Teacher's Lounge

Teacher’s guide chapter 2: Every Picture Tells a Story

Lectures & discussions

2.1: Word and image

You may want to do a version of this section as a lecture, drawing the apple (or other object of your choice) on a board. This will help you control the pace and development of the argument: that the further the text is pushed from the image, the more fruitful and creative the meanings can become.

Once you get up to “doctor repellent” you might solicit more words or phrases from students that alter the connotation of the image.

Bring in some gag cartoons and show students the image with the text covered up. Have them describe the image and guess what the caption might be. Then reveal the printed caption and discuss whether it surprised the students and how.

It’s important to underscore (as we discuss at the end of the essay) that although we are focusing on the gag cartoon, the image/text relationship is about more than just creating humor. The extra credit in this chapter can help bring that idea home.

A Closer look: Cartoons and beyond

Feel free to bring in your own favorite examples of gag panels or image/text art pieces to discuss. The further reading box notes several artists that would be fruitful to discuss.


Activity: Gag reflex

We encourage you to consider using options 2 or 3 under "Instructions," the group activities, to do this exercise. Not only does it make the assignment more game-like, it helps generally lower inhibitions: if everyone's throwing out silly ideas, the shy and self-conscious students are more likely to pitch in.

Sidebar: Putting pen to paper

Depending on the experience and preparation of your students, this second class might be a good time to go over the basic drawing materials discussed in the sidebar. You can even try to fit this into the first class but we generally find there's not enough time. The example of the man walking the dog is intended to reiterate two things: the basic process of moving from a pencil to an ink drawing but also, in the pencil sketch, an example for beginners of how to build figures simply following the techniques we describe later in Chapter 5.

Further reading

Charles Addams, Chas Addams Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One Peter Arno, Peter Arno B. Kliban, Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head and Other Drawings Gary Larson, The Complete Far Side Joel Smith, Steinberg at the New Yorker Robert Storr, Raymond Pettibon

Homework: Gag me

One challenge of this assignment is to help students overcome their fear that they're "not funny." Remind them that the most important goal of the assignment is to learn about the juxtaposition of words and images. Go over some classic gag scenarios and brainstorm a few captions in class. Alternately, feel free to jettison the gag aspect of the assignment and have students simply aim to create drawing with captions that are in some kind of surprising, mysterious, or surreal juxtaposition. If you go this direction, you should consider incorporating the "Extra credit: Sum of its parts" as a classroom activity.

Extra credit: Sum of its parts

This activity would be great to do in class or as an alternate homework assignment for students coming out of a fine art or design background. In fact, this is an activity sometimes used in design and advertising classes. One way to expand this assignment is to have students make drawings based on the photos they choose. This raises a further interesting point we don't get to in the book: how does the drawing style interact with the "content" of the image and the text to create meaning?

Homework critique from Chapter 2: "Gag me"

Don't forget to critique the homework. These early chapters build on one another very much, so it's important to try to finish with one before moving on. This can be a fun assignment to critique, just make sure to balance the mirth of the classroom with meaningful discussion of why the cartoons work or don't. For the funniest cartoons, ask students to make a distinction between those that are funny just because the caption is crude or the drawing silly on the one hand and those that truly exploit the juxtaposition between word and image on the other. Refer back to the examples in the book or to books you have brought in as necessary. If you assigned students to ink their drawings be sure to spend some time offering general pointers and feedback on materials they used, line quality, black spotting and so on. Here are a few more ideas for your critique.
  • Have other students read the panel out loud, trying to duplicate the time that seems to passing. How long is it?
  • What effect does balloon placement have?
  • What about how characters are placed? The direction they’re facing? The degree of cropping of the characters (i.e. close up, full body)?
Click to see examples of homework by students with some comments from Matt and Jessica