Graphic novels through graphic teaching

Joy Wagener

I began this week’s reading with the Cohn, Rabkin, and Nodelman pieces, thinking they’d prepare me for what I would have to figure out in the more graphically presented material in the McCloud chapters.  I started with what was familiar, yet was completely thrown by the language they used and the material they discussed—it just didn’t connect as well because there were not always illustrations of what they were talking about.  How can you explain a graphic medium without including some graphics?  For example, Nodelman’s article goes into tremendous detail about the stylistic devices used in graphic literature. He discussed the format, mood, shapes, lines, symbols, point-of-view, focus, color, and movement in graphic novels, yet he includes few than 25% of illustrations of these styles.  The Cohn article (“Mis-en-Page”) offered more complicated information (theory?) about graphic novels which left me feeling more confused about what he was discussing; he included a few illustrations of what he was discussing, but I cannot say that I really understood his point about “conventional, rhetorical, decorative, and productive” conceptions.  I felt these articles were informative, and even interesting, but I had no idea what I was missing until I picked up the McCloud chapters.

McCloud described all of the stylistic devices of graphic novels that the other authors discussed, but instead of just telling about it, he actually showed it to the reader.  His delivery of information about graphic novels through the media of a graphic novel was highly effective and I found myself really enjoying the lesson.  I especially enjoyed his conversation about the “closure” leaps made between panels of a comic and the chart of those closures on page 74.  I referenced these closure methods throughout my live Tweet of “Nat Turner.”  I’ve read comics and graphic novels before, but I had never really thought about how much the reader invents the story between panels.  Then in chapter four, McCloud goes into more depth with the use of time made between panels, in the “gutters.” It’s very easy to follow along and understand the concepts used in graphic media.

Having completed the reading, I felt armed and prepared to take on “Nat Turner.” The pre-reading material made “Nat Turner” more enjoyable for me as I was able to identify the stylistic choices and techniques Baker used to tell the story, leaving out information and allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.  I’ve been tossing around the idea for a while now of teaching a graphic novel to my students, and now that I have these articles and information in hand, I feel well prepared to do so— but they’ll definitely have to read the McCloud book before reading the assigned graphic novel.

One thought on “Graphic novels through graphic teaching

  1. Professor Sample

    Yes—what makes McCloud so valuable is the way he enacts the very principles he’s describing and analyzing. My guess is that Understanding Comics would teach very well to a high school audience. In small doses, even to middle school students, I think.

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