Multimodal composition is core to the first-year writing curriculum at the University of Rochester. Alongside term papers, students create short movies, interactive websites, comic strips, and more. Comic Life (comiclife.com) is a software program designed to create everything from single-panel cartoons to comic strips to full-length graphic novels. It is relatively easy to use; usually a single 30-minute classroom visit from a Digital Scholarship Lab staff member is all that is needed to get students started.

Students in our first-year writing (WRT 105) classes work to reimagine their research topic thesis as a story that could be told as a comic strip. They populate the panels with hand-drawn images, free-licensed images from the internet, or photos of themselves and fellow students acting out scenes, perhaps with a pointillated moire-style visual effect provided by the software. Placing key elements of their thesis topic into boxes in a comic strip also lets students “storyboard” the structure of their papers, gain a different perspective on their paper outline, and in turn strengthen the quality of their academic writing.