The most impactful, fantastical stories often come not from fiction but from our own richly diverse lives. Whether it’s experiences in surviving war, navigating cultural identities, or processing sexual awakenings, a plethora of authors have found an ideal medium for communicating these true-life stories in the visual-textual medium of graphic narratives. In this course you will explore autobiographical comics as a form of personal narrative ideally suited for communicating purposeful messages about culture, identity, and experience.
We will embark on an immersive journey through comics in which authors tell their own true stories with rhetorical purpose, such as revealing the nuances of cultural identity, illuminating the experiences of marginalized communities or perspectives, and/or promoting advocacy or change. The course approaches culture broadly as spanning multiple facets of identity communities, including ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religion, and survival (such as of war or illness). We will read excerpts and some full texts drawn from a variety of Bay Area and international cartoonists such as Art Spiegelman (Maus), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Powerpaola (Virus Tropical), Marcela Trujillo (Quiero ser flaca y feliz - I want to be skinny and happy), Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), MariNaomi (Kiss & Tell, Dragon’s Breath), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), John Lewis (March), Keiji Nakazawa (I Saw It), and others. You will engage in deep analysis of how these comics reveal and help create the rhetorical practices of particular cultural communities.
Through these narrative encounters you will consider questions such as: How does storytelling function as a vehicle for a purposeful message? What is the particular rhetorical impact of true stories that affects audiences differently than fiction? How can the process of writing an autobiographical narrative act upon the author? What strategies of storytelling are available when working with the visual, textual, and digital registers of rhetorical communication?
In the final project you will also be able to apply these observations in practice by creating your own true-life comics. The course will include a series of creatively engaging process assignments leading to this final project that include reflection-based writing for connecting personal experience to public-facing communication, storyboarding as a form of structural organization, practices of rhetorical storytelling, and engagement with texts on the theory and practice of making comics. You will have the option to create a physical paper comic or engage with other modes and genres, such as webcomics, photocomics (fumetti), or others. No previous drawing experience or expertise is required.
You will write two short pieces that will be published digitally as blog entries on a course website. In doing so, you are encouraged to incorporate an awareness of multimodal composition by integrating other media (such as images or video). The two pieces will include:
Each student will write one review of 500-1000 words that analyzes an autobiographical comic not included in the syllabus, focusing on a primary message or purpose and the particular ways the author communicates that message using multiple modalities. You will also share the game with the class through a 5-minute oral presentation.
Each student will also write one reflection piece of 500-1000 words in length that combines the writing genres of autobiography and research. You will be interweaving personal experience with an particular issue or message, bringing together self-reflection with the use of other academic and public-facing sources.
A small group of students will be responsible for introducing and leading each day’s discussion. In total, each student will join groups to lead discussion of two of the class comics texts. Each group will be responsible for adding context for the author and text and present focus questions on the discussion forum ahead of that day’s meeting.
The final project is the creation of a comic based on your true experiences that conveys a particular purpose or message through the mode of visual-textual storytelling. The assignment involves three primary stages:
In this 800-1200 word story proposal you will pitch your comic to a publisher seeking true life stories that engage with social issues, reveal aspects of an underrepresented experience, or engage with advocacy or change. This stage targets the following learning objectives for engaging in the practice of rhetorical persuasion particular to the proposal genre:
You will create a storyboard that visually conveys the structural layout of your comic. This component targets the following learning objectives:
The final comic should be 8-10 pages in length, or an approximate length in a digital mode of presentation. The assignment has the following primary goals:
Area of specialization: humanities, radio and podcast storytelling, journalism
Genre expertise: personal statements, conference presentations, dissertations, storytelling in argument, academic work for non-academic audiences, multimedia journalism, writing for the ear
Enjoys coaching: brainstorming, organization, narrative/story, scene-setting
Angela Becerra Vidergar has a PhD in Comparative Literature from Stanford, an MA in English from St. Mary's University in San Antonio, and a BA in Journalism and French from Baylor University. Aside from her work as a writing instructor and as a literary and cultural scholar, she is a freelance writer, multimedia journalist and former television news producer. Dr. Becerra Vidergar is a passionate advocate of improving the role of public communication in the humanities and is the host and executive producer of a humanities podcast called The Human Angle. Before teaching in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric she worked as Communications Coordinator at the Stanford Humanities Center.