Proposal for the 2009 UF Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels:

“Imagining a Global Visual Rhetorical Tradition: Comic, Codex, Glyph”

In the academic field from which I study comics, rhetoric and composition, we have a foundational narrative that we call “the rhetorical tradition”—a story that traces the evolution of rhetoric from ancient Greece and Rome, to the Renaissance, to the Scottish Enlightenment, to American writing instruction, to the “rediscovery” of ancient rhetoric, to today. It is seductive and its affordances are great; and yet, it is highly constructed and is not necessarily contingent on its own evidence. It also leaves out entire literate intellectual traditions as not part of the development of rhetoric and writing at present.

Comics studies and the study of visual rhetoric have the opportunity to do something different with the way we see our history and how we got here. Our narratives often concern themselves with the value of comics as objects of study and as a mode of communication. Our histories are often highly Eurocentric, tracing the origins of what we know as comics in Europe and the United States. Does it have to be this way? We as comics scholars, in a young field of study, have the opportunity to open up new modes of looking at our past and taking a decolonial approach from very near the beginnings of our field. If rhetoric scholars can use Aristotle's ideas about rhetoric in a relevant way to writing in the postmodern era, why can't comics scholars and scholars of visual rhetoric use the multiplicity of ancient pictorial writing traditions as a lens to view comics today?

This paper will begin to explore the possibility of a global visual rhetorical tradition that allows scholars to consider the multiplicity of visually literate traditions that can resonate with the work we do today. I will posit spaces that can be opened up for theorizing the development of indigenous comics cultures through the rejection of a tabula rasa worldview of how people in a particular place receive visual literacy technology and also enact it. My paper will have a specific focus on how theories and ideas from ancient Mesoamerican texts but I intend for it to extend to a broader post-colonial/decolonial context.

Such a presentation is an excellent fit for a conference on comics and globalization. Comics studies can greatly benefit from the theories about “the book” and the colonial encounter described by Walter Mignolo as well as the rhetorical studies of codexes and I am eager to engage in efforts to build bridges between comics studies and rhetoric and composition.

Click here to view my presentation slides in PDF format

email me at howesfra at msu dot edu