Paper about global comics

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In this paper we’ll practice thinking like a formalist critic by doing a close reading of a comic.

In Module 1 and Module 2, we learned to identify some formal features of comics and to understand comics as a collaboration between words and pictures. In Module 3, we learned about formalist criticism, which focuses primarily on interpreting the form of an artwork, rather than the artwork’s relation to its historical or social context. For your first paper, select a comic from one of the options below and write a short, formalist reading. Your paper should focus on your interpretation of the meaning of the comic via its formal features.

In your paper, 1) identify as many formal features as you can; 2) analyze at least two meaningful interactions of words and images; 3) discuss how reading the comic in terms of its formal components contributes to your understanding of it in surprising or subtle ways. 2 pages, due Sun 4/26 by 11:59pm. Before submitting, please review the guidelines for formatting papers in the syllabus.

Some questions to ask as you read and take notes: What message or story does this comic convey? How does the comics artist make use of the formal features we studied in modules 1, 2 and 3? What effects do these formal elements have on the reader? How do the formal components of the comic contribute to the message or story? Remember that not all elements are present in all comics.

Close reading options for Paper 1.

Please download/view the files. The images on this page are intended as previews only.

1. Marjane Satrapi, Excerpts from Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon, 2004.

Persepolis is a retelling of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran in comic form. The memoir weaves together the author’s personal experience with the major events that shaped her country’s modern history, including the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Please note that the excerpts presented here are not sequential. “The Veil” is the first chapter of the first volume. “The Shabbat” and “The Dowry” are the last two chapters of the same volume.

satrapi 1.jpg

2. Chris Ware, Excerpts from Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Pantheon, 2003.

Chris Ware is an American cartoonist. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is a graphic novel following Jimmy, a mid-30s loner who is suffering from his father’s abandonment of him as a child and the continued presence in his life of his overbearing his mother. Ware’s style is widely praised for its precise and architectural qualities. Please note that the excerpts presented here are not sequential. Pages 1, 2 and 3 in the excerpt provided here are one sequence. Pages 4 and 5 both are separate and come from later in the work.


3. Will Eisner, A Contract with God. W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.

A Contract with God is often called the first graphic novel. Will Eisener was an important American cartoonist, known for his work on The Spirit in the 1940s and early 50s. Eisner helped popularize the term ‘graphic novel’ to describe this project. He also wrote Comics and Sequential Art, an influential contribution to comics studies. A Contract with God is taken from a collection of standalone but thematically linked stories that focuses on American Jewish tenement life in the early 20th century.


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