F&M Stories

Exploring How Images Present New Ways to Tell a Story

As an English literature and studio art double major, Sojin Shin '22 has a twofold love of words and images. It's only fitting that she chose to explore how her skills in art and writing complement each other in storytelling by creating a graphic novel.

"I was really excited by how images presented so many new ways to tell a story that was slightly different from the precision and forwardness of language," she said.

Read on to learn more about Shin's project, see excerpts of her graphic novel, and discover how her experience is shaping her post-graduate plans.

Please provide a summary of your project.

My project, "Me, Nara, and Natasha," involves drafting the first half of a graphic novel! The story is about a female Korean poet who, after a heartbreak, creates a fantastical lover who resembles and behaves like her love interest, Nara. As the story progresses, she must choose between the fantasy she created and the reality she lives in. Even though the main goal of the project was to produce a readable draft, my other goal was to learn how to tell a story visually by applying my adviser's feedback and learning from other works of graphic literature.

What inspired you to take on this project?

I am an English literature and studio art major, so the project came about naturally as I looked for a project that combined my two interests. I had also just read Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" (a masterpiece!), and I was really excited by how images presented so many new ways to tell a story that was slightly different from the precision and forwardness of language.

I also grew up reading a lot of shojo manga, or Japanese comics [intended] for girls. I was fascinated by how this genre of literature served as a platform to explore fantasies of young girls my age. Within these works, being a girl did not mean to fall prey to love, but to be empowered by it. Being a girl did not mean to be less, and the world seemed to be built for navigating my life as a girl.

At the same time, as an adult, I noticed that the genre clearly had many limitations. It enforced stereotypes on what women should want, and while it empathized with self-consciousness about the female body, it did not question the source of the bodily shame. It was riddled with heteronormativity and homophobia. In response, I wanted to make a work that embodies the strength of the genre while resisting the pressures it exerts on womanhood. I purposely chose a homosexual relationship as the main romantic relationship in the piece for the same reasons.

Has anything about this project surprised you?

I found that having experience in creative writing and painting did not necessarily relate to an ability to tell a story through images. In fact, I had to ditch an almost finished outline because the story itself wasn't landing visually. I had to find a pacing, rhythm, and transitions that allowed the story to flourish and remain comprehensible despite being artful. At times I fumbled, but with the help of Kerry Sherin Wright, my faculty adviser, I was able to get back on track. I made a lot of mistakes, and I've learned how to fix many of them. Finally, I also realized that sitting in a chair for a long time will give you an incredible neck cramp. Turns out, chamomile is a great way to relax your muscles, too.

What are your post-graduation goals? How has the experience affected your thoughts on a career?

I am now planning to apply for a master of fine arts degree program after taking a gap year. I realized that I have a lot of story to tell, and that I just may have the persistence needed to do so. One of the first things I want to do is travel back to Korea and write down the story of my family. Both of my grandparents lived in an incredibly turbulent time. They have seen the edge of the war, lived through one of the most rapid economic growths in contemporary history, and seen the country move from a total dictatorship to a full-fledged Western-style democracy. At the same time, the story of their lives, as they tell it, is deeply personal despite the backdrop of this huge cultural change: it's about their jobs, how they managed to feed their children, and how my grandfather's pottery business took off — then sunk. I really want to get all this history written down!

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