Home (Reflection Letter)

If asked if I’ve grown this semester I would say yes, but that is not all. I think I’ve re-discovered something about myself and about literature. Through the process of reading, dissecting and emulating graphic novels I was able to not only rediscover how I first came to enjoy reading but I found how complex the genre can be. I was exposed to various themes, styles and topics, ranging from serious, to personal, to humorous and more.  I rediscovered their complexity, all the intricacies, all the details, all the patterns which make an image and the set of images which fill the page. Through writing and drawing my own comic, I came to realize how hard it is to compose a page, let alone make it a good one. Even tracing pages of a graphic novel, as we did with Maus, helped tells the intricacies of a page. English 101 was a valuable learning experience which expanded my capacities as a writer, creator and thinker.

Purely based on the wide variety of assignments I have done for this class, I would say, even if I had not put in any effort whatsoever, I would have fulfilled the first outcome of this course. The assignments were designed specifically to reveal to students how complex and layered every aspect of graphic novels is, from inception, to creation and finally consumption. One assignment exemplified this outcome well: after reading Palestine by Joe Sacco and Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, we were asked to compare the two. Given that they were both journalistic graphic novels with vignette style divisions, it was a fitting couple to compare. In order to compare well, I looked for such things as author’s intention, style of illustration, writing techniques and more. Through the process of comparing I came to understand how authors address their style to certain audiences, how purpose can come through both in text and in images and more. While the assignment just dealt with Palestine and Pyongyang, I started to notice these kinds of details in my own writing. One way in which this showed itself most evidently is, I learned how to change my writing style based on who was reading it (classmates or people who already know a little about the text being discussed vs. people who know nothing). By completing the wide arrange of assignments done for English 101, I was better able to understand how to write for different audiences and purposes.

I consider myself a fairly competent writer. I tend to lean towards a more casual style of writing, but I have learned all the necessary forms of citation that I’d need over the years. English 101 proved me wrong. This semester I had to learn a new kind of citation: images. In many of our assignments – writing, sketching or otherwise – we were instructed to incorporate pictures in some fashion into the result. I assumed it would be as simple as copy-and-pasting something from the internet, but Professor Morgen made it clear that that was not the case. He taught us (or at least me) about licensing for pictures, which we can use and how we had to cite them if they were licensed for non-commercial use. For the first time ever, I used a licensing filter when searching for images. And licensing was just the first hurdle; I had to learn how to smoothly integrate image-citations into a body of text, which as I discovered is not that easy. In an assignment on Maus by Art Spiegelman, we were instructed to trace two page from either book (there are two) and analyze them for writing and illustration techniques as well as connect the pages to the rest of the narrative. The assignment was to be posted on several different overlapping pages on our own WordPress site. We were told to reference our own drawings,  integrate what Mr.Spiegelman was trying to convey visually into our own thoughts about the page while, as well as some ideas, images and quotes from the books and other graphic novels as well. I struggled with how to make the whole assignment flow while incorporating images as well as links and quotes. After writing each piece individually, I spent a sizable amount of time figuring out how all of the pieces fit together. In the end tracing Maus (and English 101) forced me to learn how to synthesize and cite information from others into my own writing in a fluid and coherent way.

If this year was anything, it was a process. We started by doing simple five minute sketches of ourselves and grew to drawing full comics and writing analytical essays. The most revealing of assignments was the literacy narrative project; a multi-staged endeavour which involved putting into writing the story of how you became the reader you are today and, in a number of steps, creating a short comic about it. Students were challenged to think not only of content but also of such things as audience, the medium of the comic, the page design, panel order, etc. For me it was a deeply informative experience. Reconnecting with how I first came to learn and love reading in a class about graphic novels was especially poignant for me, given that my first literary love was a graphic novel. Through my literacy narrative I recounted how as a child I had hated reading, I could hardly be bothered to sit down long enough to open a book. It wasn’t until I was given a graphic novel called Bone by Jeff Smith that I found a passion for reading. After drawing initial sketches for the literacy narratives, we exchanged rough drafts and critiqued each others works. It was an important step in which I learned a lot about what I had to work on. Many of the comments I received pointed to my sketch being too cluttered, hard to follow with confusing panel structure and layout. I learned from the critics I received as well as those I gave to my peers about their works. When I returned to make the final draft of my comic, it was totally different from the sketch because I had synthesized all of the corrections and the result was a much better and more coherent comic. The exercise of creating and critiquing demonstrated the necessity and benefit of writing as a process. The literacy narrative was a learning experience which taught me that writing and creating is a process, one which tells us a lot about ourselves and our work.

English 101 taught me as much about myself as a writer as it did about other writers. It showed me the different layers that are implicit in writing, from the perspective of both output and intake. It forced me to open my style to incorporate other’s ideas and concepts. Lastly, I learned the value of the process, what it can teach me and what it eventually can produce. Furthermore, the class has taught me valuable lessons which I can use in writing, creating, thinking about and discussing everything from the sciences, to politics, to food and more. The techniques learned in this class apply to much more than its content. While I enjoyed this year, it is the techniques that English 101 taught me that I will carry with me forever.