Note: This website is an archive of the work I created for English 101 with Professor Morgen during the Spring Semester of my Freshman Year at Emory University.
This English course presented me with challenges that I hadn’t faced before. It forced me to rethink what writing was and how I went about it by fundamentally changing my understanding about essays. I also had to engage with graphic novels which was a completely new genre for me to analyze, and it also taught me that just because I submitted an assignment that didn’t mean that it was set in stone.
Up to this point in all of my English classes, an essay consisted of an introduction with an arguable thesis, 3 body paragraphs that explored it, and the conclusion which wrapped the essay with a neat little bow. However, this class taught me that essays were not just that, and in fact, should not be that at all. An essay should not be 3 body paragraphs that feature a strictly imposed outline format and should rather service the argument itself.
The most evident example of this was working on my Literacy Narrative. This was one of the more “traditional” English assignments that I did this semester, as its main focus was to tell the story of how I became literate. However, despite it being a traditional essay, I chose to not be restricted by the conventional outline format for an essay and let the story unfold by itself. I also did not form a strict thesis as I felt that the argument in the essay was clear enough without it being explicitly stated.
With this in mind, I decided that the best way to outline my essay was actually thinking about the paragraphs in terms of the images that I wanted to convey, rather than in bullet points of arguments I needed to state. Some of these images included receiving a book as a gift at my 11th birthday party, the rebirth of my passion for reading, and the arduous path that I took to receive the approval of my English teacher. Once I had settled on these images, it was much easier for me to determine what parts of my story were relevant to convey them.
My Literacy Narrative also proved to be a slightly different take on an essay because I knew I would eventually have to turn it into a comic, so my thought process relied on telling a story that could be told visually as well. Since I knew the final outcome of the assignment before I had even started, my initial reaction was to prepare for the end even before writing a single word. This forced my writing to show and not just tell my story, and it benefitted significantly. The reader was able to visualize the story more clearly as my intent with every word was to eventually spin it into a comic. I chose to tell my story through metaphors and similes such as when describing the state in which my teacher returned one of my essays: “The first time he returned an essay to me it looked unrecognizable, the red stains of his disposable BIC pen making it look like some poor soul had been shot while laying on top of it”. I could have very easily have described my essay as having many errors, but I chose to describe it with imagery instead.
In all of my previous English classes, I had never analyzed visuals or visual texts and then written essays about them. Therefore, analyzing graphic novels was a very new and interesting experience for me. Not only did I have to focus on the written word, I also now had to understand what the author was trying to convey through the use of particular images, which added another level of subtext to analyze. To be able to understand how to analyze images as well as comic pages hollistically, we spent a large amount of time in the beginning becoming literate in graphic novels. This was crucial moving forward because writing essays and analyzing graphic novels would have been impossible otherwise.
This was most evident in my analysis of the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. By redrawing pages from the comic, I was able to break it down into its more important elements to understand its construction. This process taught me about the visual composition of comics. In one of the pages, I noted that the shift in art style “consumed the page just like the moment consumed the character’s life”. This careful analysis would not have been possible at a quick glance, but by breaking the page into only the most significant elements, it became evident that this was the case.
What I found most interesting about this class was my ability to keep refining my work until the end of the semester. Art is never finished, only abandoned, and this class actually allowed me to redraft my work as I know that first drafts are never representative of my capabilities, but sometimes must be turned in. In all of my previous classes, once I turned in an essay, I could tweak it no further and therefore had to give up on my work at some point. This class allowed me to think about my work as a whole rather than as individual assignments and this created an opportunity for me to refine my work as the semester went on and I learned more about graphic novels.
As a Film Studies major, this class gave me the opportunity to refine my visual storytelling by learning how particular sequences of images could affect an audience. Not only does making comics relate directly to creating storyboards for my films, but it also correlates directly with shooting and editing film. Recreating my literacy narrative in a comic is exactly the type of work that I do in my other classes, as I usually have to take an alphanumeric screenplay and turn it into moving images. By focusing solely on the panels that mattered most to tell my story, I was able to better understand how to tell visual stories in the most concise way. In editing, it is crucial to only show the audience what is most relevant, and reading comics showed me the impact that juxtaposing images can have. In film, we call this the Kuleshov Effect, in which the meaning of images is created not by the images themselves but by their relationships with each other. By reading graphic novels, I was able to explore this in a way I hadn’t been able to, as in film, you don’t have two images side by side as you do with the novels. Not only did I learn new concepts about storytelling in this class, I was also able to further my knowledge about filmmaking as well.