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Oh, mother

In Spring 2023, Melina P. Himenez and Cody Paddack taught IDH2930 – Bring Your Own Graphic Novels, an Uncommon Reads course through the UF Honors Program. For their final project, the students created multimodal compositions with the intention of submitting them to ImageTexT for the From the Classroom section.

Assignment Instructions

For your culminating project, you will be working with a partner (or two). The project will be of your choosing (video, audio, or written), but it must achieve the following goals:

  • demonstrate an understanding and deep reading of your chosen graphic novels
  • carefully and logically analyze the image and the text from the chosen novels
  • consider multiple perspectives
    • of the group, of the creators, and of other sources
    • from our Canvas discussions and our in-class discussions
  • work in groups and be part of an effective team
  • co-create a product which communicates the understandings above clearly and effectively to the intended audience
    • this includes a polished finished product and attention to detail

“Oh, mother”

By Julianna del Canal and Ana Ferreira

A comic divided into sections, each leveraging a different art style.

“Oh, mother” is a short comic that we created in order to analyze how different art styles can affect how a graphic novel is perceived by its audience. Each scene utilizes a different art style complete with distinct colors, dialogue and word bubble appearances, and character designs. The three art styles that we chose in order to create this short story are those of manga, superhero/retro comics, and finally a more dopey, classic romantic graphic novel style. We primarily chose these art styles due to their prevalence in popular graphic novels in addition to their unique effects on the emotional impact of a story. The story is quite simple in nature due to the unforeseen lengthiness and difficulty of creating a graphic novel as two inexperienced college students. This being said, I believe that making this story allowed us to truly understand the impact of multiple components of art style, specifically those of color choice, dialogue and word bubble design, and character design.

Before deciding which colors we would use to create this comic, we found it important to examine how color can impact a person’s emotions. To do this, we read an article titled “The Use of Color in Art Therapy,” which describes some of the interesting effects that certain colors have on the human body. For example, the article states that the color red can stimulate the nervous system, which may lead individuals to become more animated (Withrow, 2004). This phenomenon provides an explanation as to why many traditional superhero comics use the color red as a way to convey the excitement and passion that are elicited by their often monumental action sequences. Because of this information, we used red quite often in the action-y superhero section of our comic, both as part of the background and to color the characters themselves. Additionally, the article describes that individuals who are placed in gray rooms often have increased heart rates (Withrow, 2004). This may suggest that colorless settings are connected to feelings of stress or anxiety. We used this information for the manga section of our comic, as the black and white color scheme compliments the stress felt by both the mother and daughter as they argued in the first scene of the comic.

To discuss “Oh, mother” in-depth, it may be effective to examine each scene in the order that the comic presents them. The very first scene utilizes a manga art style and displays a mother driving her daughter to school. She is irritated by the fact that her daughter is using her phone, and expresses this irritation with a wry comment. The daughter then yells back at her mother in anger, causing the mother to begin crying. To create this scene, we mainly used gray and black to color both the characters and their background (which is typical for manga). The characters are drawn in the typical manga style, having very large eyes and extremely expressive faces. This style helped to convey the very intense emotions felt by the mother and daughter, as the visible anger mark on the daughter and exaggerated facial expressions on both characters make it quite evident to a reader that they are both very upset. The word bubble design also helps with this, as the mother’s dialogue is placed in a traditional, neutral word bubble to convey her flat tone while her daughter’s words are placed in a very spiky, agitated word bubble to portray her angry yell. It is important to note that the manga style as a whole primarily uses art to convey character emotions, so the dialogue itself was relatively sparse and undescriptive in order to provide room for the art to take precedence.

The second scene of the comic utilizes a superhero art style and takes place once the daughter gets to school. She’s complaining to her friend about her mother when another student suddenly punches her in the face. A handsome boy comes to the rescue, defending her from the violent student in a very superman-esque manner. The comic doesn’t clarify why the main character gets punched, but we envisioned that the angry student may have gotten a bad grade or gone through a painful breakup and required a physical release for her anger. The main character simply happened to be the first person she saw. For this scene, the characters are drawn with what we would describe as a classic, retro art style. It’s quite similar to what “A Brief Guide to Comic Book Art Styles” describes as the Super Hero Golden Age style, which features that iconic vintage superhero look (Centeno, 2020). The characters’ facial expressions are much less exaggerated than they were in the first scene, but they are still quite stylized with full lips, thick eyebrows, and visible facial lines. The colors in this scene are bright and flashy, with multicolored patterned backgrounds and a distinctive use of red appearing in each panel. The action scene uses sharp lines in the background and a classic “POW” effect during the punch, in addition to featuring word bubbles with bold outlines and a capitalized font. All of these stylistic elements serve to provide the reader with feelings of excitement and animation during the suddenly chaotic action scene.

The final scene of the comic is quite short, featuring two panels in a romantic art style. The first panel does not include dialogue, instead simply displaying the main character as she gazes at the boy who saved her with admiration and attraction in her eyes. The second panel displays their first interaction with each other, which consists of the boy romantically dipping her as she thinks about how much she would like to tell her mother about the happy ending to her hectic day. In this scene, the characters look quite cute and dopey. They are drawn with soft, sloping lines, gentle faces, and big round ears. Additionally, the background of the panels are pink and feature little floating hearts, with a curving outline around each panel serving to instill the reader with the feelings of comfort and relaxation that come from being around someone you enjoy. Overall, the art and internal dialogue in these last two panels help to convey the innocence and overall cuteness of young love while rounding out the story by soothing the main character’s anger towards her mother.

Creating this comic was a wonderful opportunity, as it allowed us to understand and use individual artistic choices that eventually came together to convey the emotions that arose as a result of the events that took place in each scene. It’s important to note that even though we chose three art styles to incorporate into our comic, graphic novels can come in an incredibly large variety of styles—many of which are unique to specific authors or illustrators. This being said, these new and unique styles are often influenced by iconic art styles from older graphic novels. An example of this can be seen in the art of Harmony Becker, who is the author/illustrator of Himawari House and the illustrator of George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy. In an interview with the SG Cartoon Research Hub, Becker states that her art style was once described as “Peanuts manga” (Lim, 2022). In this way, while she displays a style that is unique to her, Becker’s art is a product of influential styles that have been crucial to the history of graphic novels. If we ever decide to try creating another graphic novel, we hope to learn from other influential styles in order to properly shape the way our art is perceived by its audience.

Works Cited

Centeno, Giovanna. A brief guide to comic book art styles. Book Riot, 6 Aug. 2020. https://bookriot.com/comic-book-art-styles/. Accessed 5 April, 2023.

Lim, C. T. Interview with harmony becker. SG Cartoon Resource Hub. https://sgcartoonhub.com/interview-with-harmony-becker/. Accessed 21 April, 2023.

Withrow, Rebecca L. “The use of color in art therapy.” The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, vol. 43, no. 1, 2004, pp. 33-40.

About the Creators

Ana Ferreira is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Florida majoring in Sustainability with plans to double major with Anthropology. She has a passion for environmental protection and plans to pursue a career in environmental law. Taking Melina’s class has given her a newfound appreciation for the art of graphic novels, often opting to read graphic novel versions of short stories she reads for class now!

Julianna del Cañal is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Florida majoring in Psychology with a specialization in Behavior Analysis and a minor in both Disabilities in Society and Sociology. She is interested in entering the field of behavior analysis with a focus on health behaviors and individuals with developmental disabilities. She became engaged with graphic novels last semester when she took a class that explored a wide range of them, with her favorites being Himawari House by Harmony Becker and Harleen by Stjepan Sejic. She also finds joy in practicing the guitar, crocheting, and playing Nintendo video games.

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