One of my favorite courses to teach is my Writing for Interactive Media course. The first reason I love this courses is fairly obvious: it is fun to talk about contemporary multimodal projects in popular media. My students and I feel like we are cheating the educational system because we are addressing issues that we tend to pursue as fun activities outside of the learning classroom (Facebook, YouTube, etc.). This brings me to the other reason why I like teaching these courses: my students understand complicated concepts better when these concepts are exhibited within a context or genre students find familiar and less intimidating. Furthermore, students are given a more expansive view of their own rhetorical capabilities when they are composing through multimodality.

A prime model of this type of multimodal composition that communicates complexity in a piece that is not a traditional essay is Scott McCloud’s (1993) famous work, Understanding Comics: the invisible art. Not only did McCloud unveil a deeper knowledge of the comic book genre as using visual and textual modes to tell a story, he demonstrated his argument succinctly in the format that he was defending. McCloud’s analysis of comic books is inclusive of the popular reader who can exercise visual literacy but does not encounter enough instances in educational environments. In this work, McCloud establishes the relationship with visual and linguistic communication through logical argumentation and a visual narrative. Also, Understanding Comics is a multimodal composition that exhibits much of what James Paul Gee (2004) describes in Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schoolingas “home literacies”; this is the idea that “the vast majority of children enter school with vocabularies fully fit for everyday life, with complex grammar and with deep understandings of experiences and stories” (p.16). If only students were able to exhibit this literacy in the classroom.

Hence, I was inspired to bring the composing genre of comic books to my Writing for Interactive Media course. The text I use in this course, Writer/Designer: a guide to making multimodal projectsby Kristin Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl Ball, helps me ground this assignment in a composing classroom. Arola, Sheppard, and Ball (2014) state in the preface to this text that “providing students with the chance to experiment and reflect on composing in different modalities will help them develop the confidence and competence they need to leverage both old and new technologies and media for successful communication” (p. vii). My goals in class align with the author’s here because designing a multimodal project, like a comic book, is a springboard towards a larger spectrum of communication that gives students confidence to compose in old and new technologies.

Writer/Designer gives an excellent introduction to visual and linguistic composition in the section on storyboards. Although a storyboard is largely designed as a guideline for video or animation projects, a storyboard and comic both “[represent] a text that moves through time” (Arola, Sheppard, and Ball, 2014, p 96). An instructor can choose to focus on the visual and linguistic multimodal composition of the comic book alone, or the instructor can have assignments build on each other so that a comic book can eventually serve as a storyboard for video or documentary project. For the time being, I have chosen to use the storyboard section as a foundation for a comic book project.

Before assigning my students this assignment, I created a comic myself that exhibited the principles I had in mind for the assignment. I wanted to lead by example with my students and show that the genre of comic books could convey a complex message through both visual and linguistic modes (with some spatial and gesture modes sprinkled in). In this piece, I debate with Quintilian on issues of education structure and literacy. By having a dialogue with Quintilian, I am able to give the reader a visual narrative of my discussion with a figure central to education. The comic book simultaneously allows for visual storytelling and a linguistic dialogue that brings the reader into a fictitious engagement that breathes new life into rhetorical and educational theory.

I enjoyed creating this comic book because it helped me show my students that one can address academic issues in the format of a comic book. Even more, this comic book exhibits the expansive academic message a composer is able to relay to a reader within a visual and linguistic multimodal composition.



Arola, K., et al. (2014). Writer/Designer: a guide to making multimodal projects. Bedford/St. Martin’s: 2014.

Gee, J. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: the invisible art. New York: HarperCollins.