Posted by: Doc Comics | April 26, 2010

Paper #3: Graphic Novel Analysis

Even Calvin & Hobbes dabble in rhetorical criticism of their favorite comic books, but your final paper is going to kick it up a notch by integrating concepts, readings, and analytic schema we’ve been surveying in this course.  As mentioned in class, your first step is to select a graphic novel collecting a series or storyline and research some of the author’s motives, the text’s core themes, and some of the best critical commentary already out there.  The next step is to formulate a few key ideas or themes that you want to explore in your paper, the guidelines for which are included in the course syllabus (and this paper shouldn’t be too terribly different in organization than your second paper on animated superheroes).  But keep in mind, the point of the exercise is to synthesize readings and concepts from the semester in your analysis.  Here is a quick review with some helpful tips for turning your own critical insights on a graphic novel into a critical rhetorical analysis using the D.I.E.T. formula.


First, DESCRIBE your graphic novel, its context, basic plotline, and perhaps use interviews or commentaries of creators or critics to establish the significance of its major themes and tropes.  This introduction needs to be concise, just a page or two, since you don’t want to burn too much space on description and skimp on analysis. The point is to offer a concise punchy justification for the importance or significance of your chosen text/character for analysis.

Next, INTERPRET your text using theories and concepts from the course.  A good idea would be to use the key elements of Reynolds, Coogan, and Lawrence & Jewett to descriptively explore your story’s characters, setting, and action plotline.  Since you can’t talk about everything, focus on what you find to be a few key concepts or themes that are central to understanding the rhetoric operating within your text, and use our superscholar trinity to do it.  Pay particular attention to those mythic themes that are being uniquely re-worked in your specific superhero fantasy.

As you then EVALUATE the fantasy elements and mythic themes you’ve just identified, draw upon the critical insights of course readings and sample analysis.  Chances are, you will want to focus upon either class, race, or gender so you can offer a deeper, more sustained critical analysis that draws upon specific critiques we’ve explored during the semester.  In your evaluation, you should draw upon specific concepts and critiques from the reading packet articles to guide your own critical evaluation. (Your readings journal should redeem itself here as a valuable exercise!) Engage in a conversation with relevant arguments and theorists, and make your case for teasing out the ideological meanings conveyed by your text/character! What does your text teach us, what can we learn, and why does it matter? What “struggle over meanings” is being overtly and covertly worked-out within your text?

Finally, your conclusion should THEORIZE about the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic functions of your graphic novel.  How does your graphic novel illustrate key ideas, concerns, and criticisms from the course? In what specific ways does it promote and champion a dominant ideology, and is there any counter-hegemonic potential worth noting? What mythic presumptions does your text make about superheroes and supervillains, their publics, redemptive violence, democratic institutions and processes, human nature, and collective solutions for social injustice? What is the underlying social commentary or message of your text?  Does your superhero differ from or challenge some of the mythic or generic features identified by Reynolds, Coogan, and L&J? How, and to what ideological effect?

Requirements: 7-10 typed pages (stapled, double-spaced, 12pt font, 1” margins, MLA format, spellchecked & grammar-checked with at least 7 sources) and demonstrate a proficient grasp of readings, concepts, theories, and applicable debates.  Due Monday May 3rd! A sample analysis is linked in the comments!


  1. Here’s a great example of an analysis that compares/contrasts BATMAN: YEAR ONE across differing media interpretations using scholarly concepts to critique the translations.


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