Fawaz Qashat

Comics and History Annotation Process

Written by Fawaz Qashat
SDSU Biology Major, 2021

HIST-157 will always hold its place as my favorite class that I have ever taken. Taught by Professor Elizabeth Pollard, the class focuses on comics and their roles and significance in history. In Fall 2020, we specifically focused on social justice in comics and read a variety of graphic novels and comics: from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, to even Steve Englehart’s Avengers #128 (a comic that focused specifically on Scarlet Witch, so you know I have to include it!). One of my favorite assignments that we did for HIST-157 was annotation. At the end of each week, we selected a specific page from our favorite comic that week and annotated it using the comic vocabulary established by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics

A walk through the steps of how to annotate a comics page shows just how much you can learn from a close analysis of how text and image work together. I liked to start my annotation process with a page that has a really captivating graphic weight, or something (an image, a color, an action) that draws your eye to it first. From there, I looked at the list of comic terms that Prof. Pollard helped us understand and I thought about how they apply to the page I’m looking at. The comic terms include: panel; frame; bleed; gutter; closure; icon; text; splash pages; time; motion; synaesthetics; word/image combinations; fore/mid/background; figures; color; and graphic weight. If you want to learn more about what these are, you can take HIST-157 or get started with skimming one of many discussions online about how-to-read-comics, like Alex Abad-Santos’s, “How to Read a Comic Book” in Vox (2015) or CBLDF’s Raising a Reader! (2015).

After thinking about how the comics terms apply to the page I’ve chosen, I would begin to mark the comic page using an annotation tool. Prof. Pollard invited Dr. Pam Lach (Digital Humanist librarian at SDSU Library) to our class to explain the variety of tools we could use to annotate directly on the page (from making a .png of a googleslide to using a more advanced tool like Adobe Illustrator). I chose to use Apple’s draw feature on a screenshot to apply text boxes and type in the annotations. I color-coded each term to ensure that each annotation stood out. After each annotation, I asked myself, “Why did the creator of this comic use this comic device and how does it apply to the message they wanted to convey?” Then I typed into the text box my explanation of the author’s process and thinking in using that specific comic term for that moment. Once I did this for all of my terms, it was only a matter of uploading the annotated page in the correct format to my assignments folder and pressing “submit”. 

Here are a few examples of comics pages I annotated for HIST-157 in Fall 2020. These span history and go as far back as Mesopotamian civilization and as recent as comics from the 1980s.  Across almost three thousand years, the same steps for annotating can help viewers “read” the story.

My annotation, from early in the semester, of a Neo-Assyrian relief from the first millennium BCE. Even though I can’t read the words on the relief, I could annotate the relief with comics terminology to analyze what might be going on in this sequential art.

From mid-way through the semester, my annotation of Maus, by Art Spiegleman. My understanding of how to apply the terms had come a long way; plus the graphic novel is in English so the combination of word and image is easier to analyze.

My annotation of Vision and the Scarlet Witch #4 (1983), by Steve Englehart, from the end of the semester. After fifteen weeks of practice, my annotations not only point out features but connect the story to a social justice theme (in this case, treatment of inter-racial relationships).

Luke Heine

The Bayeux Tapestry – A Medieval Comic?

Written by Luke Heine
SDSU History Major / Weber Honors College, 2021

It might surprise you that some of the same techniques used in comics today were employed in centuries-old works. An example of this is the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70-meter long embroidered masterpiece telling the story of William of Normandy’s conquest of England in 1066. The tapestry was crafted in the 11th century (probably by women!). Despite the materials used and its medieval conception, it may very well be considered a comic. Let’s take a closer look. 

On a basic level, comics are a storytelling medium which use sequential art, often accompanied by text. While this definition is far from comprehensive, it provides a solid baseline for looking at the Bayeux Tapestry as a comic. Take, for example, this section here:

Image from Lindybeige, “The Bayeux Tapestry – all of it, from start to finish,” Timestamp 2:14; available on Youtube @  (Posted October 18, 2017); accessed May 27, 2021.

In this section alone, many elements of comics are present. To begin, throughout the tapestry, text is integrated as an explanation for what the images depict. This is common practice in comics; imagine, for example, that a text box encompasses the lettering:

Or word balloons:

Right out of a comic book page, isn’t it? Perhaps not quite, but the similarities are quite clear. However, there are even more parallels to be drawn between the Bayeux Tapestry and modern comics. Look to the tree at the edge of the image:

Trees such as these create breaks between scenes, and combined with the borders framing the scene they divide the tapestry into panels. Using this format, the tapestry tells a long and complex story with clear delineation between its parts, just as comics would. 

 Organizational methods are not the only similarities that the Bayeux Tapestry holds to comics, however. There are also parallels to be drawn on an artistic level, in regards to the comics technique of graphic weight. Graphic weight refers to the quality of drawing the viewers’ eyes, commanding their attention towards a particular aspect of the work through various techniques. One of the primary ways that the tapestry creates this graphic weight is through color. Out of all the figures in this section, the figures who draw the most attention are the central characters, clad in vibrant orange and blue. These bright colors make the two stand out, and intentionally so; they are nobility and notable figures in the story the tapestry tells. This technique is one seen throughout modern comics, and is perhaps one of its hallmarks. Would Spider-Man, Superman, and the myriad other characters the medium is known for stand out quite as much without their vibrant costumes of bright reds, blues, and other colors? Because of this aspect of their design, they draw the eye to them, lending them graphic weight; the Bayeux Tapestry does the same. 

Whether one considers the Bayeux Tapestry a historic comic or not, it uses many of the techniques employed today in the graphic medium. Additionally, the terms for talking about modern comics help us see in the Bayeux Tapestry what we might otherwise miss. Through the integration of text and image to tell a story, the division of time through the usage of a panel-like structure, and the graphic weight attributed to important figures in the work, a strong case can be made to say that the tapestry is, in fact, a comic. If that’s so, it certainly goes to show how impactful the medium has been, how it stood the test of time, and how the formal vocabulary helps us to more fully read the work. 

Fully annotated panel from Bayeux Tapestry submitted for Prof. Pollard’s HIST 157 in Fall 2020