“Where can we find authority in a book with multiple authors working in different modalities? (Humphrey 5)”

In his comic “Multimodal Authorship and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Foucault and Derrida for Beginners,” Aaron Humphrey explores the idea of authority and how it is embodied through multimodal texts with multiple authors. He does this by examining various examples of “An Introduction…” and “For Beginners” books, specifically those that speak on the theories of Foucault and Derrida. Experimenting with writing in a comic and analyzing collaborative comics allows Humphrey to question how we have previously viewed academic writing, and his techniques aid in decentralizing the voice of authority that is so prevalent in the academic sphere.

Rachel Hulin pioneers a new kind of composition in her novel “Hey Harry Hey Matilda.” One of the captivating elements of her work is that it exists in two spaces: Instagram and a blog-style website. Her story follows twins Matilda and Harry Goodman as they navigate adulthood together; their dialogue features everything from relationships and psychological states to genetic testing and aging. The secret to their relationship, though, is that they seem to be fighting feelings for each other. Their conversations are nostalgic, yet modern and laced with anxiety. Hulin posts new segments of their story on Instagram every few days or so, sometimes every day, but it varies; alternatively, on the website, Hulin provides segments in posts that the audience can scroll through in chronological order.

How do these pieces interact?

Hulin’s work directly embodies Humphrey’s decentralization of authority. Whether the audience is looking at the story through Instagram or through the website, it is difficult to identify one solitary author. The dialogue is constantly shifting between Harry and Matilda, and the audience has to adjust accordingly.

Humphrey’s text literally engages the reader; an audience of this comic cannot be a passive learner. He or she must engage with the text because it is written in a non-linear fashion, and the use of images, thought and speech bubbles, and handwritten text keeps the reader constantly working to comprehend  the message.

Flash mobs totally disrupt our way of viewing texts and performances. We look for a pattern, a system, or an order, but flashmobs take that from us. Irish dance, especially combinations of  hard shoe and soft shoe dances like the one shown here, send dancers in so many different directions that the audience’s way of viewing the performance is disrupted, much like Humphrey’s comic disrupts our method of reading. 

Why multimodal texts?

Multimodal texts are arguably more difficult to compose; the author has to find or create visual elements that flow with the text (if text is present at all), and likewise the text must be composed with regards given to its spatial layout. Additionally, any images used by an author will have a spatial component, and images of living things will contain a gestural element as well. Hulin’s use of cover photos not only draw the reader in to the story, it also distorts the authoritative voice that readers have been trained to look (or listen) for.

When reading Hulin’s story on Instagram, the first thing the audience sees is the photo. The caption is positioned under it, but users have to scroll down to see it. On the website, Hulin disrupts our linear way of reading with hyperlinks. Readers can choose to explore characters through their own stories, or they can simply read the description that Hulin provides.

How can we apply critical reflection to these pieces?

Since I am a Millennial with a preference toward social media, I was utterly enamored with “Hey Harry Hey Matilda,” while I will admit that Humphrey’s comic disrupted my way of reading. Navigating through the comic forced me to examine how I interact with texts, and I found that even though I am comfortable with web-based texts, I have a tendency to favor linear reading styles. Humphrey did not compose his comic to be easy to read; rather, he wanted his audience to think about the text that they were interacting with.

When I was composing my portfolio, I chose a layout that still encouraged my audience to read my posts similar to how they would read a book. If a reader chooses to navigate my site “out of order,” so to speak, the portfolio still makes sense. Engaging with Humphrey’s work and comparing it to my own made me realize why I struggled with reading the comic: I cannot read the comic linearly, but I cannot rearrange it either. I have to read it a certain way, but before sitting down and working with it, I did not know what that way was. Reading Humphrey’s comic allowed me to reflect on how I view multimodal texts and revealed to me what I need to work on in regards to reading and composition.

Before reading Humphrey’s piece, I was not sure how to feel about academic writing in a text like  his. I had been trained to recognize academic writing as bland and primarily linguistic, perhaps with a graph or other visual aid thrown in for good measure. Engaging with Humphrey’s comic allowed me to reflect on how I previously viewed academic writing, and I’ve realized that to truly embrace multimodal composition, academic writing must start to engage all the modes.


Multimodal texts disrupt the way we have been taught to read texts. They are immersive; they fascinate us and encourage us to reevaluate how we view multimodality and academic writing. Multimodal texts allow us to reflect on how we’ve composed in the past, and they help us develop our own multimodal composition skills. Hulin and Humphrey embody the shift toward multimodal composition by creating works that transform us from passive learners to active readers.


Cover image: Kate Reed

Hulin, Rachel. Hey Harry Hey Matilda. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Hulin, Rachel. “Matilda and Harry Goodman.” Instagram. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Humphrey, Aaron. “Multimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

Take The Floor. “TAKE THE FLOOR Flashmob Dublin Airport.” YouTube. Take The Floor, 03 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.