Masterclass: Charles Forceville & Dan Hassler-Forest

Comics & Cartoons and the Art of Visualizing Information

Date: Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Time: 12 – 17 hrs
Venue: University Library – Belle van Zuylenzaal, Singel 425 Amsterdam
Speakers: Dr. Charles Forceville (University of Amsterdam) and Dr. Dan Hassler-Forest (Utrecht University)
Open to: PhD researchers and Research Master students who are a member of RMeS or another National Graduate Research School; Members are to bring (a) a laptop (to search on Intenet) and/or (b) a favourite comics album.
Fee (non-members): €50
Credits: 1 ECTS
Coordination: RMeS/dr. Charles Forceville & dr. Dan Hassler-Forest


12 AM                  Doors open; coffee, tea & sandwiches

12.45                     Welcome by Prof. dr. Mark Deuze, Director RMeS

13.00 – 14.00:    Masterclass Dr. Charles Forceville: “Comics’ stylistic tools to communicate visually”

The publication of McCloud’s (1993) Understanding Comics – a “how-to” book in comics form by a comics artist – undoubtedly not only inspired those who want to create comics themselves, but also those who want to study them. Comics (which for present purposes is here taken to include its more artistically ambitious variety, the graphic novel, and its standalone variety, the cartoon) is quickly developing into a serious scholarly discipline, no less worthy of study than literature, film, and theatre. Comics can be described as sequences of static images, usually combined with language, that aim to tell a story or mount an argument.

Studying comics is not only of interest to lovers of comics. Both because of its highly artificial nature and because it draws on a number of entrenched conventions, the medium provides insights to anybody interested in how information can be optimized by drawing on visual resources.

Building on Forceville et al. (2014), the presentation will provide a brief survey of the “stylistic toolkit” the comics medium has at its disposal to convey information by visual means. Elements that will be discussed, and amply illustrated, include body postures & facial expressions, “pictorial runes,” pictograms, panel arrangement, balloon variables, and onomatopoeia.

14.00 – 14.30: Tea/coffee break

14.30 – 15: 30 PM: Masterclass by dr. Dan Hassler-Forest: “Comics and world-building: The cultural Logic of transmedia franchising”

For decades, American serialized comics developed intricate and sometimes overwhelmingly complex storyworlds that crossed over between different series and even (occasionally) to other media like radio and television. Marvel’s approach to world-building made its brand especially popular among comics readers: narratives were set in a recognizable and coherent world, in which diverse characters from titles like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and X-Men could develop conflicts, rivalries, and collaborations (as in the hybrid Avengers) series.

In the context of 21st-century convergence culture, the narrative logic of serialized comics has been fruitfully absorbed and transformed by other narrative media: a phenomenally successful superhero film cycle has mapped out the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” supplemented by multiple television series, video games, novels, and – of course – comic books. Unlike the post-1970s Hollywood tradition of single high-profile blockbusters followed by sequels repeating variations of a narrative theme, the narrative logic of today’s transmedia franchising resembles more closely comic books’ tradition of endlessly deferred closure, with different installments and media platforms developing a thickly layered but still broadly accessible world.

This presentation will provide an introduction to transmedia world-building as a cultural and economic practice and its many connections to comic book traditions.

15.30-16.15: DIY

Task (1) [group task, say two or three students per group]: (1) Choose an emotion and find three comics panels or cartoons in which this emotion is displayed by a character. Check which stylistic tools are used by the artist to convey this emotion. Consider which of these tools, if any, are exclusively used to convey this emotion (as opposed to other emotions). Would replacing any of the choices made by the artist by other choices affect the comprehensibility of the character’s emotion for the viewer? If so, which one(s)? (2) Draw two stylized comics characters featuring two of the following emotions: anger, happiness, disgust, fear, surprise, … Play around with the various comics tools and consider how different combinations of stylistic choices affect the assessment of the emotions under discussion.

Task (2) [group task, say two or three students per group]: The study of transmedia storyworlds is an attractive prospect, but faces many imposing obstacles: for instance, how does one deal with questions of medium-specificity and the methodological conflicts resulting from narrative spread across multiple platforms? Secondly, there is the issue of quantity: many franchises have constructed over the years elaborate and highly detailed “canons” that routinely consist of more textual material than any single scholar could realistically hope to study. And thirdly, the development of fan-fiction, mash-ups, game mods, and other aspects of participatory culture has blurred the line between producer and consumer, destabilizing most traditional definitions of authorship.

As an exercise, work with teams of two or three students to put together a short proposal for a collaborative research project on transmedia world-building. Explain clearly in the proposal how team members’ different disciplinary backgrounds and textual expertise will build upon each other to work towards coherent and methodologically sound research results, while making sure to impose clear limitations on the scope of your proposed project.

16.15 – 17.00 Presentation of results workshop by the various groups.

Speaker biographies

Charles Forceville studied English language and literature at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has been working in the Media Studies department of University of Amsterdam since 1999, where he is currently associate professor, affiliated to the Film track. He also teaches the course “Narrative across Media” at Amsterdam University College. Forceville authored Pictorial Metaphor in Advertising (Routledge 1996) and co-edited Multimodal Metaphor (with Eduardo Urios-Aparisi, Mouton de Gruyter 2009) and Creativity and the Agile Mind (with Tony Veale and Kurt Feyaerts, Mouton de Gruyter 2013). He published, among others, in Metaphor and Symbol, Journal of Pragmatics, Metaphor and the Social World, and Language and Literature. His teaching and research focus on narration, Relevance Theory, pictorial and multimodal metaphor, genre, documentary film, advertising, and comics & animation. Broadly defined, his interests pertain to the structure and rhetoric of multimodal discourse, and to how research in this field can contribute to understanding human cognition (see

Dan Hassler-Forest holds MA degrees in Film Studies and English Literature (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. He completed his doctoral work in 2010, successfully defending his dissertation on the Bush-era superhero movie genre in March 2011. His book Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age was published by Zero Books in December 2012. His other books include The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form (McFarland 2010), co-edited with Joyce Goggin, Transmedia: Storytelling in the Digital Age (Amsterdam University Press 2013), and The Politics of Adaptation: Media Convergence and Ideology (Palgrave Macmillan 2015), co-edited with Pascal NIcklas. He currently works as an assistant professor of film and literature based in the English department of the University of Amsterdam, and is a frequent public lecturer on contemporary film, adaptation theory, animation and digital cinema, urban studies, and theoretical approaches to popular culture. He is currently completing a monograph on transmedia world-building and politics titled Science Fiction, Fantasy and Politics: Transmedia World-building Beyond Capitalism (Rowman & Littlefield 2016), he is editing a book of essays on the recent student protests and occupations in Amsterdam, and he is co-editing the forthcoming Handbook for Comics and Graphic Narratives (De Gruyter 2017) with Dirk Vanderbeke and Sebastian Domsch. Together with Matt Hills, he edits the book series Transmedia: Media Convergence and Participatory Culture, published by Amsterdam University Press.

Preparation and readings:

Set Readings to prepare:

  • McCloud, Scott (2006). Making Comics. New York: Paradox Press. [Chapter 2]. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Forceville, Charles, Elizabeth El Refaie, and Gert Meesters (2014). Stylistics and comics.” In: Michael Burke (ed.),Routledge Handbook of Stylistics (485-499). London: Routledge.
  • Hassler-Forest, Dan (2014). “The Walking Dead: Quality television, transmedia serialization, and zombies.” In: Thijs van den Berg and Rob Allen (eds), Serialization and Popular Culture (91-105). London: Routledge.
  • Johnson, Derek (2012). “Cinematic destiny: Marvel studios and the trade stories of industrial convergence.” Cinema Journal 52(1): 1-24.

Background readings

  • Cohn, Neil (2014). Cohn, Neil (2013).The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Goggin, Joyce, and Dan Hassler-Forest, eds (2010). The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form. Jefferson NC: McFarland
  • Groensteen, Thierry (2013). Comics and Narration. Translated by Ann Miller. Jackson Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan.
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 202: Further Reflections.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

Credits & certificate

Certificates of participation and credits are available upon request after the event. Event coordinators will decide whether the participant has fulfilled all requirements for the ECTS. Please direct your request to and include the postal address you want the certificate send to. Note: the certificate itself is not valid as ECTS, you need to validate it yourself at your local Graduate School.