The Un-Making of a Make Comic
Last week, my ENGL 1101 class started doing rhetorical analysis. Since my current blogging focus is on #CLMOOC, I brought it an artifact from the CLMOOC Make Bank to analyze. You might have seen the result on Twitter...
We marked it up with all sorts of things, pulling the argument apart into its pieces, dissecting it from multiple viewpoints, and getting used to our new found language for evaluating persuasion. As I evaluated my artifact on the board, the students evaluated their own artifacts. By the end of our 1 hour and 40 minute class, we all had pages of notes on the rhetorical strategies at work in these seemingly innocuous artifacts.
What follows is my rhetorical analysis of this CLMOOC make comic.
In the above one-panel cartoon created by Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) and posted to the CLMOOC Make Bank About page, three long-haired figures of varying skin tones discuss “makes.” The CLMOOC logo of 21 colorful dots in a round pattern and the words “Making Learning Connected” top the panel.
The figure on the far left with medium brown hair and hands on hips asks, “What are we making in this MOOC?” The figure on the far right with dark brown hair and arms bent at the elbows, hands pointed up as if explaining, responds. In her text bubble, she first defines a make and then offers some examples. “A ‘make’ is a project in which you create something,” she says, before giving examples like knitting a scarf, building circuitry, and or designing an app.
Finally, below both of the main characters of the panel and their text bubbles, there is a small figure who appears to be standing in the distance. This comical figure is smiling and seems to jump into their conversation with the declaration that her hunger is prompting her to make a sandwich. The overall argument of @dogtrax’s comic is that anything a person makes is considered a make for CLMOOC purposes.
Who's making what?
As briefly mentioned in summary, there is a humorous aspect to this comic. The figures themselves are a little awkward, which sets the stage for comedy. Their hands and heads are proportional to each other, but way too big for the rest of their bodies. Their upper arms are tiny compared to their forearms, and their row of bright white, chiclet style teeth give them a Mr. Ed-like smile.
These figures get us smiling, but the third figure who butts into the conversation with “I want to make a sandwich. I’m hungry.” actually gets us to chuckle.
Humor serves great rhetorical function; In Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs tell us it “can change their emotions and their minds”. If the audience came into the comic with the same nerves as the uncertain first figure, a simple list of make options may not do much to calm them. However, a little laugh at the end of the panel might just do the trick by lightening the mood.
Unfortunately, Heinrichs also tells us "the problem with humor, though, is that it is perfectly awful at motivating anyone into any sort of action. When people laugh they rarely want to do anything else” (87). Luckily, the comic doesn’t rely on humor to get people into the CLMOOC. The humor in this panel lightens the mood, calms the nerves, and makes way for the other elements of persuasion.
One of those other rhetorical tools at work in the CLMOOC comic is decorum. Heinrichs tells us decorum is “the art of fitting in,” or a speaker acting in a way the audience expects.
In the CLMOOC ad, Hodgson uses decorum to show us that anyone who makes anything will fit right in with the group. We can see this in the list of makes the CLMOOCer on the right gives, including “knit that scarf you always wanted, [...] put together a circuit board, [...] make a digital story, or design an app.” The broad range of makes listed here is meant to be inclusive, to show that any make would fit in. That any make would be in decorum for CLMOOC.
Additionally, since this cartoon is posted on the CLMOOC Make Bank About page, it sends the message that not just the participants but also the organizers and coordinators are making a range of things too - even one-panel comics. Knowing the expectation is that everyone shares successes, failures, and everything between will motivate the audience to feel comfortable joining in as well. By creating and sharing this comic, Hodgson sets the expectations for CLMOOC by example. As Heinrichs’ explains, when leaders are in decorum, they’re asking their audiences to “do as I say and as I do.”
As the audience for this comic, CLMOOCers are more willing to follow these expectations and jump into making because of the comic’s ability to motivate us to act.
Heinrichs explains that every argument has a goal in mind, and each of those goals comes down to three common goals: changing the audience’s mood, mind, or willingness to act (26). Though all three are affected by this comic (We chuckled at the sandwich joke, didn’t we? And we learned what a make is, right?), the true goal is to motivate the audience to actually start making with CLMOOC.
When writing about the act of motivating an audience, Heinrichs explains “you need to convince [the audience] that an action is no big deal -- that whatever you want them to do won’t make them sweat” (25). This is exactly the suggestion made when the dark haired figure suggests someone might “knit that scarf you always wanted.” By positioning this make as something the audience has always wanted to do, Hodgson is showing that a “make” is not a foreign concept that will require a lot of work, but an accessible project that you’ve been wanting to do anyway. It’s almost as if the CLMOOC is what the audience has been looking for all along.
The message is clear. CLMOOC is not going to make us sweat, as Heinrichs puts it. Instead, CLMOOC will give us the time and space to do the things we’ve “always wanted.” Who wouldn’t want to act on that?
Okay, so now what?
Since one of the greatest things I take away from CLMOOC each year is the reminder to compose in different forms, I love this comic. It takes a question that could have been answered quickly in text and instead flips it into a comic that draws the eye in, whether we know what a make is or not. This comic is strong because of the many layers of rhetoric in this combination of images and text.
I’ve blogged about my attempts to do this kind of thing with my students, both in creating infographics and visuals for them and in asking them to create these things themselves. I know there is incredible value in this critical thinking and play; I appreciate this effective example. It works! And it works so well that it makes me want to create a comic of my next writing prompt.
As far as this comic is concerned, I would like to see it shared more widely than it is right now. As it stands, it is posted in the About page on the CLMOOC Make Bank page on the Educator Innovator site. Even knowing where the comic is, it takes me a few clicks to find it each time. I understand why the comic is here: the About page is covering what a make is and what gets shared in the Make Bank. That makes sense.
However, I’ve seen this question, “You keep talking about ‘makes’ but I don’t know what you mean. What are we making in this MOOC?” asked many times by participants who aren’t anywhere near exploring the Make Bank.
I'm going to say something that may not be popular now, but I hope you'll bear with me for a minute. To me, the Make Bank feels like it's for “the good stuff” or for the fancy makers. This isn't necessarily because of anything Educator Innovator or CLMOOC has put out; it's just my feel. I’ll be honest… I’m intimidated by it!
Since I'm a little bit intimidated by it, I don’t really think about the Make Bank as I’m playing with CLMOOC prompts. I’ll be really frank -- the page in the Make Bank featuring the comic is the only one I’ve visited since I started with the CLMOOC in 2013.
I’m a little bit embarrassed to mention that, but I mention it because I might not be the only person who has this experience. If others are intimidated by the Make Bank and staying in the more social spaces like G+, Twitter, or Facebook, I think this comic should be there too. The audience of the comic is those who are new to CLMOOC and making, so the comic should be in places new participants frequent.
The great thing about being a part of CLMOOC is that sharing is the name of the game. I’m going to do my part and share this comic through my own social networks; hopefully some other didn’t-know-they-were-makers will be enriching the CLMOOC with the variety of their experiences very soon.
Thanks, @dogtrax, for a great comic! And thanks to whoever commented on the kick-off webinar a few weeks ago, asking where the critique came in with CLMOOC. That question is one I've been considering quite a bit, but I think you all might have guessed that. :)
7/13/2015 12:23:05 am
And if you want #clmooc comix that iaremeant to darken the mood you can go here: http://www.wittycomics.com/comic/99733 and here: http://www.wittycomics.com/comic/99727 and here: http://www.wittycomics.com/comic/99669 and here: http://www.wittycomics.com/comic/99788
7/13/2015 12:25:10 pm
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about the Make Bank! My guess is that you are not the only person who has had that experience. I think your idea about putting the Dogtrax comic in the Make Bank is an excellent one.
7/19/2015 11:33:36 pm
I don't remember when I wrote last time I came here but I am pretty sure I shared my comic response to your post: https://flic.kr/p/vFFGbM
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Amanda J. Hedrick
Story collector, recipe enthusiast, educator, striving for a constant input and output of all things art and learning.