My decision to keep the Comics class out of the rest of my Coursera options isn’t just about the pop culture/high culture divide. It’s also a class where I have a very particular learning goal in mind. I’ve read comics and graphic novels intermittently throughout my life, but I am very aware of the ways that my reading has always been focused more on language, plot, and characterization — the things I’m good at and was trained for in grad school. This approach has always given immense short shrift to the visual content of comix.*
So by taking this class, and by choosing this particular class as the one to stay with, I’m hoping very precisely to strengthen my understanding of the visual elements of comix, and how to read them as visual documents.
Now, there’s no stakes, really, if you take a MOOC course and do it only halfway — watch only part of the lectures, or watch all the lectures while skipping the assignments. But I’m enough a believer in active learning that I usually try to do all the lectures and “homework” in the MOOC courses I take. This is part of why I try to be thoughtful about not overloading my schedule.
What I hadn’t counted on with this class is one of the main homework assignments: drawing your own mini-comic book!
This connection may not be an inevitable one, but I can certainly say that in my case, my lack of facility with visual analysis is pretty closely tied to my absolute lack of talent as a visual artist. And I don’t think this is a case of perfectionism or false modesty. I just don’t have this sort of talent. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, I can’t sculpt. None of it.
So needless to say, I’m just a little bit freaked out about this assignment.
In his set-up to the assignment, the professor reassures us all that everyone is insecure about our drawing skills, so we shouldn’t let that stop us from trying. And I get that. I can even imagine — at least in an abstract, hypothetical way — fulfilling this assignment by embracing the power of the stick figure, as I’ve seen in xkcd (or, out in the blogosphere, in some of Tempest Rose’s posts).
But even beyond that technical question, I have no idea of what story to tell in such a compact format. This mini-comic is supposed to be only four pages long, and four pages of comic isn’t very many words. And I have proved again and again here on JALC how readily I can be verbose — and how very verbose I can be.
Because this class is so very no-stakes, I’m aware there’s always that backdoor out if I need it. Ultimately, if creating a mini-comic becomes something I really, truly can’t do, I don’t have to do it.
Considering my usual patterns of perfectionism, and the use-value of getting more practice with trying new things (even things that turns out as less-than-successful or even as downright failures), I’m at least going to make the “good old college try” at thinking through a small story that can be told with stick-figure visuals. This assignment isn’t due for another month or so — that gives me some time to work it out.
* I’m gonna start using this as a shorthand for “comics and graphic novels” — I know I’m borrowing the convention form someone, though I can’t remember who at this particular moment in time…
Image credit: http://pixabay.com/en/ballet-dance-dancing-stickman-151846/
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