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Prof. Susan Kirtley
Prof. Susan Kirtley

Susan Kirtley

Teaching visual rhetoric as a multi-faceted way to tell a story.

B.A. Lewis & Clark College
M.A. Boise State University
Ph.D. University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Susan Kirtley roots for the underdog, the misunderstood, and the isolated. And after being told as a kid that comics were only for boys, she grabbed a copy of the X-Men and was hooked.

“For boys only?  Are you kidding?  The X-men had all the drama of Days of Our Lives, but with cooler outfits and more punching.  As I began to read the exploits of Cyclops and the team I realized these were kindred spirits,” Kirtley explains. Not only were comics entertaining, they offered empowering possibilities in feminist rhetoric. 

In addition to her role as the Director of Composition, Kirtley oversees the Comic Studies certificate program at Portland State. The winner of an Eisner Award in the Best Scholarly/Academic Work category for her book about comic strip writer Linda Barry, Kirtley finds comics an important field of study that works well coupled with animation or publishing. It's ideally situated in Portland, a big comic book town with opportunities for students interested in the industry.

Professor Kirtley pulls a comic book off the shelf and points to a gutter -- the space between two panels -- and explains that our brains will skip over the gutter and understand that time has passed. This allows us to glean an enormous amount of information from a single page. 

“Comics," she says, "tell great stories."


"The Underdog Disciplines: Comics Studies and Composition and Rhetoric." Composition Studies 43.1
"Considering the Alternative in Composition Pedagogy: Teaching Invitational Rhetoric With Lynda Barry's What It Is." Women’s Studies in Communication 37.3 
"Rendering technology visible: The technological literacy narrative." Computers and Composition 29.3
Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass.  (University Press of Mississippi, 2012)

-- Rachel Palmer