Print Project Proposal – Evaluating Sequential Art

As discussed in class, sequential art may have some limitations in conveying meaningful historical narratives. Daniel J. Staley advocates the use of sequential art as a means of communication between professional historians, arguing through his own representation of German history that images, when arranged in a specific design, can present substantive accounts of history without the supplement of text. Allowing the viewer to discern connections between the images to piece together a larger narrative is, as Staley believes, a viable method of interpreting history.

However, Staley’s own example of sequential art (as well as his visual thesis) is a bit convoluted – and perhaps even lost – within his representation of German history.  Does this confusion stem from the method of sequential art itself, or has Staley just given us a bad example?

For my print project, I propose an evaluation of Staley’s example of sequential art among our own history department here at American University. Staley’s example online does not leave any room for other historians to comment and/or question his use of sequential art. It would be interesting to discover what our own faculty has to say about Staley’s method. For example, faculty would be prompted to answer questions such as: have they ever used sequential art to teach their own students about a certain historical topic? What is their position on using visual imagery without the support of text? Do they agree that Staley’s representation of German history is effective in conveying a meaningful historical narrative?

A second phase of this project would be to assess a new attempt at sequential art. I believe one of the most effective methods of using visual imagery is in showing a changing landscape. A sequence of images could be created to portray how a certain area has been developed, appropriated and/or exhausted over time. Some examples could include showcasing industrialization under Stalin in Soviet Russia, highlighting the emergence of electrical lines in rural America, or displaying the increase of violence throughout the Vietnam War. A second evaluation with the American University faculty comparing this new visual sequence with Staley’s representation of German history may allow us to figure out whether or not sequential art is truly a meaningful method of interpreting history.

One Reply to “Print Project Proposal – Evaluating Sequential Art”

  1. This is a great project idea. In particular, I think your idea of a landscape piece is fantastic.

    In terms of your evaluation component. I would suggest making sure that your questions explicitly lay out that you are interested in what they think could make for better sequential art in the service of historical narrative. That is, the information that is going to be useful in informing the second part of this project is information about what makes for a good or bad sequential art piece as historical narrative not if sequential art is viable as a mode of historical narrative.

    The only thing I think this proposal is missing is a plan to engage with some of the great work already out there on how sequential art works and what makes for good sequential art. In this case I am thinking primarily of Scott Macloud’s book Understanding Comics. As you would likely be using historical photographs as well it would be worth trying to put that sequential art work in conversation with something like Alan Trachtenberg’s Reading American Photographs: Images As History, Mathew Brady to Walker Evans.

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