155 – Drawing the Line

Fall, 2013
Tuesday/Thursday 11:30-1pm
Stokes 207 (Ken) and Stokes 301 (Theresa)

Ken Koltun-Fromm
Gest 201
Office hours: Monday/Wednesday, 12-1 pm
610-896-1026 (office), 610-645-8324 (home)

Theresa Tensuan
Stokes 111
Office Hours: Mondays 12-2, Thursdays 3-4
610-896-1420 (office – Roxanne Clark), 484-431-7895 (cell)


Drawing the Line: Autobiography as Graphic Narrative

Comics can show a reader how to see the world differently by demonstrating how a frame both focuses and delimits one’s vision, by drawing upon visual iconographies that  encode as well as subvert cultural norms, and by inviting a reader to get her mind in the “gutter”—the formal term for the space between panels in which a reader actively inserts herself to animate and interpret a series of frames. In this course, we will read a range of graphic narratives that play out different modes of narrating one’s life, from origin stories that rival those of DC or Marvel superheroes to a self-described “autobiofictionalography” that dances across the line that is supposed to separate fact from fiction.

In our discussions of Alison Bechdel’s “tragicomic” Fun Home and Art Spiegleman’s graphic narrative of his family’s experiences in Hitler’s Europe and in a post-W. W. II United States, we will investigate the ways in which different works cast authorial personas and make claims regarding the truth of one’s own (and others’ imagined) experience. In studying Adela Vasquez’ transgendered conversion narrative, we will look closely at how graphic narratives negotiate constructions of gender, class, and race in relation to the rhetorics of individual and national identity.

Lynda Barry’s portraits of the artist as an aggrieved adolescent and David B.’s depiction of his brother, family, and nation seized by inexplicable and uncontrollable forces speak to the  interrelations between the configuration of one’s environment and the corporeal constitution of one’s identity, a theme that we will be exploring in relation to the work of resident artist Pato Hebert—whose own work explores graphic narratives as a material space created by narrative rhythms, graphic configurations, and publication formatting. How are graphic narratives built? How do we narrate our built environments?

Class Preparation and Assignments

Preparing for Class: As an intensive writing seminar, we will continually read when we write, and write when we read; the two activities are intimately related and are mutually reinforcing. Think about writing when you read, and consider what it means to read your work when you write (what do your words and sentences sound like, or who is the ideal reader of your essay). Come to class prepared to critically engage the readings for that day and to discuss style, grammar, structure, argument, turns of phrases, voice, and the writing process itself.

Writing Assignments: You will be experimenting with a variety of writing assignments ranging from close analyses and reviews of literary texts to autobiographical reflections. You will learn how to write detailed and compelling narratives, how to identify conventions and genres, how to use evidence in constructing logical arguments, how to write persuasive essays, and how to contextualize and cite sources. In addition to short writing exercises throughout the semester, you will write five draft papers and five revisions of those drafts (only the final revision paper is graded).

The frameworks for the five paper topics are, in order assigned:

Textual analysis paper (2-3 pages)

For your first paper you want to focus on a particular problem, issue, or frame in Spiegelman’s Maus and attempt to analyze its function, or the problem it seeks to address, or perhaps even suggest ways to understand it. You need to do a close reading of that text or frame: you want to uncover the nuances of the words and images by drawing out your own interpretations and analyses. A nuanced reading is one that does not treat a text/image as a proof-text but as a source or resource for critical analysis. Some things to consider as you draft your paper:

  • Your paper should be two-three double-spaced pages.
  • Your introduction (which may be the last thing you actually write) should be short, to the point, and we should be able to read it and know what your paper is about.
  • Although you want to focus on a problem, you want to translate that problem into an issue and a thesis.
  • Remember, this is a draft, so be bold and creative!

Comic Page

For this second paper we would like you to produce your own autobiographical comic. You create this graphic narrative using one 8 ½ x 11 inch sheet of paper.  You may decide to do a one frame comic, or a four, eight, and even sixteen frame narrative, depending on how you decide to configure this page. The idea here is that you become conversant in the graphic form, and offer a compelling narrative that is autobiographical in nature and scope. This work is also the initial iteration or the opening engagement with the installation piece that comprises your final project.

There are a number of online resources you can utilize for this project, as well as software (ComicLife) that streamlines the production of a comic page. You should include (as an addendum) a one-page reflective analysis of your comic page. Some things to consider:

  • Have serious fun with this. You have a chance to become a cartoonist, and to think creatively about conventions of graphic narratives.
  • You must include your own analysis of the comic page as part of this assignment. You should write that analysis as you would any close reading of a text.
  • Your final project (see below) includes an installation piece in Ryan Gym, and this comic page will, in some reworked form, take part in that larger undertaking. In both assignments we will be working closely with Pato Hebert.

Textual analysis with secondary source paper (4 pages)

For your third paper we would like you to engage your close reading of texts with a broader audience of readers and interpreters. You should again focus on a particular issue, problem, or frame, but this time in either Cortez’s Sexile or Bechdel’s Fun Home. Engaging secondary sources should help you create a more robust account of your textual reading. So this paper builds upon the first assignment and asks you to now offer a close reading of texts in the context of other readers of that text. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your paper should be roughly four double-spaced pages.
  • You do not want to simply offer a close reading and then add secondary sources. Instead, you want to weave those sources into your reading such that you can engage those sources, and in so doing augment your own voice in relation to those other voices.
  • You should limit those secondary works to no more than two sources.
  • You want to consider how to integrate these secondary sources and how to position your own voice alongside them. Do these sources inform your own reading? Do they offer additional support for your textual interpretation, or do they suggest poorer readings? Why take these sources into account? What do these sources help you accomplish?
  • You do not want to set up these secondary sources as “straw men” that you then chop down. It is important to offer charitable readings of these sources, and then suggest how they miss or confirm something, or raise important issues that you want to address.

Thematic or comparative paper (5 pages)

For this fourth paper, your focus should be on developing a broader thesis about a particular text, a group of texts, or an issue discussed in class. You must still use your skills of textual analysis to support your claims, but the analysis should primarily develop a cohesive and persuasive argument. To be sure, close textual analysis papers do this too; but the focus here is less on a particular textual issue or problem, and more on how that issue/problem offers compelling resources for your thesis.

Installation and Analysis (5 pages)

For this last assignment, you are to cultivate all the tools and methods you have employed in the previous papers and put them to use here. This project includes both the creation of an artwork in Ryan Gym as well as a written assignment: a textual analysis paper (first paper) that places your own voice as an artist (second paper) among secondary sources (third paper) in the service of a larger, thematic argument (fourth paper). You want to think of this project as the product of all the work you have accomplished over the course of the semester, and you want this to represent your best work.


The writing assignment process for the five papers maintains an identical structure. You will turn in a draft essay on Wednesday, followed by small-group tutorials, and then turn in the final draft the following Wednesday. We will determine the meeting times for tutorials once all class schedules have been finalized, and may tweak this schedule to accommodate our diverse calendars.

Reflective Class Blog

Everyone will participate weekly in our class blog. You should post short reflective comments (no more than four sentences) about various topics related to this course: reading assignments, installation projects, autobiography, related material from other courses, personal reflection, etc. Responding to peer comments “counts” as participating in this blog.

The use of technology in the classroom: You must bring all readings to class and be prepared to read, cite, and engage those texts in the seminar. Some of you may prefer to bring in computers or other technology to access these readings (instead of printing them out as a hard copy). For those who wish to use computers or other devices in the classroom, you may not use those devices for anything other than engaging in and committing to the seminar. When we step into the seminar room, we become a community of intellectual learners, and that community requires commitment and attention. If computers or other technical devices interfere with that learning process then we will no longer allow those devices in the classroom. This means that if your use of a computer or similar device prevents you or any of your peers from fully engaging the class, then you will be required to remove that device from class. Only under special conditions may you use a cell phone for communication in the classroom; normally these devices must be turned off or left outside the room. The basic premise is this: when technology enables intellectual commitment to the seminar, then we should use it; when it undermines that commitment, we should leave it alone. Please come and see us if you have concerns about using technology in the classroom.

Accommodations: Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a disability are encouraged to meet with us privately early in the semester. Students should also contact Rick Webb, Coordinator, Office of Disabilities Services (rwebb@haverford.edu, 610-896-1290) to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations as soon as possible. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.


We hope your work improves as the semester progresses, and so your final grade for the course will reflect that trajectory. We do not evaluate each task with percentage accuracy (your final work is not worth, say, 30% of your grade, for example). Instead we examine all your work as a piece, and provide a grade that we hope expresses the work and attention rendered to the class assignments, your peers in class, and your class participation. This process also allows us to take into account improvement during the course of the semester. Your graded assignments include:

  • Five revised papers (drafts are not graded)
  • Clear indications that you have read and reflected upon class assignments
  • Class participation
  • Reflective blog participation throughout the semester
  • Involvement and commitment to tutorials and the process of revision

Texts for Purchase

  • Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus
  • Jamie Cortez, Sexile (available online and as a high def PDF)
  • David B., Epileptic
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
  • Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!


Origin Stories

  • Week 1
  • 9/03 (T) Introduction and general overview
  • 9/05 (Th) (Rosh Hashanah) Both classes meet in Stokes 106: The Multicultural Center, or MCC. Chris Ware’s “Thrilling Adventure Stories” will be handed out in class for discussion. Writing Assignment due in class: on a 3×5 index card, share, on one side, an image of yourself; on the other side, write down one word that describes you, three words that set out an aspiration, and nine words that convey something about you that someone might not know just by looking at you (i.e. committed, cultivate new growth, played marimbas in marching band; cries while watching “Drumline”).
  • Week 2
  • 9/10 (T) Maus I: My father bleeds history through Book 1, Chapter 2 “The Honeymoon”; excerpt from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (on Moodle). Writing assignment due in class: select a single frame, or a short series of frames, and take twenty minutes to reflect on the following questions: What do you see as the significant details or components of the image?  How does the image work in relation, or in tension with the text? What do you see as significant or surprising about this frame/this set of frames?
  • 9/12 (Th) Spiegelman, Maus: Finish Maus I  through Chapter 6, “Mouse Trap”

class blog

  • Week 3  (Tutorial sections begin meeting this week. Anne Lamott’s “School Lunches” handed out in tutorial)
  • 9/17 (T) Finish Maus II
  • 9/18 (W) First paper draft due
  • 9/19 (Th) (Sukkot) Finish conversation on Maus

Drawing the Line

  • Week 4
  • 9/24 (T)  Jaime Cortez’ Sexile; classes meet in Ryan Gym;  Pato Hebert participates via Skype
  • 9/25 (W) First paper due
  • 9/26 (Th) Continue conversation on Sexile. Writing Assignment due in class: think about a key turning point in your life (i.e. the discovery that the Tooth Fairy does not exist, a shift in allegiance from the Steelers to the Eagles, a change in your political or religious purview) and write a 1-2 page conversion narrative.

class blog

  • Week 5
  • 10/1 (T) Cortez, Sexile 
  • 10/2 (W) Second paper draft due
  • 10/3 (Th) Group presentation on Sexile. Writing Assignment: consider two distinctly different environments through which you move on a regular basis; write a 20 minute reflection on how those environments shape or foreground particular elements of your identity, as well as how you shape/envision those (material, cultural, political) landscapes.  
  • 10/5-6 (Saturday-Sunday) Twenty-four hour comic challenge….
  • Week 6
  • 10/8 (T) Pato Hebert Visit
  • 10/9 (W) Second paper due
  • 10/10 (Th) Show and Tell: Two minute lightning talks; Comiccon in NYC

class blog

  • Week 7 – Fall Break

Typographies and Intertextualities

  • Week 8
  • 10/22 (T) Begin conversation on Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home through Chapter 2, “A Happy Death.” Writing Assignmentselect an element from Fun Home or from a news story that is currently in circulation and create a new frame for the image/photograph/phrase. You might select an image from Bechdel’s work/The New York Times/People magazine and recrop it, offer new captions, incorporate it into a new visual field, or take the image to illustrate another issue or concern. Whatever form this assignment takes for you, write a 1-2 paragraph reflection that considers your role in recasting this image or idea: i.e. what you choose to make central, to place into the margins, to leave outside of the frame. What does this reflect about your own interests, concerns, or agendas? 
  • 10/24 (Th) Continue conversation on Fun Home; read through Chapter 4: “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”
  • Week 9
  • 10/29 (T) Finish Fun Home; group presentation on Fun Home
  • 10/30 (W) Third paper draft due
  • 10/31 (Th) Finish conversation on Fun Home

class blog

Blood in the Gutter

  • Week 10
  • 11/5 (T) Art Spiegelman, “Blood in the Gutter”; Begin David B.’s Epileptic
  • 11/6 (W) Third paper due
  • 11/7 (Th) Continue conversation on Epileptic
  • Week 11
  • 11/12 (T) Continue conversation on EpilepticWriting Assignmentselect a key page, passage, or vignette from Epileptic and write a 20 minute reflection on how the images work in relation to—or in tension with—the text.
  • 11/14 (Th) Finish conversation on Epileptic

class blog

  • Week 12
  • 11/19 (T) Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!
  • 11/20 (W) Fourth paper draft due
  • 11/21 (Th) Barry, One! Hundred! Demons! Writing Assignment: create a color illustration of a demon to add to Barry’s pantheon.
  • Week 13
  • 11/26 (T) Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!
  • 11/27 (W) Fourth paper due
  • 11/28 (Th) – Thanksgiving

class blog

Show and Tell

  • Week 14
  • 12/3 (T) Small group presentations to combined classes
  • 12/4 (W) Fifth paper draft due
  • 12/5 (Th) Small group presentations to combined classes
  • 12/6 (F) – Pato Hebert critiques
  • Week 15
  • 12/10 (T) – Pato Hebert/culminating class conversation
  • 12/11 (W) Final project due
  • 12/12 (Th) Final class/Show and Tell

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