In the aftermath of the Pulse tragedy in Orlando, a University of Central Florida professor responded the best way he could.
Using his Papermate Flair pen, a thumbnail and a sketch pad, Nathan Holic created a comic strip illustrating his frustrations with the political, agenda-setting messages he saw in the media.
Holic sees his ability to use comics as an opportunity to disarm others so that they can understand people’s interchanging viewpoints.
“The best comics are those where the images and the text are working hand-in-hand,” Holic said. “There’s a story behind why there’s crumbled up paper on the desk, there’s a much bigger story here. It forces you to pay attention and really examine backwards and forwards, up and down, and round in circles.”
Holic teaches a Rhetoric and Popular Culture course in the Writing and Rhetoric Department where he centers the curriculum on the rhetorical influence of comic strips. He believes that the combination of artistry and messages are more effective at conveying meaning than simply writing a 1,000-word essay. Holic said that the visual comic strips provide help to create a medium for students to create powerful, meaningful messages.
One student who really clasped onto Holic’s idea was UCF student Hadassa Romeus. Romeus, originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was really into social justice and when one of her friends in Haiti was killed, she was led to create a comic strip for class that outlined the passing of her friend as well as the social issues in Haiti.
“She did a eulogy to her friend and essentially she was talking about her friend, but it was also about the greater issues that women in particular were facing in Haiti,” Holic said.
UCF Radio/TV Journalism senior from Pensacola, Haley Moss, also took Holic’s course and she gravitated to his class because she believes that when it comes to crafting meaningful messages, it’s easier to use pictures rather than words.
“It’s so easy to visually put something [that] can be a lot more meaningful than words because not everyone wants to read a bunch of words,” Moss said. “But like seeing a little comic takes like two seconds to read and understand it.”
Moss believes that the skills learned in the class were important because students have the chance to arrange the comics in different ways in order to have different messages, and it can be as simple as changing the movement of a body part.
But students aren’t the only ones who have identified with the comics.
UCF Writing and Rhetoric Professor Blake Scott identified specifically with Holic’s comic on the Pulse tragedy, which depicts Holic falling amidst all the noise surrounding the disaster.
“Part of the message I was taking from that was, why are people taking on this tragedy as a larger cause when it happened to us here—I was identifying with that,” Scott said. “There was all these moments of identification, but also recognition of difference. And then at the end it was kind of like [Holic] beautifully captured this and we’re all kind of like falling at the same time in response to this but also in different ways.”
Holic views comics as an opportunity for people to do as Scott did with the Pulse comic—stopping to listen and understand rather than speak with haste or carelessness.
“If comics are a medium that people are more receptive to listen to, then I think maybe that’s one way we overcome the barrier to needing to immediately speak and actually sitting and listening,” Holic said. “Because people think it’s tougher and because it’s disarming they read it without immediately feeling the need to immediately respond.”
Holic’s overreaching goal is to have students create a community of arguments that will establish a peaceful understanding in society rather than combatant arguments that draw on deaf ears and end up going nowhere.
“We try to teach a lot about rhetorical citizenship and not just arguments,” Holic said. “If we were just teaching how to argue and be effective, our version of listening would just be listening enough to disagree with … opposed to truly understanding, involving yourself in the community and trying to understand the community rather than imposing your will upon it.”