Volume 5, Issue 2

Viewing Life Rhetorical Context

Created in Professor Nate Holic’s Spring 2022 ENC 3375 Rhetoric of Comics

Originally submitted as a final portfolio for Professor Holic’s Rhetoric of Comics class, Viewing Life by Riah Smith is made for both blind readers and readers seeking education on what it is like to be blind. This comic is written in both text form and in braille, and it is both a personal narrative and a monologue. Overall, this project addresses the cultural and physical issues that those visually impaired may face, and how we may respond to those issues in a way that is culturally sensitive. Considering life holistically, Viewing Life brings uniqueness to the reader within the comic form. Many rhetorical strategies could not have taken place if it weren’t for the visual nature of this project, making the comic form a necessity and an opportunity for exploration when communicating to an audience that comics cannot usually speak to.

Professor Holic,

While sketching, penciling, and inking this comic, I was around a large group of people at my friend’s house. One by one, people would come up and look at the sequence of images and say, “Does it tell a story?” or “What does this mean?”. I explained to them the purpose of the comic, who my audience was, and why the panels looked the way that they did. I told them that without words, these objects in the panels would not make much sense, but that is exactly what I am going for. For someone who is blind, life does not make sense without words. Even down to the “randomness” of the panels when not subdued with text, I have attempted to make this comic submerge visual readers into a story that is close to a story that is experienced by someone who is blind. It is faceless, colorless, and when only observing objects, seemingly meaningless. I wanted the visual reader to experience this story as if they had no ability to see surroundings. I wanted to take away the gift of image-based closure in comics, which is something that is a privilege to us who can see and react accordingly. Further, every detail of the stories within this comic are actual events and actual questions that have been asked. Whether it is the story that my dad told me, or my encounter with Ayesha, it is all truthful and not dramatized for any rhetorical effect.

The audience for this comic is both the visually impaired and those in higher-level education seeking to understand. Specifically, it is first and foremost for those who are blind. This narrative includes many examples that they may find satirical and intriguing, as well as personal messages to them. For those who are not blind, it could be for disability studies majors studying communication strategies, for comic artists looking for examples to reach the visually impaired, or even for those with a blind family member or friend looking to find ways to communicate and connect. This comic carves its own niche through its topics. Because of that, it could be shown digitally through a blog or web publication for those who are reading it to gain communication strategies, and in print for those who are blind and reading this comic.

The genre of this piece is personal narrative. I am telling two different stories that help the reader gain perspective on what life with, and life of, the blind may consist of. The pages are laid out in the same way that a translation of a book is laid out. One type of text on one side, another type of text on the other. We will call them the “visual” side and the “braille” side. Because, obviously, the right side is completely written in braille. For a technical note, the side written in braille is an exact translation of what is text on the visual side of the comic. There is no description of the pictures nor extra narrative.

If ever published, this comic would be stamped in braille so that those who are blind can read; I would want to have some stamped or 3-D outlines of some of the shapes on the visual side so that the blind reader can also get a small understanding of what sequential art is. The visual side is landmarked by objects that enhance the words of the story. There is bound to be much more “telling” than “showing” in this comic, as there is nothing to show to someone who cannot see. There is no face associated with the narrator, but the narrator will say “my dad” or “my friend” to signal who they are in association to the story to aid in comprehension.

Watching how others reacted to the sheer imagery of this comic showed me that it accomplishes its goal. It gives the visual reader the ability to understand a story in the same way a blind person would, and it gives the blind reader the opportunity to take part in a medium that is not remotely available to them. I would not be able to give the visual reader this kind of experience if it weren’t for a comic–it would just, then, be a story. But cerebrally, this comic gives us the opportunity to comprehend narrative using objects and words in tandem.

Who knew that the highly visual comic form could be the only way to build a bridge between sight and story?

Hello! My name is Riah Smith, and I am currently pursuing a degree in Writing and Rhetoric with a minor in Legal Studies. I am a junior here at UCF, and the third in my family to be a Knight! I am passionate about creating rhetoric that impacts people and benefits communities, and I have found that sequential art and multimodal text is the way I accomplish that. I hope that my comic, Viewing Life, impacts your everyday experiences.