Understanding Visual Metaphors: What Graphic Novels Can Teach Lawyers About Visual Storytelling
48 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2015
Date Written: 2015
During the 2008 presidential election, a powerful image circulated in the media: an illustration of presidential candidate Barack Obama as Superman. In the illustration, titled Time for a Change, Obama is dressed in a suit and tie and stands in the iconic pose of Clark Kent changing into Superman. He is ripping open his shirt to reveal a superhero costume underneath, but instead of an S for Superman, his costume features a large O for Obama. The image references both Obama's campaign slogan, "Change," and the changing-clothes/changing-identities moment in Superman comic books when the mild-mannered Clark Kent transforms into a superhero. This single image tells a resonant story about a seemingly ordinary man who has extraordinary abilities and it taps into our psychological desire for a hero or savior to help in troubled times. It also daringly addresses the subtext of race in the election by portraying the most American of superheroes, Superman, as a black man. This artwork, created by well-known comic book and graphic novel illustrator Alex Ross, is a visual metaphor. It is no coincidence that this powerful image is rooted in the world of graphic novels because graphic novels are replete with visual metaphors, and the genre itself is characterized by visual storytelling. Lawyers can learn a great deal from the visual storytelling in such images. Specifically, this Article suggests that lawyers can improve their visual literacy and become better visual storytellers by studying graphic novels.
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