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PWR 194AV: Drawn from Life: The Power of True Stories in Autobio Comics

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Winter: TTh 11:30AM-1:15PM

Units: 3

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1 or its equivalent

Course Feature: Cultural Rhetorics track

Course Description

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.

Main Assignments Types

Contributions to Course Blog

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:

1. Comic Review and Presentation

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.

2. Autobiographical Reflection

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.

Community Discussions

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.

Autobio Comic

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:

1. Story pitch.

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:

  • pitching a project by establishing a need or gap
  • defining a potential audience
  • describing your personal narrative as a story with which others can connect
  • demonstrating a knowledge of genre and medium, as well as detailed plans that convey how you will employ strategies that leverage those options for your particular message
  • using a research-based approach to demonstrate purpose and effectiveness in communicating the particular issue, community, or cause your comic will engage with

2. Storyboard.

You will create a storyboard that visually conveys the structural layout of your comic. This component targets the following learning objectives:

  • conceptualizing organizational methods based on story structure, logical progression, and managing multiple voices and perspectives
  • demonstrating knowledge of perspective, design, use of space, and balance between visual and textual context and how they function as rhetorical strategies to lead audience attention

3. Final Comic.

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:

  • practicing multimodal communication by interweaving a variety of small writing modes in one product (visual, textual, aural, video, animation, etc.)
  • identifying a primary purpose or message to guide your personal narrative
  • implementing rhetorical strategies best suited to convey that purpose and effectively engage with varied audiences
  • employ practices of storytelling such as voice, structure, character development, scene setting, and others in a nuanced, complex manner that demonstrate knowledge of narrative practices in multiple modes