tracing project

To start:  choose one of the graphic narratives we’ve read so far this semester in its entirety (so not the short snippets we read in the first few weeks, because I want you to tackle something you’ve read all of). This includes everything up through Incognegro and BB Wolf and the Three LPs.

To complete this project, you’ll also need tracing paper, which is widely available at most office or art supply stores, and I suspect (if someone could confirm this, that would be helpful) the PSU bookstore has some as well.

The main task here is to trace two different pages from one graphic narrative. A two-page spread is acceptable only if that spread forms a coherent unit (e.g. pages 100-101 of Fun Home). A two-page spread will count as one “page.”


First Tracing

  1. Pick a compelling page from the graphic narrative and trace it. Your goal is not to create a look-alike reproduction of the original page. Rather, it is to distill the original page into a simplified line drawing. If there are caption bubbles or boxes, you should trace their outline, but don’t copy the text within.
  2. Annotate your traced page with “gutter text”—your own text, written into the gutters and empty captions of the pages. Think of your gutter text as a dissection of the page, in which you highlight both the salient and the subtle characteristics of the page’s panels. Consider the various formal features of the drawing: color, saturation, shading, line styles, shapes and sizes, angles and placement, perspective and framing, layering and blocking. Consider the relationship between the elements on the page: the transitions between panels, the interplay between words and images, the way time and motion are conveyed. Consider overall layout of the page: the use of gutters and margins, the arrangement of panels, the flow of narrative or imagery. In other words, zero in on the kinds of elements that McCloud and Eisner have taught us to zero in on—and the kinds of elements the panel analysis primed you to focus on.  Important: Photocopy your tracing onto regular paper before you begin annotating it in order to preserve your original tracing. You may need several copies, in fact, in order to have room for all of your annotations.


Second Tracing

  1. For the second tracing select a page that feels distinctly different from the page you traced earlier. Maybe there’s something about the overall layout, or the artistic style, or the tone of the page. In any case, select a page that provides some sort of visual tension with your first tracing.
  2. After you have traced this page, again annotate it, this time with an eye toward what makes this page different from your first selection.


Synthesis and Reflection

The synthesis and reflection is a single document in which you work through the process and product of the tracing activity. I recommend that you take notes for your synthesis and reflection as you work, instead of waiting until you’ve finished tracing. You will probably discover much during the actual process of tracing that you’ll want to talk about for the reflection.

Your synthesis and reflection should weigh in at 500-800 words (roughly 2-3 pages double-spaced). This can be more open-ended and tentative than the usual essay in which you are expected to conclusively “prove” a claim. Think of it as a “tour” of your tracings—but a tour in which you go beyond just highlighting what is “interesting” or eye-catching about the pages you selected.

There are many ways to approach the synthesis and reflection, but one promising point of departure is to explain what drew you to the two pages you traced. There are many other aspects of the tracing process and product to think about in your synthesis and reflection, including (but not limited to) the following:  what did you find yourself leaving out of the tracing? What did you find yourself striving to include in the tracing? Why? What did the act of tracing reveal about the page? What did the product of your tracing reveal? Is there a difference between the two? How closely does your tracing capture the dominant narrative or visual themes of the overall work?


DUE:  Tuesday, 4.16.13, in class



[This assignment gleefully stolen from Mark Sample.]




(I will leave the baby koala here, because, well, obviously.)


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