This page is the public place for my Fall 2015 undergraduate course Comics as a Way of Thinking at the University of Calgary.
Downloadable PDF: Comics as a Way of Thinking Schedule
Sketch-map of Day 1: Overview
See extensive excerpts of sample student work from the course here!

Tuesday/Thursday 11:00-12:15
Classroom: SS1153
Instructor: Nick (Walter) Sousanis
Office: SS1004
Phone: (403) 220-4665
Office hours: Tuesday 9:30-10:30am or by appointment

Course description: This course will explore comics as a unique and robust communication form, with an emphasis on understanding comics by making them. We will take a multifaceted approach to analyzing the medium, from uncovering comics’ historical roots and examining the various genres developed in the West and across the globe, to delving into the theoretical and formal elements, as well as considerations of comics in relation to other media such as film, poetry, and even architecture. Beyond narratives, we will look at the growing role comics are playing in the fields of journalism, education, and health/medicine. While making comics will be a significant component of the course, prior drawing experience is not required. Rather, we will expand upon what drawing means by creating spaces for students to play and explore the multiplicity of possibilities that emerge when we work in the bilingual fashion that comics facilitate. The course will serve as a springboard for students to develop ways to incorporate visual practices gleaned from comics into their own creative and critical work.

Briefly on my teaching philosophy: I consider learning as acquiring the tools to follow one’s own curiosity, and thus teaching means providing a framework, establishing an environment for participants to explore and thrive. Rather than being out in front, I see my role as accompanying students on a journey we all make together. As a class, we all come from different backgrounds and offer distinct vantage points – we want to draw on all of them to expand the possibilities for what we can all learn as we each find our own way. I want to emphasize the importance of play as a form of learning – that doesn’t mean it’s not hard work, it’s that we learn by doing, by trying, by falling, by diving in with vigor and seeing what happens.

Texts and readings:

Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics (Avon).
Matt Madden. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Chamberlain Bros.)
Lynda Barry. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly)
Peter Kuper. The System (PM Press)
Marjane Satrapi The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon)
Ellen Forney Marbles (Avery)
Paul Karasik, David Mazzucchelli, Paul Auster. City of Glass: The Graphic Novel (Picador)

All of the above are required for this course and are available in the bookstore. Additional shorter readings will be provided by the instructor or available online.

Materials: Since we will be drawing (!) – you will need to have a few simple and readily available materials on hand. You can of course get more than these if your interest allows, but here are some basics:

A notebook/journal/sketchbook of some sort
Drawing implements: pencil, blue line pencil, colored pen, pencils/markers, brush pen (optional)
Construction paper, scissors, glue

Participation: This includes actively participating in discussion and engaging in the in-class comics/drawing exercises, and your attendance. Some thoughts and specifics:

We learn in community and gain from each other’s perspective. Let’s be here on time and respect one another’s point of view and discover what we can learn together. We want this classroom to be a great learning environment for everyone, so we need to all take care of each other to make it so. Laptops and smart devices, if used well, can complement discussion and so are permitted. If they are being used in a way that detracts from the overall environment, the instructor will address that.

Attendance: Class functions best when we are all present to continue ongoing discussion. Of course, sometimes obligations, illness, or other unforeseen events make attendance impossible. If you know of an upcoming obligation or ongoing health/personal challenges that that will preclude your attendance, let me know in advance and we will make alternative arrangements.

Ongoing Short Assignments:
a variety of activities that may include comics-making or other drawing exercises, visual analysis/annotations of comics, responses to readings in comics form, brief presentations – introducing the class to a particular work or way of working in comics and its significance, others to be dreamed up by participants and instructor as we go! Emphasis will be placed on inventiveness, curiosity, effort, and willingness to dive in and try with vigor something you haven’t. Student evaluation will be based primarily on completion not skill – we want to build a portfolio of your explorations that should be rich in its depth.

Composition Journal:
We will be keeping a notebook or journal for notes, exercises, and some specific visual journaling and notetaking explorations, drawing on the work of Lynda Barry, sketch-noting, and more. This is a chance to do your thinking through physical activity and visual representation. As with the description of Short Assignments above, attending to it with inventiveness is most valued.

Midterm: at home, in-depth visual analysis/annotation of a small number of comics pages.

Final Project:
Conduct an extensive exploration in comics or a related image-text form that demonstrates the use of comics within a particular context. This will be something related to your own work or area of interest. Alternatively: write up in more traditional form, an analysis of the usage of comics within a particular context, addressing its effects and ways it can increase understanding. Topic and format will be discussed in class and approved in conversation with the instructor, and as part of your final, you will produce a short proposal statement laying out the goals of the project. Everyone will make brief project presentations in our final sessions – completed projects are due one week after last meeting (Dec 15).


What follows is a roadmap for our work together. It is not meant to be a rigid document, but something that will evolve as we explore and generate responses to the material we cover. As our course alters to accommodate new ideas and unanticipated detours, I will keep you all apprised in class and via email to ensure we all remain on the same page.

Please Note, I have an opportunity to speak about my work in the United States and overseas on several occasions over the term. This will mean that I will have to miss a few class sessions – but as is noted in the schedule there will be special guests presenting on those days, this includes eminent comics scholar Professor Bart Beaty, UofC doctoral candidate Tom Sewell, and postdoctoral fellow Frederik Køhlert. Each will speak from their particular areas of expertise in comics and work within the general scope of our discussion.

Class 1             Introduction

Sept 8               Course Map, Opening conversation on just what are comics anyhow?

Ex: Grids/Gestures – abstract comics making (See the Exercise Here)
HW: Read/View Mike Rohde on Sketchnoting, Giulia Forsythe on Visual Notetaking (video), Scott Torrance on Shift from text to Visual
a quick sketch-note-diagram what brought you here and where you want to go with comics…

Class 2             History & Lineage

Sept 10             Early definitions, a look at precursors to comics throughout history and pre-history, and the seminal moments that helped shape the form as it is today

Ex: Relationship cutout drawings (bring scissors, colored paper!) Reference Molly Bang, Mark Gonyea
HW: Read McCloud Understanding Comics Ch1-3 for Sept 15; Do Grids/Gestures as Diary, 3 Days

Class 3             Sequential Art

Sept 15              McCloud’s definition, sequential nature of comics

Ex: Panel Lottery (by Madden/Abel)
HW: Read Dylan Horrocks Inventing Comics, Understanding Comics McCloud Ch4, The Comics Journal responses to McCloud (Online UofC Library): Witek, Beaty, Frome, Hatfield/Sturm for Sept 17

Class 4             Simultaneity

Sept 17              Simultaneous aspects of comics as visual art, discussion of Groensteen’s theorizing, time in space, McCloud Ch4
HW: How You Got Here in 3 panels/2 pages for Sept 29

Class 5             Guest Professor Bart Beaty

Sept 22                What Were Comics project, History, Archie Comics, …
HW: Read John Miers Garden of Forking Paths
Bernard & Carter on Moore & the 4th Dimension for Sept 24

Class 6             Guest Doctoral Candidate Tom Sewell

Sept 24              Watchmen, Multiversity: Pax Romana, Time and space in comics

HW: Read Madden for Oct 1, Chris Ware “Heads or Tails” finish 3 panels for Sept 29, Peeters, Read Spiros, Groensteen

Class 7             Space/Time (cont)/Architecture

Sept 29              Chris Ware’s Building Stories, nonlinear comics approaches (Jason Shiga),

Ex: TBD (parenthetical comic)
HW: Read Madden for Oct 1

Class 8             Matt Madden 99 Ways to Tell a Story

Oct 1                  Discussion and dissection of 99 Ways

HW: 3 versions due Oct 8

Class 9             Guest Postdoctoral Fellow Frederik Køhlert: Representation in Comics

Oct 6                  Discussion of imagery, representation and autobiography

HW: Read Kuper The System, David Berona on wordless comics, finish 3 versions comics

Class 10            Kuper’s The System and Wordless comics

Oct 8                  Discussion of the System, the spectrum from text only to picture books to wordless, David Berona, readings including Gregory Benton B+F, Winshluss Pinocchio, Max Estes Den Krokete Kniv, Lynd Ward, Frans Masereel Passionate Journey, Sara Varon Robot Dreams, and more…

HW: Wordless comics making, Read McCloud 6, Harvey

Class 11            Wordless Comics 2

Oct 13                 Explore wordlesscomics examples including Kuper, Gregory
Benton“B+F” & “Smoke,” Shaun Tan “The Arrival,” Eric Drooker “Flood,”
Marc Antoine Matthieu “Untitled,” Winshluss “Pinocchio,” Max Estes “Den
Krokete Kniv,” Lynd Ward, Frans Masereel “Passionate Journey,” Sara
Varon “Robot Dreams,” Morrison/Quitely New X-Men “silent issue,” Amazing
Spider-Man 655, and more…

HW: Read McCloud 6, Harvey

Class 12            Image-Text Interaction

Oct 15                          Discussion of ways image and text interact in comics, how text
becomes a visual element, sound effects, and more, Chris Couch, RC
Harvey, Comics and Cola blogpost

Ex: Telephone comic: composition>drawing>words

HW: Read from Lynda Barry “Syllabus”

Class 13            Image-Text: Lynda Barry

Oct 20             Image-text interaction as creative process, Lynda Barry’s drawing and
note taking methods, Mike Rohde Sketchnoting

HW: Read McCloud Ch5 (+ ch2), Humphreys, Heer, Spiegelman, How to
Read Nancy, Witek, Frome on Identification:

HW: Make metaphorical themed one-pager (to be explained in class)

Class 14            Multimodality/Style & Power of Images

Oct 22              Discussion of multimodality, stylistic choices, Topffer/Gombrich,
Caricature, Why does it affect us so much?
HW: Mini-midterm Visual Analysis/Annotation due Oct 27, Read
Mazzucchelli City of Glass

Class 15            City of Glass

Oct 27                Discussion of City of Glass, Martha Kuhlman article, script to comic

Class 16            Comics & Poetry/Comics-Poetry

Oct 29                 Look at connection between comics and poetry, the emerging form of comics-poetry, Alexander Rothman (possible virtual guest), and InkBrick

HW: Comics-Poem (adaptation/original), Read Persepolis

Class 17            Memoir: Persepolis film

Nov 3                  Watch Persepolis in class

Class 18            Persepolis: Reading    

Nov 5                 Discussion of the book, distinctions between film version and comics version, perhaps split class – have some read book then watch film, others watch film, read after

HW: Read Ellen Forney Marbles

Class 19            Graphic Medicine

Nov 10               Ellen Forney Marbles, David B., Clem Martini (UofC), Bechdel, Small, Miriam Katin, Forney, Graphic Medicine information

No Class           READING DAYS – NO CLASSES

Nov 12

Class 20           Comics Journalism

Nov 17               A look at the works of Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Dan Archer, Molly Crabapple, Lukas Plank, and more


Class 21            Educational/Information Comics

Nov 19                A look at this growing field – starting from McCloud, Larry Gonick, ever-growing works produced intended to teach a topic, prevalence of author’s avatar, other approaches.

Class 22           Digital landscapes

Nov 24              Gif-comics: Lilli Carre, Boulet, Electricomics, Thrillbent, etc.; Infinite Canvas – XKCD;

Class 23           Sign Language

Nov 26              Connections between comics and sign-language, efforts to do comics with sign language, also Ilan Manouach’s Shape Reader for blind readers, a look at Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja

Class 24           Maps, Diagrams

Dec 1                Ways that maps and diagrams resemble comics and what we might learn about comics from them

Class 25           Final Presentations

Dec 3

Class 26           Final Presentations

Dec 8

Somewhere in here we will look at mini-comics….

Additional readings (Available either online, via the library website, or PDFs supplied by instructor on D2L) These will be made explicitly available and added to D2L.

Charles Hatfield – An Art of Tensions (PDF)
Groensteen – the Impossible Definition, excerpt from The System of Comics? (PDF)
Dylan Horrocks Inventing Comics
The Comics Journal articles: Witek, Beaty, McCloud’s response, Frome, Hatfield/Sturm (PDF)
Simultaneous – directed network
Groensteen, A. Miller
Space/Time conflation Jose Alaniz article (PDF)
The Comics Journal: Spiros (PDF)
John Miers Garden of Forking Paths
Bernard & Carter on Moore & the 4th Dimension
Harry Morgan – Graphic Shorthand (PDF)
Harvey/McCloud Round & Round with Scott McCloud (PDF)
RC Harvey Image-Word in the Comics Journal
WJT Mitchell?
Hillary Chute Comics as Literature (PDF)
HC Secret Labor (poetry & Comics)
Neil Cohn comic on visual language
Bart Beaty Ch1 Defining a Comics Art World from Comics vs Art (PDF)
Spiegelman – drawing blood? (PDF)
Jeet Heer on Caricature and Charlie Hebdo
Aaron Humphrey comic on Multimodality (PDF)
David Beronä – wordless comics (PDF)
A. David Lewis The Shape of Comic Book Reading (PDF)
Martha Kuhlman Poetics of Page (City of Glass) (PDF)
Comics & Cola SFX
Ben Baruch Blich Comics at the Service of Information (Töpffer) (PDF) Newgarden/Karasik, “How to Read Nancy”
Kunzle, “Rodolphe Töpffer’s Aesthetic Revolution”??
Peeters on page construction
Pascal LeFevre, “Mise En Scene and Framing: Visual Storytelling in Lone Wolf and Cub” in Smith & Duncan (eds.) Critical Approaches to Comics (PDF)
David A. Berona, “Wordless Comics: The Imaginative Appeal of Peter Kiper’s The System,” in Smith & Duncan (eds.) Critical Approaches to Comics (PDF)
Women working in comics podcast audio

Comics Journalism: Josh Neufeld, Sacco, Molly Crabapple, Dan Archer, online Neufeld Terms of Service
Lukas Plank on ethics of comics journalism

Further comics readings
Moore: This is Information & How Things Work Out (PDF)
Chris Ware: Heads or Tails in NYTimes & Building Stories
Lilli Carre: NYTimes gif comic
Boulet gif comic
Richard McGuire Here – both versions (PDF)
Hicksville excerpt? (PDF)
Pat Grant Blue (online) and his dissertation?
Feldstein/Krigstein, “Master Race” (PDF)
Kate Beaton, etc.
Abstract comics architecture 3-d play comic (note: some disturbing content)

Side readings to consider
Arnheim on visual thinking
Tufte on information design
Molly Bang Picture This
Susanne K. Langer
Colin Ware Visual Thinking for Design