Academic journal article English Journal

Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing

Academic journal article English Journal

Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing

Article excerpt

Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing Elizabeth Losh, Jonathan Alexander, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon. Boston: Bedford, 2014.

Although I have been a rhetorical theory nerd for a couple of decades now, I have never read a treatise on the subject that I would call "a hoot." Until now. Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing is a smart, well-researched, and extremely user-friendly guide to rhetorical theory for writing (and reading). It's also a lot of fun!

The 291-page book includes seven chapters, which are called "issues" to go along with the comic-book style of the text. Chapter topics cover writing processes, definitions and reasons for rhetoric, strategies for critical reading, creating identities through writing, argumentation, conducting effective research, in-depth explorations of revision, and writing for public audiences. Each chapter begins with a comic-book cover and then offers a series of comicbook panels of different sizes and shapes that narrate important ideas about rhetoric, writing, and literacy more broadly defined. Our guides for this journey to the center of rhetoric are animated versions of coauthors Liz and Jonathan, who take us into their classrooms and offices and into some of their private writing spaces.

Real Characters

In the introductory chapter, Liz's and Jonathan's animated alter egos use a full-color photograph of their "real" selves to make important points about visual literacy, such as how cropping can drastically change the meaning of an image or how adding text to a photo can alter the meanings of the subjects' facial expressions (14-15). Liz and Jonathan stay with readers throughout the text, guiding our reading and helping us to make sense of the other images and lessons in the book. In another section of the book, "Reanimating Ancient Views of Rhetoric," Liz and Jonathan introduce us to comic-book versions of Plato and Aristotle, helping us to understand the subtle differences between the thinkers using remarkably few words and a great many thoughtful images (39- 42). And, I must say, their illustration of Plato's complex Cave of Illusions is the most easy-tounderstand description of the allegory I've ever encountered (42).

We also meet comic-book versions of the illustrators of Understanding Rhetoric, Kevin and Zander, who talk to us and each other about the ways in which their drawings are also examples of rhetoric. In a particularly amusing section (21-22), the artists get into an argument about the use of diagonal lines in drawings, which harkens back to a more serious allusion to artistic debate that occurs earlier in the chapter. The illustrators continue to make appearances throughout, as their work as visual rhetoricians-drawing images and making artistic allusions in the text-is highlighted.

One of the most entertaining and instructive features of Understanding Rhetoric is that it includes so many real-life and imagined characters who serve as examples or as voices for different forms or aspects of rhetoric. Frederick Douglass's autobiography is a focal point in a chapter called "Strategic Reading," where we see Douglass living through some of the events in his autobiography, and we see him writing his autobiography as thought-bubbles reveal the rhetorical decisions he's making as a writer. Especially rich is how Liz and Jonathan explain the textual images in Douglass's writing, with Kevin and Zander providing their interpretations in literal images in the same panels. In one panel (see Figure 1), we see Frederick Douglass writing by lantern light, deliberately using a biblical image (which is illustrated in his thought bubble), as Liz and Jonathan unpack some of the logic informing Douglass's rhetoric (70). Only a comic-book panel could create such a complex, multi-vocal, and multi-chronological description in such simple terms and in such a small space.

Other guest appearances from real-life figures include Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Austen, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Greg Benford, physicist and science fiction writer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.