August 29th, 2011 / 4:07 pm
Behind the Scenes

Graphic Text Readings

I know Christopher Higgs just posted his superb fall semester reading list, so I’m being a sort of copycat perhaps, but also, would just love to get some thoughts and ideas from you all.

I’ve been teaching a class called Graphic Texts: Looking at Text and Image Combined on and off for a couple years now, and am always looking for new material to fold into the class.

The class is basically a survey class that looks at various different kinds of “graphic texts” in all senses of the world. Students read, have critical discussions, and create graphic text projects of their own.

And, I ought to mention, this class is inspired by a class I took as an undergrad many years ago, taught at the time by the incomparable Anna Joy Springer (whose new book from Jaded Ibis book is fantastic, and which I plan to teach this semester).

This semester, we plan to look at:

– Comics/Graphic Novels (of course!) – Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, Various hypercomics, & Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
– Asemic Writing – Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
A Humument by Tom Philips, & a companion project, William Poundstone’s blog “Ann Coulter: A Human Document
– Anna Joy Springer’s The Vicious Red Relic, Love
– Various image/text combinations like illuminated manuscripts, rebus, propaganda posters
– Science-y Texts ; Vas by Steve Tomasula and Christian Bok’s Xenotext Experiment
– Infographics – Various web infographics & visualizations plus excerpts from Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information
– Gaming & Narrative -Various essays exploring the nature of narrative in games like Minecraft, D&D, & others. (ie. “Beyond Myth and Metaphor; The Case of Narrative in Digital Media” by Marie-Laure Ryan , “A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” by Jesper Juul, “From the Basement to the Basic Set: The Early Years of Dungeons & Dragons,EBR, “Potential Emergency Minecraft” Part 1 + Part 2, Black Clock Blog)
– Mapping: “Writing Within the Map” by Jeremy Hight, various “experimental” map pieces

In the past, I’ve taught:

The Black Automaton by Douglas Kearney
Everything Sings: Maps For a Narrative Atlas by Denis Wood
The Jiri Chronicles by Debra Di Blasi
– Visual Books like Fossil Sky by David Hinton or Nox by Anne Carson
– Other asemic texts like The Giant’s Fence by Michael Jacobson, wordless (poems) by Rosaire Appel, & Abstract Comics
– Looking at relationships between drawings & writing: Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow by Zak Smith
Microscripts by Robert Walser
– Various graphic scores ie. John Cage & others
Trench Town Rock by Kamau Brathwaite
Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
– Various electronic texts & hypertexts (ie. Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Katherine Hayles, Shelley Jackson)
– Concrete & visual poetry
– Literary installations like Ilya Kabakov’s Ten Characters
– Graffiti & Public Art
– & others but I don’t feel like making a ridiculously long list.

I’m open to new ideas, texts I haven’t heard of yet, might be interested in, etc. What “graphic texts” have you encountered and might like to share with others?


  1. Paul Siegell
  2. Ryan

      Asterios Polyp is a great pick.

  3. gavin

      Have you ever looked at Derek Fenner’s MY FAVORITE COLOR IS RED or I NO LONGER BELIEVE IN THE SUN: LOVE LETTERS TO KATIE COURIC?  Both of these combine art and texts in cool ways.  

  4. Janice Lee

      Very cool. Hadn’t seen this one, definitely going to add to my list. Thanks for the rec Paul!

  5. Janice Lee

      Yea, one of my favorites. And in an educational context, reads alongside Understanding Comics perfectly.

  6. Janice Lee

      No I haven’t, though I have heard interesting things. I will definitely take a look, thanks.

  7. Christopher Higgs

      This is fantastic, Janice!  I was hoping more people would post what they’re teaching.  This class looks awesome.

      Here are a few things that come to mind:

      Erasure texts (like A Humument) —
      *Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os
      *Jen Bervins’s Nets
      *Mary Ruefle’s A Little White Shadow
      *Janet Holmes’s The Ms of M Y Kin
      *Austin Kleon’s Newspaper Blackout

      Also, Jim Woodring’s FRANK comics, which are for the most part wordless.

      Also, there’s a Norwegian comic book artist who goes by the name Jason who also does really great wordless comics…check out Almost Silent for a good example.

      Also, Max Ernst’s Un semaine de bonte.

      Other books that come to mind, that combine images and text: Andre Breton’s Nadja, Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, WG Sebald’s The Emigrants, Blake Butler’s Ever.

      Have you seen Timur Bekmambetov’s film Nightwatch?  It does some amazing things with the subtitles…like at one point this kid’s nose starts to bleed and the subtitles come out of the blood and are red.  At another point someone srcreams and the subtitles shatter.  It’s pretty cool.

  8. M. Kitchell

      i recommend this hehe:

      it’s my “comic” that refuses the rules of comments and operates between the space of the text and the found imagery

      [i’m being totally shameless lately and getting into it]

  9. Janice Lee

      Thanks Christopher! Some great recs, a few I’m familiar with and a few that I’m not, so am excited to check them out.

      And re: Nightwatch, that sounds pretty amazing.

  10. Joe Milazzo
  11. Tummler

      A. This must be the absolute greatest class ever. My heart and brain each “skipped a beat” just from seeing the Codex Seraphinius displayed here.

      B. Even though you have already taught The Giant’s Fence, a recommendation of mine would be Michael Jacobson’s more recent asemic kinetic work-in-progress blog-novel Mynd Eraser (see my book trailer for it at ), which I consider a truly innovative and progressive work of the post-literate movement. Word is that Jacobson may at some point even begin to implement sound/noise/music into the unfolding of the novel.

      C. The poetry/text of such authors as Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Billy Bob Beamer are highly visual/asemic in my view and would likely generate some interesting discussion pertaining to semantic function, semantic contortion, etc.

  12. Roxane

      This looks really interesting. I don’t have a specific text in mind, but I would totally recommend the work of Lisa Lim, who creates these really beautiful and interesting graphic texts, many of them posted on her website ( Some months ago, the Nashville Review published her text My Egyptian Fortune Cookie. Anyway, her work is wonderful. 

  13. Leapsloth14

      Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez.

  14. Roxane

      Also, I love that you’re looking at infographics. I taught infographics in my document design class last year and the students were really able to engage with the format and think about it rhetorically, how the format influences how we perceive and consume information, and so on. 

  15. Lincoln Michel

      Highly second the recommendations  of Max Ernst and Jim Woodring. 

  16. Justin Taylor

      I wrote an essay on the Codex Seraphinianus for The Believer a few years ago. You yourself are likely to find that it covers at least some familiar ground, but your students may find it a useful resource.  The complete essay is available online for free at the Believer website- . Hope this helps.

  17. Janice Lee

      Cool, thanks for this!

      And yes, my students always love the Codex. Last semester several students were inspired by the Codex reading and created their own amazing asemic codices for their final projects.

  18. Janice Lee

      Super cool, wasn’t familiar with her work before so am excited to be introduced to it now.

      And yes, decided to try adding infographics into the mix this semester (always do a little mixing and matching), especially since infographics are being circled around so readily on the internet and looked to as sources of information or evidence, with not enough analysis of the design or method itself.

      Your document design class sounds intriguing.

  19. Janice Lee

      This is great, thanks, will definitely link to your essay from our class blog.

  20. Peter Markus

      Derek White.

  21. M. Kitchell

      also to extend this so it’s not exclusively self-indulgence, most of the text from robbe-grillet’s books Topology of a Phantom City and Recollections of the Golden Triangle were originally sourced from collaborations he did with artists:  Jaspar Johns (The Target), Rene Magritte (La Belle Captive), Robert Rauschenberg (I don’t remember the title of this one b/c it’s impossible to get), 2x with David Hamilton (eng. titles Sisters & Dreams of a Young Girl) & Irina Ionesco (Temple Aux Miroirs)– not only are they inherently interesting in the interaction between text and image, but there’s the additional level of intertextuality brought between the individual books that include the images & the way they’re combined into assemblage novels missing the imagery.

  22. the Man without Fear

      Some illustrated William Blake poetry would work well.

      Coming Through Slaughter

      Critical texts: Ways of Seeing, Hollywood Flatlands, ImageText (

      anything by Frank Miller


      Really innovative and imaginative early comics: Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck and Tintin (…

  23. andrew

      mcdonald’s tray liners, etc.

  24. baltimore bb

      you may be interested in some of the collaborations between kiki smith and mei mei berssenbrugge.

      also nedko solakov’s brilliant 99 fears

      the work of stefan sagmeister?

  25. mimi

      always always thrilled to see ‘coming through slaughter’ get a mention

      you know what i just recently found out by googling my grandpa’s name ? ?
      that he was one of the (mostly likely hundreds of) uncredited young cartoonists right out of art school that worked on disney’s ‘fantasia’ – he worked on ‘the dinosaur scene’ –

      he was a cartoonist and animator (uncredited) who made a living for years working on (other owner’s) syndicated cartoons – real old skool – would love to be able to pick his brain now . . . hours and hours drawing others’ visions . . . 

  26. Runkle Matt

      Bruno Schulz: William Blake; Raymond Pettibon; Kenneth Patchen. Thanks for posting your reading list — it looks awesome!

  27. herocious
  28. gina

      i love pheobe gloekner’s “diary of a teenage girl” so, so much. also, lynda barry, always. mai-thu perret has a book that accompanied her “land of crystal” show which is really rad too, as it combines a created/”false” history (about an all-female commune in the southwest) with both a textual and sculptural narrative. sounds like a wonderful class, what fun!

  29. Kieran

      Alan Burns’ ‘Dreamerika!’ is an example of this – he uses some images and also text cut from newspapers. His later novel ‘The Day Daddy Died’ has collages in it. Also Ann Quin’s ‘Tripticks’ has illustrations on most pages and some standalone illustrations which work alongside the text. I think these are all texts that incorporate pictures rather than graphic texts as such, but I would say that they come out of a similar context to ‘A Humument’. 

      This stuff always makes me think about the relationship of graphic texts and graphic musical scores, as well as text used in art pieces by people like Jenny Holzer etc. 

      The course looks raw, btw. 

  30. Tummler

      Also, I didn’t mention it before because I assumed that you’ve already taught it, but the Voynich manuscript would probably be essential to this class (or at least definitely worth a look).

  31. Janice Lee

      Yep :)

  32. Janice Lee

      definitely. and love nedko solakov’s work.

  33. Janice Lee

      Yea when I started the class it seemed ridiculous to limit it strictly to visual/textual as so many of those pieces are already working with other senses. So we almost always look at things like graphic scores, graffiti, even performance pieces or experimental plays that aren’t perhaps really meant to be “performed.”
      Anyways, thanks.

  34. Ddiblasi

      Max Frisch’s Man in The Holocene is one of my favorites to teach in a text + image course.  Also, in Spain I found this little beauty: BUENOS TIEMPOS PARA LA MUERTE, by

      Juanjo Sáez.  Eduardo Kac’s work — all of it!

  35. Michael

      Siglio Press has some good’uns:

      Robert Seydel / Book of Ruth –
      Lisa Pearson (ed.) / It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers

  36. Janice Lee

      Yea I love Siglio Press, they put out so many cool things. Taught Denis Wood’s Everything Sings for the mapping unit last semester. Inspired some cool things.

  37. Andrew Zornoza

      be a complete a-hole, you could teach mine: Where I Stay from
      Tarpaulin Sky Press. I’ve gone into a few classes where it’s been
      taught. . . . I’ve got a long bibliography I teach, but some I
      haven’t seen here are: 

      by Rodenbach, Georges. 

      Back of Time 
      by Marías, Javier.  

      The Damned, Weird Book of Fate
      by White, Curtis.. 

      Square Red, Times Square Blue
      by Samuel R. Delany’s

      I pair The Emigrants with Tufte and Invisible Cities and that works well, sometimes. . . . 

  38. Anonymous
  39. Merzmensch

      Awesome List! And also awesome comments here. I’m collecting my reading list from those now. Will you also speak about the European Dadaists? Especially, Kurt Schwitters with his transgressive graphic-text-experiments, like “Die Scheuche” (which was even translated into English – pretty funny sample for translation of typographical experiments). You can find a scan of that translation in my blog ( ))

      Beside the historical Avante-Garde, there are some ultra comtemporary graphic-text-experiments with Augmented Reality ( ). Well, the kinetic typography poems, as a literary genre, hit already the video platforms, like this one:

      Hope, it will help in some ways

  40. Jim Andrews