outside reading report

Your task is to produce a 300-400 word critical review essay on the outside reading text you’ve chosen, which I’ll then post here, on our course website, so that we can all get a glimpse into texts that didn’t quite fit into the syllabus.  As word counts go, this is fairly short, so please try to avoid any unnecessary meandering or throat-clearing (“Since the dawn of time, man has arranged images in sequence to tell stories.  Comics is a rich literary art form, worthy of our respect, praise be to Spiegelman, amen.”).

When I say review, I don’t mean purely value judgment, and I especially don’t mean “this book was lousy and here’s why.”  Nothing on the list of texts for this assignment is worthless or uninteresting; your task as a smart critical reader is to find what’s interesting or compelling or worth discussing about the text and then articulate it for your audience (namely your fellow students and me, but theoretically any interested reader or potential reader of comics).  By now, you know things about the form, aesthetics, and history of comics that other readers don’t necessarily know.  Think of this knowledge base as a tool for discerning and explaining what’s interesting and noteworthy about a particular comic, especially where a less informed reader might not notice anything out of the ordinary or might dismiss the work out of hand.

If you want to see some models for what smart comics reviews might look like, The Comics Journal generally has good reviews.  Dylan Meconis’s “How Not to Write Comics Criticism” is a useful how-not-to, though I hope none of you would be falling into any of those traps.

You should be noting things not only about plot, character, setting, theme, and so on, but also formal and aesthetic qualities of the comic itself.  Knowing what you know about comic form, what can you say about the artistic style, or about the relationship between text and image?  How do these formal and aesthetic choices impact the narrative itself?  Is there a tension between narrative content and aesthetic content?  Do they reinforce each other in interesting ways?  Is the art particularly striking for one reason or another?  McCloud and Eisner are, as always, good touchstones here for things to be thinking about, as is the assignment for the panel analysis.  You should include at least two scans or (legible) photos of moments from your chosen text, so that your readers can see what kind of aesthetic(s) the text employs.

Again, a review is not merely a personal reaction of like or dislike, nor is it a plot summary.  A worthwhile review will not only encourage or discourage an audience from picking up a particular text; it will shape that audiences’s understanding of the text and of the conversations it might open up.  You are writing not merely as people who have read some comics and who have opinions, but as people trained in close and thoughtful analysis of comics, trained in vocabularies and theories of how comics work, with insightful things to say about comics you encounter.  Remember, too, that you are writing for an audience that hasn’t read your particular text, and that may not have heard of it or its author at all.

In summary:  your main job here is to find and articulate what’s interesting about the text you read—even if you didn’t necessarily love it, as may well be the case.  Your personal reaction is interesting to you and probably you alone; your critical (in the “critical thinking” sense, not the “stop being so critical” sense) reaction, though, can and should tell an audience much more interesting and useful things.

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Due in my inbox on Sunday night, March 24th, by midnight.  Again, PDF format is highly preferable.

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