Tracing Maus

Due: February 25

XP: 300 points

You will trace two different pages for this project. A “page” means a single verso or recto page. You may do a two-page spread only if that spread forms a coherent unit. A two-page spread will count as one “page. (You’ll need tracing paper to complete this project. Tracing paper is available at most office or art supply stores or from Amazon.) ((Thanks to Mark Sample. This assignment is modeled on an assignment he’s used with his students before.))

First Tracing

  1. Pick a compelling page from Maus and trace it. Your goal is not to create a look-alike reproduction of the original page but rather to distill the original page into a simplified line drawing. If there are caption bubbles or boxes, you should trace their outline, but please do not copy the text within.
  2. Once you have finished tracing, scan it digitally and save the file. Either print out the scanned image or photocopy your trace page, so that you can draft the next step without worrying about destroying your first trace image.
  3. 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.
  4. When you are satisfied with the annotation on the traced page, scan that page and save the digital image at a high resolution.

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 visual tension with your first tracing.
  2. After you have traced this page, replace steps 2 through 4 above, this time annotating with an eye toward what makes this page different from your first selection.

Upload both of the final traced pages with your annotations to your site. You will embed these images when you write the Synthesis and Reflection.

I recommend that you take notes for the synthesis and reflection described below 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.

Synthesis and Reflection

In the synthesis and reflection you will work through the process and product of the tracing activity in essay form. You will publish this essay directly to your domain, on as many separate pages as you think is appropriate.

Your synthesis and reflection should be approximately 750 words (which would amount to about 3 pages in a more “traditional” paper). You shouldn’t think of this document as a typical research essay. It 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 that goes well beyond highlighting what is “interesting” about the pages you selected or your tracings of those pages.

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?

Think about taking advantage of the medium of web publishing while you write your reflection. You can link internally between the different parts of your reflection. Think carefully about how you allow your reader to navigate through the refection. Do not organize your synthesis and reflection as 2 pages, one where you describe each traced page. We’ll discuss in class potential organization systems.

You will likely find that it is useful in your synthesis and reflection to include not only the full tracings you have made, but also to crop the original images into smaller detailed sections and then to embed those as well. I encourage you to do so–just make certain that you also include the full pages someplace.

Other Details

  • Audience: You should assume an audience that has read Maus and thought about it a little bit, but who understands the books not quite as well as you do.
  • The style of your written reflection should be “academic casual.” I expect clear, coherent, grammatically correct prose.
  • Your total grade will include both the tracing and annotation pages and the synthesis and reflection.
  • You are not required to use any outside sources for this assignment; however you are allowed to use Understanding Comics or any outside analyses of Maus as you write your reflections. Make certain that you cite any sources (and link to any texts that are online).

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