To Visual Narratives, and Beyond!

By Dalaney Goodyear

This Jan term, students in Fred Johnson’s Visual Narratives course (EL329) got to learn the ins, the outs and the in-betweens of comics, graphic novels, and other forms of visual narratives. Over the past three and a half weeks, the class examined many ways through which stories can be told visually, and evaluated how techniques and methods of comics are used in other forms of media and story-telling.

The aim of the course is to explore the complex, interdependent, and effective relationship between images and words, and to evaluate what happens when authors make both images, design, and text essential components to the story they tell.

In class, we spent time with a wide variety of graphic novels and comics, ranging from the work of Lynda Barry, who merges essay and collage, Joe Sacco, who does war-zone reporting in graphic novel form, to Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of many Marvel works. The course has something to offer every student, regardless of his or her background with comics.

Eamonn Eppinga-Neff said, “I loved this class, but then I went in loving comics in the first place. The fact that others have enjoyed it proves this class is good with people familiar with comics and for those without experience.”

The course involved reading various kinds of texts, exploring online interactive programs, games, and puzzles, watching films that employ comic-like storytelling, sketching comic pages in class, and hefty amounts of time discussing the complexities of it all.

Erin Wolf said, “I love the discussions that have come out of our classes. I love that about most English classes, actually – that a big part of the learning comes from discussion among classmates rather than being lectured to. It’s a participatory environment that I find really valuable.”

The course culminated with the creation of a visual text of our own, where we worked to apply the concepts we had studied all term to a visual story. The results of those projects varied, from a detailed account of the process of scripts being passed from person to person by Kalani Padilla, to a comic-style retelling of “Dover Beach” by Alli Kieckbusch, to a comic-like adaptation of a previously created adaptation by Erin Wolf.

No matter what kind of visual narrative each student created, by the end of the course one thing is for sure– we all walked away with a much deeper, much more thorough appreciation of comics, visual narratives, and how the different forms of visual storytelling interacts and pulls from each other in our world today.

Kalani Padilla says, “When I look at a comic, I can now say somewhat intelligent things about what it’s doing, and perhaps why, and perhaps how. It feels like a superpower to have active eyes in a world as visually numbing as ours.”

The superpower of having active eyes in a visually numbing world, as Kalani says, is my greatest take-away from this course as well. I now have a greater understanding of the compelling relationship between words, images, and story, and I have been challenged to consider the power and impact of images in our world.

As a future teacher, I am taking from this class the importance of teaching and learning about the power of story, and the importance of having freedom to tell stories different ways, and with different tools. In our ever-changing world, with ever-changing media, it is essential to consider the infinite possibilities of narrative.

Be sure to take Professor Fred Johnson’s Visual Narrative course to learn about all the fascinating aspects of visual narratives!






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