Category Archives: Visual Thinking

A Comic Draft for JAEPL

First Draft of Comic for JAEPL #20

The editors over at JAEPL are planning a special issue for their 20th annual issue, and they invited me among others to submit an article that “either updates or takes a retrospective look at the research you’ve done and the effect you believe it had not only upon your own scholarship and teaching, but on that of others.”

They asked for something between 4000-5000 words.  Given that I’m now teaching a graphic novels class that also asks my students to try their hand at drawing comics, I asked them if they’d take a comic from me that surveys the work I’ve been doing in visual thinking.

Here above is a photo of a 10 page rough draft of a comic I quickly sketched out today.  It’s tentatively titled “To Understand and To Be Understood: Drawing as Learning.”

Gosh, that was fun.

I’m wondering now if there are academic journals out there yet that only accept work in comic format.

What about it, Nick Sousanis?


Visual Agenda 1st Day

first day visual agenda 6-2- 14Here is the visual agenda for the first day of class next week in my summer Reading Graphic Novels class.  Given the course topic, I’m trying to draw as many examples of sequential art as possible in my teaching of this course and the lesson plan or agenda for the class is a good way for me to show that.

  • Panel 1 = introductions
  • Panel 2 = review the syllabus
  • Panel 3 = ask questions about the syllabus
  • Panel 4 = diagnostic on what students already know about graphic novels and comics
  • Panel 5 = lecture and workshop on visual thinking
  • Panel 6 = homework for next class

More on this class here.

More on my use of visual agendas here.


A Comic Syllabus Complete

In my previous post, I explained I would be creating a syllabus in comic format for my graphic novels course this summer, primarily inspired by Austin Kleon’s mention of Lynda Barry’s forthcoming Syllabus and because I would be having them draw comics as well.

Yesterday, I completed the project, and here is a photo of all of the elements I used in the process of creating this syllabus spread out on the table in my office.

Table of Show Your Work Comics Syllabus

At top are the four books we’ll be reading in the course: Watchmen, Understanding Comics, Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, and Palestine.  Top left is a draft of the syllabus in text format, and at top on the right is the extra large Moleskine notebook I used for drawing the comic pages.  On top of the notebook is the comic page template for laying out the different pages, and these pages are spread out there below the four books.  After drawing each page with my trusty Pilot G-2 07, I scanned the page into Photoshop, cleaned things up a bit, and used the paint bucket tool for simple coloring.  In the center of the photo is the 12 page 5.5 X 8.5 inch comic syllabus booklet I will give to my students June 2.

Here are the pages in color, starting with the cover.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_01

I wanted to create a version of myself as narrator to include in the comic, so I chose something simple, given my rudimentary drawing skills.  This idea of the continual presence of a narrator primarily comes from Scott McCloud’s presentation of himself in Understanding Comics, but also from Lynda Barry’s work in One Hundred Demons and What It is.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_03

OK.  Speech balloons or narrative boxes?  I couldn’t really decide.  So a mix along the way.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_04

Part of the challenge of drawing this comic was adhering to university and State of Texas guidelines about what course syllabi must include, such as outcomes and assessments above.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_05

Another challenge was to include visual information without over-explaining or being too dependent upon text, such as the bottom image above which describes the process of incorporating hand drawn responses in the life of the classroom.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_06

In the image above, I wanted to give students a quick sense of the arc of this short summer session of about 5 weeks and where the major reading assignments and projects would fall.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_07

And here is the second page of the inside spread.  It’s another requirement of course syllabi that each day’s topic or assignment be designated, so I tried to create a coding system and schedule that would augment or expand upon the previous page.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_08

This above is my favorite page.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_09

I use contract grading in all of my classes now.  A fuller visual explanation of the minimum requirements for handmade responses and comics will take place in class.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_10

And above is a little more business again required of all syllabi, but still useful information.

Comic Syllabus image pages_Page_12

And finally, the back cover showing the 21 formats for handmade thinking that students can easily refer to.  They will be drawing two handmade responses for each class based on these simple visual templates.  More on handmade thinking here.

So there you have it, a pretty simple little comic that will serve as the visual syllabus for the class, but also demonstrate, I hope, how simple my students’ comics can be for the course, a course–by the way–for English majors and minors, and other students interested in visual storytelling.

A Comic Syllabus

I have for some time wanted to provide my students with an illustrated version of my course syllabus.  So after being inspired by seeing this, and after deciding I would give students in my summer graphic novels course midterm and final assignments in which they would draw comics, I decided it was time for me to give the comic syllabus a go.Comic Syllabus Step One 5 6 14

So pictured above is the original syllabus accompanied by the first draft layout of the comic syllabus.   And here below is a detail image of my comic self in the first four panels.

Comic Self for Syllabus

Now, on to the text!



The Older I Get

Earlier this week, on Monday, I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, to present a talk and workshop on visual thinking as a strategy for engaging students more effectively in reading assignments and other course work.  I’ve already written a bit about this opportunity here.

In addition to the presentation and workshop, I wanted to do a bit of time travel back to my days at Southwestern between 1972 and 1976, so I walked around campus and drove to where I used to live in town, and also spent some time at San Gabriel Park along the North San Gabriel River.

San Gabriel Park

I also wanted to find a poem I had written in 1973 that led to me winning the literary festival award in poetry that year, an experience that kickstarted my thinking about the possibility of majoring in English.  It also prompted me to see writing and poetry as core features of my identity.

Unfortunately, I no longer had a copy of that poem, even though I had a photograph of me sitting with the other festival winners in poetry.  That’s Bill Cates on the left, Cary Campbell in the middle, and me on the right.

1973 Literary Festival

But I do remember thinking that the last time I saw the poem that I was a little embarrassed by its simplicity and awkward phrasing.  Still, it opened a door to the person I am today, so I wanted to find a copy for my own records.

Last week, I looked on the Southwestern library electronic catalog and had trouble finding the 1973 edition of Southwestern Magazine, the student literary and arts magazine, so I emailed the library staff for help.  A staff member there found a catalog entry and sent me an email with a link to a entry which identified a copy on microfilm

I left early from San Angelo on Monday, and after a four hour drive or so, I walked over to the library, pulled up the email on my phone, and saw at the bottom of the entry that there were also hard copies available in Special Collections.  I walked up to the top floor, filled out some paperwork, and was then handed a box of Southwestern Magazines from 1970-1980.

I hadn’t remembered that this little magazine was published three or four times a year, but there they were all neatly huddled together in this box.  Little journals in all colors and sizes.  I reached in and began pulling out one by one those that were recognizable to me, focusing on 1973, the year I won the festival prize.

I thumbed through each magazine from that year, and I found other poems I had written during that time, but I couldn’t find the poem I was looking for.  I was confused because I was sure it had been published in one of the collections that year, but I couldn’t find it.   Convinced I overlooked it, I went through all of the magazines again.  Still no luck.  I stood there, 41 years after the fact, wondering if I had only imagined the poem being published in the magazine.

The librarian in special collections came over and asked me if I found what I was looking for.

“No,” I said, “Maybe it was never published.  Or maybe it was printed in the student newspaper instead of the magazine.  I guess I don’t remember it after all.”

So I handed him the box of magazines, and both disappointed and confused, I headed over to where I would give my presentation/workshop later in the day, wondering if I just didn’t look closely enough in the box and thinking maybe I should go back later and look again a third time.

That afternoon, after making sure the audio-visual was in place for my presentation, a few members of the campus community, faculty, staff, and students, began filing into the room.  I greeted them one by one, introducing myself and learning their names.  One woman walked up to me and said,

“Hi, you must be Laurence.  I’m Joan Parks, and I work in the library.  We talked on email about that poem you were looking for.  And here is a copy I printed for you off of microfilm.”

And sure enough, there it was.   And here it is.

real eyes

I am very thankful to Joan for finding this for me.

Reading this poem of mine by the me who was 18 years old at the time helps me remember him and the kind of serious fun he liked and I like when writing our poems.

But what strikes me now as I read the poem is the fact that here was a poem about vision, about seeing and knowing and not seeing and not knowing, and there I was back in the same place four decades later talking about visual thinking.

As my pal Tex would say, “The older we get, the more we get to be the who we already were.”


Notes on Breathing

There are times when I get  the urge to write or draw, so I begin to look for something to read.  

Or something to look at.

This urge comes to me not because I have something to say or an image I want to make.

It’s because I want to have the pleasure that I know comes when I write or draw.

And I know I have to be in conversation with other ideas or other images to generate that pleasure.


The conversation begins with listening or seeing, and then my part in the dialogue is what I make in return.

So my words or my drawings are my replies.

No conversation.  No reply.  No pleasure in the making.

Just silence.  And darkness.

Creativity is nothing special, of course.

But it has requirements.

Like breathing.

Like breathing in light.





Visual Thinking at Southwestern U

I’m happy to report that my proposal for the President’s Innovation Grants Initiative at Southwestern University was just approved.

Here’s my proposal: Musgrove Proposal for President’s Innovation Grants Initiative

In short, I will present a workshop titled “Visual Thinking for Engaged Learning” and thereafter support three junior faculty members as they incorporate visual thinking strategies into their classes at Southwestern.  As a Southwestern alum (I received my BA in English in 1976), I am very glad to participate in this initiative.

Doodling a System of Evaluation

Our faculty senate has charged departments to reconsider our current system of evaluating teaching at Angelo State.  We’ve had a number of discussions in my department (English and Modern Languages), and as chair, I’ve established an ad-hoc committee to introduce some possibilities to the department.  Yesterday, I was beginning to worry a bit that we might not be making as much progress on this project as I had hoped.   Then early this morning, a version of the following woke me up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Eval of Teach EML Flowchart