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Stories with Pictures: Narrative in Visual Media - ENG00087H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Richard Walsh
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

We tend to think of stories being told with words, as in novels, or biographies, or journalism; but images too can be a sophisticated vehicle of storytelling. This module is an opportunity to examine a range of visual narrative forms, including illustration and narrative painting, graphic narrative (or comics), narrative film, and narratives in interactive media. Drawing upon a broad selection of examples, we shall explore the ways of telling stories with pictures, whether in interaction with words or on their own. We’ll consider still and moving images, and immersive simulated environments, all of which contrast with words in that they mean by virtue of some kind of resemblance to what they represent – they are iconic signs. But stories in visual form, nonetheless, are not self-evident; they have their own repertoire of formal and rhetorical devices, and we shall explore the often elaborate ways these resources have been exploited. We’ll have occasion to consider whether or not images have a more direct relation to narrative than language does: do they constitute a more primitive form of storytelling, or on the contrary, a more oblique and culturally mediated one?

We’ll approach the topic through examples, both contemporary and historical, developing a critical idiom for the close reading of narrative images; but the examples will also give us cause to ask theoretical questions about visual narrative, and about its significance for our understanding of narrative in general.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aim of this module is to give you a broad familiarity with the ways images have been used for narrative purposes, covering illustration, narrative painting, graphic narrative, film and digital media; to help you acquire a critical language for the analysis of narrative in such forms; and to introduce you to some of the issues in narrative theory raised by the material.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Critically interpret different forms of visual narrative, using concepts drawn from the relevant secondary literature
  • Analyse the ways in which images can tell stories, and how these possibilities relate to and inform theoretical ideas about narrative as a mode of meaning
  • Recognize how visual forms of narrative are situated in their historical and cultural contexts, and how to understand their meanings relative to these contexts
  • Identify your own topic within the field of visual narrative and develop a critically and theoretically informed argument about it


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay (was 3500)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar). Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account.


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay (was 3500)
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

The primary texts for discussion on this module will be visual materials of diverse kinds:

  • Examples of narrative art will include the Bayeaux Tapestry, and William Hogarth's series of satirical paintings, Marriage A-la-Mode.
  • For narrative illustration we shall consider Dickens and his illustrators, including George Cruickshank, Hablot Knight Browne and George Cattermole.
  • Graphic narratives will include Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. We'll look at early films by figures like Robert Paul, George Smith and Georges Méliès, as well as Jacques Tati's Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot.
  • For digital media we'll examine Life is Strange, from Dontnod Entertainment.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.