Introduction to Student and Former Student Works

The next section profiles the work of four current and former students of English 235: The Graphic Novel, a class taught by Jessica Baldanzi at Goshen College. I also completed the class—six years ago as a shy first-year—and as I worked on this issue with Jessica, I was delighted to revisit some of the concepts and texts that we had covered. I remember the wonder I felt in reading Alison Bechdel's Fun Home for the first time; the important conversations about religious and cultural representation that emerged from Art Spiegelman's Maus; and the delight in creating my own graphic memoir for the final project. As I designed my panels and sketched out my characters, I remember thinking—gleeful and somewhat baffled—this is homework!? Unsurprisingly, it was one of my most memorable college classes.

In reading through these four projects, it is clear to me that the class continues to inspire creativity and spark important exploration into the genre of graphic novels.

Samantha Horsch ('18) and Amanda Vanderzee ('16) use the graphic memoir form to investigate the nuances of their personality and emotions. In "A Little About Me," Samantha Horsch draws from characteristics of the popular Japanese style of comics, manga. She plays with iconic symbols and drawings to communicate emotions. On page 9, for example, a character embarrasses her in public, and Horsch draws his speech bubble stabbing through her, effectively showing the sting of his comment. Horsch's character responds in a speech bubble that is (literally) dripping with shame. This project is a perfect demonstration of the enormous emotional depth of possibilities that simple drawings can carry.

Amanda Vanderzee uses similar visual tricks in "Alone," a personal story meant to communicate that "alone doesn't always mean lonely." In the opening sequence, the scope of her narrative camera begins as a close-up on the main character reading a book, and then pans out slowly to show that she is reading in a room full of people. This not only shows the passage of time, but also sets the overall tone for the piece: quiet, unhurried, alone.

Grace Weaver ('16) tells "a grown-up story from a child's perspective" in "The Accident." Her whimsical narrative voice mirrors her drawings, which are cartoony and playful. She also uses the graphic memoir technique of using numerous forms of narration within the panels. For example, in addition to the narrator's voice telling the story, she adds a secondary voice that labels specific items or emotions in the panels (e.g., on page 4, she labels "Fluffy [the bunny]," "drool rag," and "hospital socks [with grippies!]"). This voice not only adds a fuller narrative dimension to the story, but it also mimics the nature of a memory, which brings specific things to the foreground in its recollection.

Sarah Rich ('11) weaves together the personal and historical in "36/19," a retelling of the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979. Rich and her husband worked as missionaries in Nicaragua, and she created this short graphic memoir during her time there. By distilling the complicated story of the Nicaraguan revolution into simple words and images, Rich demonstrates the accessibility of graphic novels, especially for historical and social justice purposes. In her commentary, Rich aptly observes, "When we are able to extrapolate from and interact with the narrative in the way that the graphic format allows, we become part of the narrative and the narrative becomes part of us."

This issue also prompted me to revisit my own final project from the class I took in 2010. In my piece, "All Things Grow," I used the graphic form to explore my relationship with my three older sisters. More than anything, I experimented with the manipulation of time, both in speeding up background information and slowing down specific scenes. For example, in order to give a context to the rest of the story, I devoted two large, consecutive horizontal frames on pages 1 and 2 to describe both the individual personalities of my sisters and our sibling dynamic as a whole. These montage panels span a large amount of time, but draw out specific details to shape the characters in an economical way.

Intentional framing can also slow moments down. At the bottom of page 5, I drew an aerial view of a moving car with speech bubbles emerging from it. The next two frames remain the same, showing no faces and containing no dialogue other than the music from the radio. The absence of dialogue and use of two identical frames slows time and puts more emphasis on the atmosphere of the moment rather than on movement.

I'm thrilled that there is still a space—both at Goshen College and in the literary community at large—that honors the intersection of art, history, and the humanities. Humans are drawn to reading visual cues; in even simple forms and mediums, if we can visualize something in both its concrete and abstract extrapolations we can more fully empathize with narratives that remind us of our own, but also those that are strange, new, or different.

Graphic literature isn't a simplification. The combination of art and text is not meant to over-explain or reduce. Rather it seeks to build dimensions into the story. Graphic novels leave ample space for imagination, particularly between the frames and pages. For this reason, we've chosen projects in which the text and the drawings not only complement, but also incite one another into greater expression.

About the Author

Mary Roth

Mary Roth, of Eugene, Oregon, is a native of Goshen, Indiana, and graduated from Goshen College in 2013 with an English writing major and a women’s studies minor. She is currently a copy editor at Wipf & Stock Publishers in Eugene and was a Luci Shaw Fellow at Image Journal in Seattle in 2013.