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).