience. While, the insight gained from this process was extremely useful, something was missing when the information was presented in a purely scientific format. The voice and personal experience that was cultivated through the series of diary entires was lost. So, for this next experiment, I plan on combining the personal experience of the diary entries and scientific basis of the literary review paper into a comic. I think this will be a great platform, because in cartoons and comics, authors convey current events, controversies, or historical events in a comedic or personal manner, which amplifies a reader’s reaction to the piece.

Traditional comics have relatively the same overarching characteristics of creating an argument or claim, usually through humor. They are usually published in online or print magazines and newspapers, and therefore lend themselves to an intended audience of people who are interested in the subject, so scientists, professors, and students for scientific comics. However, I think comics are so powerful because their audience invoked is so large. Anyone who reads the magazine or newspaper where the comic is located is exposed to it, whether they are originally interested in it or not. In fact, some people skip straight to the comic section in the Sunday news.

Here are some traditional comics that caught my eye:

After researching some examples for formatting a comic, I found that there are a few variations in the genre:

  • Color vs. black and white
  • Multi-strip vs. single strip
  • Comment blurb vs. words throughout

This helped me narrow down what I want to do for my piece. Looking at different examples, I find the color comics more eye-catching and will use that technique in my own piece. I believe that my message will be better suited for a single strip, rather than multi, comic. Also, having words throughout my comic will flow better than containing them to blurbs.

While many comics use humor to further their claims, I feel like this might be inappropriate to talk about such an impactful disorder like depression. Therefore, for my experiment I am choosing to go against this norm of the comic genre, and instead attempt to draw deeper and more emotional reaction from the readers, while still keeping the same formatting structure.

I think what I hope to emulate is more along the lines of a project that my friend, Kathryn Rossi, a student at FIT, created for her math class which she shared via her Instagram @kathryn_rossi:


Text to Image…probably

I keep coming back to this one idea: abstract illustration.

  • Why, Emily, whatever do you mean? Are you going to do an art?
  • “…probably”
Let me catch up my new blog group and anyone else who happens to read this:
For my repurposing project I paired 3 original high fantasy vignettes (short fiction) with an exploratory nonfiction piece.
Concept illustration of the Waystone Inn from Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind

So, my idea is to create 3 illustrations, 1 for each vignette. Either that or a short comic, but I’ll come back to that.

These illustrations wouldn’t necessarily be straightforward images of what my text is describing, but they would also ideally be manifestations of my original intents for each vignette. Which is to say, it’d get a little abstract. Of course, abstraction may also be a product of my artistic style and ability.
That’s one thing I’m kind of worried about for this idea, to be honest. The style I art in may not be conducive to the thoughts I’m trying to get across in the context of my vignette. However, if I think about the images outside of the context of my vignettes and only as separate creations within themselves it could work out pretty well.
K. There’s one.

Now the comic option. This would still focus primarily around my vignettes, but it would leave more room for the author-audience direct communication I love so, so much.

Chibi style comic by MartAiConan on deviantArt
The chibi style pictured to the right would make it fairly easy to add a humorous element to my vignettes, which are otherwise pretty serious. Using a comic could take the same content, but twist it to create a different tone for a different audience.
This could potentially be the scenes direct from the vignettes, or a more superfluous interaction between author and the same elements within the vignettes.
Either way, it seems like a lot. Especially since most of this is digital drawing.
That last goes for the previous abstract art option, too. Though I could definitely do something nondigital, I haven’t every really crossed that threshold outside of technical drawings. I’m not sure if I even have the proper equipment and software for that.
Ah well. These are some solid ideas, and I’ll definitely go with one of the two…eventually.