top of page

ENG 1020:

Introduction to College Writing

Through Comics








Course Website


Course Rationale


My teaching philosophy centers on putting students in a position to develop expertise within a single discourse while utilizing meta-cognitive activities that facilitate success in other academic and professional fields.  For example, in my “Introduction to College Writing” Course, I introduce my students to John Swales’s concept of discourse community and use the space of the semester to deconstruct the process of joining an unfamiliar discourse community: the academic field of comics studies. Students are asked to do a wide range of tasks including conduct  secondary research, intervene in critical discussions within an academic field, and compose both digital and traditional projects. For example, students interviewed comics store employees, composed a YouTube video book review and analysis, provided feedback to others in the community, and intervened in a critical conversation from an academic journal (ImageTexT or The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics) in a formal literary research paper. At each of these steps, students make arguments for their work and how their projects are persuasive, creative, and exciting for the members of their new discourse community. 

Table of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)






Course Texts
Hines, Adam. Duncan the Wonderdog. Richmond: AdHouse Books, 2010. Print.  Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.  Devitt, et al. The Wayne Writer. Custom ed. New York: Pearson, 2013. Print, eText available.
Course Description


In college, one of your primary challenges will be to gain access to unfamiliar discourse communities. Each class you take will place new and rigorous demands on you, and it will be imperative to familiarize yourself with the genres and modes of communication specific to the fields of inquiry you pursue. Each discourse community has its own vocabularies and multi-modal genres of discourse, but then utilizes those vocabularies and genres to specific, appropriate and diverse socio-cultural ends. This course is designed to support students’ acquisition of the adaptive strategies required to navigate academic discourse communities through an extended, rigorous, and guided admission into one discourse community: comics studies.


Comics studies are an emerging field in media and cultural studies, still developing its own terminologies, emphases and stakes. In this course, you will gain access to this discourse community by becoming familiar with: 1.) the medium of graphic storytelling and, 2.) the different genres of communication within the discourse community of comics studies. Lastly, this course will unearth how a specific discourse community engages with civic and socio-political issues. Students will choose one of three “tracks,” or civic themes, with which they will collaboratively trace the interrelationship between discourse community and social engagement: race and identity, gender and sexuality, and mental health. Whether it is the classic superhero (i.e. Ms. Marvel) or a more literary anti-hero (i.e. Nao of Brown), comics have a unique way of seeing social issues and constructing goals around their resolution.


Project Descriptions


Project One: Rhetorical Analysis (3-4 pages)


 In this assignment, we want to develop an understanding of how the discourse community of comics studies functions so that we can gain access to it and become valued, respected members of the community. Since the academic field of comics studies is a discourse community that we are attempting to gain access to (or imagining ourselves as gaining access to), seeking out a model for the genre of composition we will be producing (video blog) and analyzing their rhetorical techniques is an integral step for success. Below are a series of examples of video blogs produced by people in the comics community. After watching them all, choose one and dissect by using the following parameters: 


Write a 1500-2000--word paper that identifies, describes, and analyzes the argumentative and rhetorical strategies used by the author of the article you are assigned to study. Here’s the basic outline of the essay:

  1.      Introduction

  2.      Summary of video blog and description of video’s rhetorical situation

  3.      Analysis of video blog

  4.     Claim/Conclusion


Objects of Analysis: 


Swamp Thing Sample Video Blog 1                 Swamp Thing Sample Video Blog 2


Project Two: Genre Analysis “Vlog” (6-9 minutes) + Critical Introduction (3-4 pages)+ Community Feedback (3 responses of at least 200 words each)


When participating in a discourse community, we develop a public voice that communicates to other members in the community and creates opportunities for feedback. One such genre that is utilized in the discourse community of comics studies is the video blog (or “vlog).   In this assignment, you will construct a multi-modal evaluation of Alan Moore’s The Saga of the Swamp Thing. This assignment has multiple parts:


Reflective Introduction


For this project, you will be engaging in a conversation with other members in this discourse community. Therefore, you will be in a position where the decisions you make in creating this conversation need to have your audience in mind. The critical introduction to your video blog should outline the observations you made from your examination of other video blogs, the specific decisions that you made in the composition of your video blog, and comprehensive reflection on those decisions. I also want you to examine, in depth, one of the learning objectives for the course (writing, reading, researching and reflecting) and how you specifically evolved in this area. Use the specific language for the objective you choose!


Video Blog (7-9 minutes)


For this portion of the project, you will be composing a video using iMovie, Screencast-O-Matic, One Note or another web program that analyzes the generic elements of your Unit 1 (Superhero) text. This is your public voice in the discourse community, therefore it is important that you will want to properly use the specific lexias of comics studies. Use Understanding Comics to illustrate the unique ways in which, for example, The Saga of the Swamp Thing organizes its panels, develops a unique visual iconography, subverts the “superhero” genre, and/or constructs space and time narratively and visually. After substantial analysis (6-7 minutes), you might offer an evaluation/review (1-2 minutes), which is a common element to the genre of comics video blogs. Upload the video to your WordPress blog via youtube. Below is a teacher model (left) and student project (right)





























Feedback Responses (3 responses of at least 200 words each)


In a discourse community, it is important that members share information and receive feedback from other members. For this portion of the assignment, you will engage in a conversation (through the comment section of Youtube) with 3 other students’ videos. For this portion, choose one student from each sect of the class (environmental politics, gender and sexuality, and race and identity). Here you can voice support, offer alternative viewpoints, and challenge interpretations. Especially for the sub-field that you are a contributor of, you should be able to compare or contrast specific readings in a meaningful way. You comment should be addressing the CONTENT and NOT the presentation.



Project Three: Formal Research Paper (7-8 pages) + Synthesis Tree + Annotated Bibliography + Reflection


Thus far, we have looked at the ways in which our discourse community uses specific lexias in order to discuss and analyze comics through multiple genres, most specifically the video blog. The discourse community of comics studies also has multiple thresholds of members granted, in part, when those members exhibit “a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.” One such genre that a member with high discoursal expertise uses to communicate is a close reading analysis. This is also a genre in which we might begin to notice how members of this discourse community use comics think differently about social and political issues.


Synthesis Tree


A synthesis tree is a method used to graphically organize or “map” a conversation. Using Chapter 3 of The Wayne Writer as a guide, construct a synthesis tree in which you show how the three research articles you have chosen relate to one another.


Annotated Bibliography


An annotated bibliography is used, among other reasons, to evaluate sources and prevent procrastination. For this portion of the assignment, I want you to, in a few sentences, 1.) summarize the argument of the article, 2.) evaluate its appropriateness, and 3.) explain its usefulness to your research question.


Research Paper (7-8 pages)


In this assignment, you will generate a research question about a social issue that your Unit 2 text engages with (e.g. environmental politics, peace/conflict resolutions, animal ethics and welfare, etc. in Duncan the Wonder Dog) and pursue that question using the Library research guide. You will then compose a close reading analysis in which you show how your text allows us to think differently about this particular social or political issue. Focusing on only a few passages, develop a creative and insightful reading about the text and incorporate your outside research as appropriate. Use the article we have read in class (“The Challenge of Communicating Complex Problems: Can Art Succeed Where Academia Fails?”, Dr. James Arvanitakis) as a sample of how to construct a social argument through the medium of comics.


Reflection (3-4 pages)


For this reflection, think about the decisions you made in your composition of this genre. Look back to your first project: were you able to overcome the obstacles that prevented your access to this discourse community? How did you overcome these obstacles? Look back to your video blog: how did your language or methods of composition change from the video blog to the close reading analysis?


bottom of page