Visual Rhetoric(s) and connections to McCloud (or, duh, use Google)

It’s funny how I have managed to do a lot of stuff different in my teaching from the way I’ve done then in the past, and I’m just now realizing it mid-way through the semester. For example, while I’m not completely sold on what seems to me to be the current/recent emphasis on so-called “Visual Rhetoric,” I decided to have students in my English 328 class do a project on it. Among other reasons, I decided to include this in the class because Scott McCloud is going to be on campus in the Winter as the EMU McAndless Professor. We’re reading/discussing Understanding Comics of course, but I’m trying to find one or two other readings to supplement this. Oh, and I need to come up with a writing assignment, too.

Can you see how carefully this is all planned? Jeesh.

Anyway, a colleague of mine recommended the first chapter of Claude Gandelman’s Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts, but I don’t think that’s going to be right. Gandelman is coming at the issue as an art critic, and while this chapter is really interesting (it’s about the connection between “touch” and “vision,” and argues that the eye physically does not take all of an image at once), I don’t think my students will get the connection with McCloud. Derek’s comments on Bolter’s essay in the collection Elloquent Images makes me want to take a look at that book, but the EMU library doesn’t have it and someone has it checked out of the U of Michigan library. I think Richard Lanham’s essay “The Implications of Electronic Information for the Sociology of Knowledge” will work well as a sort of “bridge” text between this unit and the next ones, but it is slightly dated, originally published in 1994.

Of course, when all else fails, I do what my students do: I just Google something obvious, like “Visual Rhetoric.” Among many other things, this turned up The Visual Rhetoric Portal, a handy bibliography of materials on visual rhetoric, these resources at the University of Iowa, this David Blakesley course, etc., etc.

Sometimes the obvious yeilds surprising results.

5 thoughts on “Visual Rhetoric(s) and connections to McCloud (or, duh, use Google)”

  1. I think the best process-oriented supplement to McCloud’s text — if you understand McCloud as being more in the literary-critical mode, and needing a production-of-texts-oriented counterpart — is, by far, Will Eisner’s *Comics and Sequential Art*.

    McCloud shows how to read it. Eisner shows how to write it.

  2. This is an interesting point and one I’ll have to think about for next year. I have a very specific reason for wanting to use McCloud of course (see above), but I do have a copy of Eisner’s book around here, too. But I think a lot of what you’re saying could be applied to much of the scholarship in “Visual Rhetoric:” really, they are *readings* of texts, not so much about their construction.

  3. I agree about the readings point, although I think the smart, sophisticated stuff Jenny’s been doing with visual rhetoric stands as an excellent example of work on the production end of texts.

    The most interesting thing in McCloud, for me, is his attention to narrative and the question of what happens in the gutter, in the spaces between panels — I wonder if you could craft an assignment that asks students to compose two texts on the same topic, one visual and one scribal, each saying something via the uniqueness of its technology (e.g. the gaps between the panels vs. writing’s facility with constructing relations of abstraction and subordination) that the other cannot.

    Another possible source might be the widely anthologized first chapter of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

  4. I like the attention to sequence. One of the problems with the flurry of Web activity that followed the release of applications like Plasq’s ComicLife was that a lot of people were making simple collages, using facile rhetorics of juxtaposition, and calling them “comics.” I think that with the “sequence” thing, the pedagogical task you’re setting your students is considerably more sophisticated. (Might that merit a look at narrative theory — e.g. Polkinghorne, Barone, Newkirk — to think about the relationship between rhetoric and time?) If they’re amenable, I’d be very curious to see the texts they produce, particularly since I’m thinking about ways to follow your lead in constructing my own assignments.

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