The Visual Rhetoric of Persepolis


I figured I’d try something a little different with this assignment, so I posted a video of me talking about Persepolis for 11 minutes. Enjoy my beautiful face and silky smooth voice as I explain to you some of the brilliance behind Marjane Satrapi’s memoir. Enjoy!

Semiotic/Comic Analysis of Coraline


Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source:

Coraline: The Graphic Novel (Source:

I recently spent time reading and analyzing the graphic novel of Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by P. Craig Russell through the understanding of both semiotics and comic theory. The graphic novel is an adaption of Gaiman’s national bestseller that introduces us to a curious young girl named Coraline who discovers a secret, hidden door that takes her into an alternate world that is unlike anything she has ever experienced. In this world, she has a mother and father who are eager to spend time with her (unlike her distracted, “real world” parents), but with considerable strings attached. While I enjoyed the story, I was interested in how I was going to understand this graphic novel, which I will admit is a genre I do not usually read.

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Palestine, by Joe Sacco

Palestine is an interesting book, a work of comic-journalism (as the author Joe Sacco identifies himself), in that while exploring and existing in the muddy, unclear politics of the Palestine, Israel, and resettlement zones.

While Sacco the character plays out a fact-finding mission


Sacco the artist uses a variety of techniques to inspire sympathy for the people he lives with, those without a place in their homeland.


Abstracting, as explained above by Scott McCloud,comics theorist, is only one such technique, but it is crucial. Sacco turns to abstraction time and again for the natives that he comes in contact with; however his own character remains constantly abstract no matter the setting.


This is a planned and very powerful rhetorical move. McCloud writes that “when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself  “(p.36). So, by rendering himself-our touchstone in this journey-to a cartoon, Sacco forces us to explore the world ourselves.


It’s a very Robert Crumb face. This style is also a stylistic choice, as Sacco shows himself quite capable as drawing in a variety of styles.


So then, why the Crumb references? McCloud writes that “in R. Crumb’s world, the curves of innocence are betrayed by the neurotic quill-lines of modern adulthood and left painfully out of place” (p.126).

WP_20140423_011 palestine

This both separates Sacco/us from the environment, both strengthening our connection to him and emphasizing the harshness/realness of the world of the Middle East.

Conversely, the neuroticism of the world is often and effectively exaggerated.


Here, the IDF representative attempts to explain why Sacco and his companions can’t get through.

So what’s the result?

By investing ourselves in Sacco’s character, by seeing and experiencing vicariously through him, we develop sympathy for those he (we) lives with. This is of course, his goal. By avoiding making any statement of the rightness of either side, Sacco’s personal journey, which we follow along on, encourages it’s readers to at least become at least critical of the usual presentation of the average Palestinian.

Physical Politics in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns

Hate him or love him, Frank Miller-creator of (among other things) Sin City and 300 is very good at what he does. And what he does is propagandize. Ok. So what. All creators are propagandists.

So what’s my problem? Well, let’s avoid the whole tendency to draw swastikas whether there is a need or not, and move into the visual in-group/out-group world Miller creates

I recently watched the animated adaptation of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a comic I had first read when I was a youngling. Batman, I saw, could still kick a lot of ass at 55.

Batman at 55. I should age so well.

For those unfamiliar with the plot,  The Dark Knight Returns is a conservative fantasy. Hardy, masculine, go-getters MEN are marginalized by liberal PC society, and the whole place has gone to heck because of it.

Superman also answers to Ronald Reagan. I’ll get back to that.

Now, this plot I mentioned.

The new police commissioner, who’s in over her head.


A woman!

Her first tasks on the job are to ineffectually deal with the youth crime of Gotham and to place a warrant on Batman.It’s quite strongly suggested that gets her job due to gender politicking by the higher-ups. And, she doesn’t agree with Batman’s principles.

Neither does this guy, the psychiatrist.

He is a ruthless send-up of leftist intellectuals,  always with a theory of some sort, spouting semi-Freud while blaming society, or the government, or the overt masculinity of Miller’s Batman, while really only trying to make a name for himself.

These two are visual stereotypes; for Miller they represent liberalism. Miller encodes them carefully; the first only having her job because she is a woman, the second only really interested in personal gain. Visually, their bodies are thin, frail, weak; this being an intertextual, (how images/words/ideas of a culture relate to other images/text/ideas of a culture)  reference to society-at-large’s belief in a sound mind in a healthy body.

Miller intends for these characters to be reviled, or at least have negative connotations attached to them. This we know by comparison, the rhetorical highlighting of differences. Bat-hunk, Superman, even the lefty Green Arrow, Miller draws as big, physical men. They solve things with their fists, they are full of the ethereal quality of “gumption.” These are characters side-lined or frustrated by, as Miller’s Superman remembers, “Parent Groups and sub-committees,” mired by liberal bureaucracy, forced to the margins. Their very existence is a threat to liberal world, and as Superman warns Batman, “We must not remind them that giants walk the earth.”



Playing in the Gutter With Nylon Road

Nylon Road was much different than I thought it was going to be. There was a clear narrative, but not a linear one. The story was driven by Parsua Bashi’s reflections about her political, societal, and life values as they all came back to haunt her as she tries to balance her past life in Iran and her new life in Germany. But as I read the book, I was looked a little deeper than just the surface narrative and into the subtle semiotic devices used by Bashi.

I was interested in the play Bashi did with the space between the boxed images—the space that McCloud, in Understanding Comics, calls the gutter. This space, as McCloud explains, is where “human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea.” Understanding this makes parts of Nylon Road all the more interesting—particular parts like these two images of Bashi reading a book (picture 1).

Picture 1

Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin

Bashi’s arm reaching between the gutter has more than one effect. First, her arm sticking out between the images acts as a play on the domain of the gutter. This play across images is a demonstration showing that the gutter just as a much is a psychological space as it is a pause a physical location on the page. Though the conventional spaces between pictures act as a cue to the reader to prepare them for the next images and/or text, those spaces are not the solely gutter itself.

Her hand reaching between the two pictures is also a play that grays the lines between what constitutes a single picture. Does her arm unite the pictures into one? Or is the picture from the right trespassing into the one on the left? You could even argue whether or not the gutter is even there (take another look at the picture. The walls line up in the correct position between the two of them, almost making it look like the gutter was just a part of the picture).

Bashi also thinks like a comic maker—utilizing the benefits of comics that don’t commonly exist in other art forms like photography. For instance, many of Bashi’s images represent something more than single moments. Take this next scene from Bashi’s private art display (picture 2).

Picture 2

Courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin

Unless everybody in Bashi’s universe has the ability to respond to others before they know what they said, we have to assume that there are conversations going on in this picture that presumably exceed five, six, maybe ten seconds. As McCloud states, “Perhaps we’ve been too conditioned by photography to perceive single images as single moments. After all, it does take an eye time to move across scenes in real life.” So, maybe picture 2 is only as confusing as it is accurate. The people are sharing conversations at different locations in the room–not particularly in any synchronous order orchestrated by Bashi. Because of this, the reader must use McCloud’s “rope,” to make a winding path throughout the picture and determine the order of events.

Though McCloud doesn’t note it in the section of his book containing the aforementioned statement, maybe the gutter also applies to this image as well. After all, don’t we find ourselves separating the meanings of each of these conversations and then applying them to the others, despite the fact that they all take place in the same pictorial borders? Between every one of these dialogue bubbles–and even every face, piece of furniture and corner of the house–there are fuzzy, gray gutters that make all of these elements simultaneously autonomous and collectively contributory to the larger meaning of the scene.

After such an analysis of Bashi’s book, one can gain a better understanding about how illusive–and perhaps even omnipresent–gutters can be when reading such material is this. And I don’t doubt that Bashi knows she is toying with both the reader and the comic genre itself. Note even the single leg and corner of the coffee table protruding out of picture two; it’s just enough to let us know that Bashi is working within the generic framework of comics, but is in no way bound to it.