(NOW Complete – with full details and student examples below!) This is the page for my current general comics course Comics & Culture for Fall of 2018. All my syllabi and class breakdowns are available at the Education part of my site here.

Download the syllabus in full here Comics Culture Syllabus F18 w Visual

Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Summary

An overview of what we did in each class session, what we read, in-class assignments and larger projects, along with examples of student work from these various assignments. PDFs of student examples from assignments are linked to throughout.

Some notes about the course in preparing this summary a year later. The schedule was a bit odd – we had the opportunity to have some special guests early on – Joe Field to talk about comics history and our new archive, and Andrew Aydin to talk about March – so I adjusted the readings to work with their availability, and that coupled with other constraints, meant an initial sequence that wasn’t quite how I would’ve planned it all other things being equal. It worked out fine (and they were both great – as was our later guest GB Tran) but it’s not typical for my course – usually the wordless book would come first and go from there.

Also – I swerved on the readings at the last minute this term. Given the political climate, I realized how many of the readings I’d initially selected had to do with refugees and immigration, so I opted to add The Arrivalas well to have this recurring theme across the semester. It worked really well and The Arrivalis such a powerful and instructive book – I always recommend it but this was the first time I’d taught it. But cutting it meant leaving out Robot Dreams, which is delightful and teaches not only about wordless comics but also cartooning, and I also left out Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, which is always wonderful when I talk about cartooning on its own. Without either of these, there wasn’t a natural spot for that discussion so it was shoehorned into an already tight spot because of the schedule issues.

Finally, as I look back at the Response Galleries (this is what I call the place on iLearn where students post images and reflections of in-class and at home exercises we’ve done), I see there’s not quite enough comics making in there – and they started to get heavy on doing analysis pages and sketchnotes. Both things that are extremely important to me, but I wanted a little more playful exercises and those are a little thinner than I’d like. Things to rectify for next time! – N

Day1 Intro & Prehistory: After introducing the course, my own work in comics, and exploring their interests, we looked at a little bit of comics-like things before comics – from tapestries to cave paintings give a sense how long making sense of our world through pictures has been a part of who we are. We ended class by doing my grids & Gestures activity.

Response Gallery (RG) 1: Why Comics? What have you/do you read? WRITE a brief reflection of what your interest in in comics/what brought you to this class; then list a few favorite comics that you’ve read and what comics you’re reading now, if any; finally – say a few words about what you hope to get from this course.

D2 History: We began the session introducing them to Sketchnoting – a way of visually taking notes that I have them use for various assignments throughout the term. We then got into a discussion of what are comics?, and looked at comics-like things from William Hogarth to Rodolphe Töpffer closing with Richard Outcault and Yellow Kid. They were then assigned a different comics author from history to create a sketchnote about for our next class. They also had to read a short essay by prominent Franco-Belgian comics theorist Thierry Groensteen “Why are comics still in search of cultural legitimization?” along with cartoonist Lynda Barry’s introduction to Best American Comics 2008 – and create sketchnotes for those as well.

RG2 Grids & Gestures Post an image of your in-class Grids & Gestures with a short explanation of what you did/why – anything you learned from the process… http://spinweaveandcut.com/grids-gestures/

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt1(PDF)

D3 Modern History: As it says, this is a discussion of the modern history of comics, from the early newspaper strips, to superhero comics to the comics code era, the Underground comix to the wide range of comics/graphic novels that exist today. It’s a lot. This time around I distributed the information a bit by having students make a sketchnote about a different creator picked from a list I created. I then worked those sketchnotes into my slides to flesh out what I had on each author a bit more. In some cases, this works great – students put some strong effort into it and offered something more, and sometimes not so much, which meant an awkward moment as I filled in the gaps in discussion. Have to think how to make this work even better – but I like the concept and think it’s important – likely just needs to be a little later in the semester. I’d like to, and I know other comics profs who do this, suggest we turn an assignment like this into an opportunity for them to create/update an author’s Wikipedia page, but we haven’t gotten that far yet (it has been a suggested option for the final project).

RG3 Drawing You! In class, they each made sketches of themselves – one without looking the second using your camera or mirror, and then shared a brief reflection about the process of making them – which did you like better, etc.

RG4 Sketchnote response to readings: Read Groensteen’s essay & Lynda Barry’s short comic and then make a sketchnote of your response to it – by first reading/watching the quick sketchnote resources I have provided.

RG5 Sketchnote of a Comics Creator:You are to do a small amount of research about a comics creator selected in class. Wikipedia is fine – but back it up with some other site where you see a sample or two of their work. MAKE a quick sketchnote about your author – what is significant about them in the history of comics – and post that along with an image or two of their work here (this could also be something you redraw or paste within your sketchnote). It’s not a huge assignment – I just want you to spend a little bit of time learning about someone you are interested in or perhaps never heard of. I included these in the class slides.

D4 Thomas Rue Comics Archives w/Joe Field: Comic shop owner and historian Joe Field joined us at the Library – to take us through a little tour of the new Thomas Bentley Rue Platinum and Golden Age Comic Book and Adventure Strips Collection featuring comics from 1938-1952.

RG6 Sketchnote to Joe Field’s Talk

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt2 (PDF)

D5 Sequential Art: We took up the concept of what are comics and then McCloud’s notion of comics as Sequential Art as a starting point for what is this thing called comics and the inclusivity that that provides for things past and things to come.

In search of cultural legitimization, Groensteen’s four symbolic handicaps:

    • A hybrid form consisting of text and image
    • Storytelling ambitions are at the level of sub-literature
    • Connections to caricature, an inferior visual art
    • Associated with children and childhood

We reviewed old definitions.

What are Comics?

“A serially published, episodic, open-ended dramatic narrative or series of linked anecdotes about recurrent identified characters, told in  successive drawings regularly enclosing ballooned dialogue or its equivalent and generally minimal narrative text.”
— Bill Blackbeard, “Mislabeled Books”. Funny World 16, (1974), p.41

NO! We said.

Maybe things like this are better…

    • “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce and aesthetic response in the viewer.” –Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics(1994)
    • “This plasticity of comics, which allows them to put in place messages of every order and narrations other than the fictional, demonstrates that, before being an art, comics are well and truly a language.” — Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics (2007), p.19
    • What McCloud’s definition does is open wide the field of comics –about ALL that they can be. It’s useful in what it enables and the ways that it demonstrates what comics can do similarly to other media (say film) and what powers they possess and thus what they can handle uniquely.
    • Art Spiegelman: “Picture Writing”; “choreograph and shape time” (weirdness of time in comics)
    • Marjane Satrapi “Narrative Drawing”
    • Alison Bechdel: “like learning a new syntax, a new way of ordering ideas”
    • Harvey Pekar: “Comics are just words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures…”
    • “I found that I was involved with an ‘art of communication’ more than simply an application of art.” –Will Eisner, Sequential Art (1985).

McCloud’s definition opens wide the field of comics –about ALL that they can be. It’s useful in what it enables and the way it demonstrates what comics can do similarly to other media (say film) and what powers it possesses and thus what it can handle uniquely…(This is true even if we ultimately aren’t satisfied with this as a definition either)

RG7 Panel Lottery–collaborative comics making activity by Abel & Madden. After talking sequential art and definitions, we played Matt Madden and Jessica Abel’s collaborative comics making game “Panel Lottery” – in which each person on a team (of about 10 in my class) draws on their three notecards one, two, or all three of the characters they provide doing or saying something. Cards are then shuffled, redistributed to everyone and they work together to compose a meaningful narrative using all the cards. It’s a blast! (Instructions and model characters here http://dw-wp.com/2010/05/panel-lottery-an-exercise-in-narrative-juxtaposition-and-editing/)

D6 March w/Andrew Aydin: In preparation for our author visit today, we read March vol 1 and some accompanying articles, including the 1957 MLK comic that in turn inspired March (and Andrew Aydin wrote a masters thesis on before working on March with Congressman John Lewis).

RG8 Quick Page Analysis/3 Qs for Andrew Aydin:Redraw or trace a page you choose from March and then write/draw/diagram directly on it anything and everything you can notice about the page – drawing on things we’ve discussed in class, your common sense, and more… Post this – along with 3 QUESTIONS you come up with in Advance to ask Andrew Aydin when he visits with us next week.

D7 March Day 2: We continued our discussion on March, and also on the World Comics – Grassroots Comics Project (World Comics Finland, World Comics India)

RG9 Additional March Analysis: Continuing to work on analyzing/annotating pages from March – to prompt discussion and to start unraveling how comics do their thing

D8: Time & Space in Comics: We talked about the weirdness of time in comics (with lots of examples from McCloud to comics that make use of this in novel ways) and how time is conveyed through space on the comics page. Additionally they read Moore & Veitch “How Things Work Out” – a mind-bending short comic showing just how cool comics are, Richard McGuire’s original six-page here from 1989 – a small comic about a corner in the room that changed the face of comics going forward, a short excerpt from Franco-Belgian comics theorist Thierry Groensteen’s “System of Comics” and the concept of braiding, and Spiros Tsauousis’s essay “What Comics Do” from The Comics Journal on the spatial aspect of comics.

RG10 Sketchnote response to readings: They were to read the comics and articles and post a sketchnote combining key ideas and questions.

D9: Simultaneity Building on our earlier explorations of form, we discussed the concept of simultaneity – how the comics page can be read sequentially, yes, but because we also view the whole composition all at once – it does something unique to how we can read them, layer information within. This is the heart of my thinking on comics, so I also get particularly excited talking about such things and it’s reflected frequently in the kind of comics students of mine produce. After looking at theory – drawing on Groensteen and myself, we looked at a ton of examples where the page composition contributes to the whole meaning and how only reading a single panel at a time and not witnessing the whole, would obscure the meaning of particular comics pages. We more on the importance of flatness and comics being a static medium, and then looked at various ways of breaking panels in comics – the weird things that comics can do, and then asked why they are done, what sort of affordances are gained in doing so.

Also, Day 9 Multimodality: Because of the slightly off kilter start on our schedule with the various guests and other constraints, I also leaped into a discussion of multimodality in comics and image-text interactions in comics – and the multimodal nature of word balloons and such on the page. We would follow this up on later days, but I wanted it introduced early on to use in their thinking on the various things we were reading.

RG11 3-Person Collaborative Comic: For this exercise, first person draws a blank page composition/panel layout (with some bit of complexity (or a lot)), the second person adds the words and word supports (balloons, thought bubbles, caption boxes, sound effects, …) – and third person took it home to draw whatever is going on in the comic. (I have done this with the drawing being second – it is for reasons I can speculate on, not as successful.)

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt3 (PDF)

D10 The Arrival (Wordless Comics 1): We read Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and discussed alongside other wordless comics that I supplied. The also read an interview with Tan on his process and more.

RG12: The Arrival page analysis/Annotation: Redraw or trace a page you choose from The Arrival and then write/draw/diagram directly on it anything and everything you can notice about the page – drawing on things we’ve discussed in class, your common sense, and more… [we did a lot of analysis pages over the term, at least one per reading, so I’ll trust that the reader here gets the idea and I’ll say less about it in future instances]

D11 The Arrival (Day 2) (Wordless Comics 2): More on The Arrival and wordless comics in general. Additional readings:

  • Check out Laura Sneddon’s article on wordless comics here
  • Read this blogpost on David Berona’s analysis of wordless comics
  • I also gave them excerpts or short comics including Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams(which is frequently the wordless book we read together), a My Little Pony comic that was wordless, a short Korgicomic, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s wordless X-Men issue, and an excerpt from Peter Kuper’s wordless The System(which I’ve also taught on its own a few times).

D12 Wordless Comics 3: More on wordless comics in general. Also, I did a slide talk on Cartooning – why pictures work (or seeing faces everywhere). This often ties neatly into both Robot Dreams and American Born Chinese – but since I didn’t teach either of these this term and the schedule was wonky, I worked it in here more as a standalone. This includes lots of things including my obsession with why Peppa Pig is so effective despite neither looking like a pig or a person, Ivan Brunetti’s eyebrow-drawing exercise for minimal cartooning, and why satirical cartoonists are so threatening to governments.

RG13: Wordless Comic– Create a short wordless comic, 1-2 pages, to try your hand at communicating story without having to use words.

D13 Skip Day (Nick at Conference)

D14 Persepolis (Film) – we watched most of the film in class.

The Visual Analysis/Annotation Project was due in class this day.

Instructions: For this early-term assignment, you will choose from a set of instructor-supplied comics pages along with another of your choosing to visually annotate and analyze. This means that you will either trace the two pages on tracing paper, redraw in your own hand, or make photocopies. You will then annotate the pages with notes and diagrammatic elements, in which you explain the effect of the various stylistic and other creative elements of the page. In other words, you will need to offer analytical commentary about why certain interesting creative decisions seem to have been made, and what they do to your understanding of the comic. The emphasis here is on observation—how much can you notice?—and what you can deduce from everything you have observed. The assignment is designed to help you think about the construction of a comic—how is it made, why is it made in this way, and what is the effect of it being made this way?

NOTE: re: THE VISUAL ANALYSIS/ANNOTATION PROJECT: I have an entire page devoted to examples of the Visual Analysis/Annotation project here – so I’m not setting aside a specific PDF for examples from this class.

D15 Persepolis (Day 2)(Film/book) – we finished watching Persepolis and then started comparing the book and film. I try to get some of the students to hold off reading the book till we’ve watched most of the film and others that read before so we can have different perspectives on which they prefer, what feels more true, etc. They also read a few academic articles on Persepolis.

RG14: Analyze/annotate page from Persepolis

D16 Persepolis Day 3 – further discussion of Persepolis and its implications for education, cultural contexts, etc.

RG15 Sketchnote of Persepolis Readings

RG16: Satrapi-You! They made a cartooned drawing of themselves in the style of Satrapi in class and posted that along with any reflections about the act of making it or your response to it.

D17 Watchmen 1: We began discussing Watchmen with some biographical info on Moore and then slowly went through only Chapter one, which they had each analyzed a page from. (Unfortunately, many of them the same pages, so we didn’t all get a different page)

RG17: Analyze/Annotate Watchmen Ch1

D18 Watchmen 2: More Watchmen, and a focus on Time and its portrayal in the book…

READ Bernard & Carter Alan Moore & The Graphic Novel: Confronting the Fourth Dimension

Also READ Moore & Gibbons short early comic ChronCop (with trippy time travel stuff!)

RG18: Analyze/annotate Watchmen Ch4 of Ch9(both heavily focus on concept of time)

D19 Watchmen 3: Not our final day discussing Watchmen – on grids, symbols, pirates, and more…

RG19 Sketchnote and 3 Questions: Make a quick sketchnote drawing together a few themes from the whole of Watchmen that stood out to you, things you were interested in, curious about, want to think on more. Include 3 questions in the sketch, and also type those questions in the box here

MIDTERM DUE on this Class Day STUDENT Examples Comics and Culture F18 Overview Midterm(PDF)

D20 Watchmen 4: This ended up being a bonus day with Watchmen. We talked grids, symbols, pirates, and who is the hero here anyhow?

RG20: Dave Gibbons-ify Yourself: In class, draw yourself in the style of Watchmen characters as drawn by Dave Gibbons. Note how it compares to drawing like Marjane Satrapi or other approaches…

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt4 (PDF)

D21 Vietnamerica: Class discussion

RG21: analysis of page from Vietnamerica

D22 Vietnamerica w/GB Tran: Tran joined us for a wonderful discussion of his process and the experience of creating Vietnamerica.

RG22 Final Project Proposals

D23 Epileptic & Graphic Medicine: Graphic Medicine Resources: [Graphic Medicine = the use of comics as a medium for communicating stories about medicine and the experience of illness]

RG23 Epileptic page analysis

D24 Epileptic & Graphic Medicine 2: More discussion of Epileptic and graphic medicine more generally (I didn’t get to do enough on GM this term – making sure to do more next time around)

RG24 Thumbnail Exercise: In-class we made a thumbnail from a page in Epileptic, and then a quick 3-page thumbnail of a story each person made up.

D25 The Best We Could Do: Day one of our discussion of TBWCD alongside Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (which we looked at excerpts from).

RG25 Page analysis or sketchnote of TBWCD

D26 The Best We Could Do: Day 2

RG26 In-class self-portraits and emotion drawings: In-class, we first drew ourselves as a TinTin character, then we did emotional line drawings, and finally a quick cartoon self-portrait thinking about the line as depicting our emotional state for the drawing. Post here with a comment or two…

D27 Ms. Marvel: A look at the bizarre publication history of characters named Captain Marvel and then a discussion of Ms. Marvel.

Forbes opinion piece on not teaching with comics…

Willow Wilson & your professor in conversation at the Jaipur Literary Festival (Boulder) – she starts in around 10 minute mark

RG27 Page analysis of sketchnote of Ms. Marvel

D28 Ms Marvel 2: In addition to discussing Ms. Marvel, looked at various types of mini-comics and briefly tried our hand at them.

Mini-comics making resources on my site (scroll down) http://spinweaveandcut.com/making-tools-and-minicomics/

RG28: Heroic-You!: In-class – we made a mini-comic and you made your own hero! Post an image of your full mini-comic here…

D29 Recap:I do a whirlwind slideshow of the highlights of everything we covered and then give them a chance to draw their reflections on the class and share them by affixing them to a large sheet of paper.

RG29 Summary stickers: On the penultimate day, everyone presents their thoughts on what they’ll take from class in some visual fashion by drawing/writing/comics-ing on a sticker label. Your key takeaways from the class – drawn, sketchnoted, comic-ed, and other image-text ways…

We compiled those all on a single page.

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt5 (PDF)

D30 Final Exam Session: Project Sharing!: Everyone presents a short version of their various final projects

This is a pretty comprehensive look at everything we did – with the exception of the Final Projects – which are often more personal and become a giant amount of materials to put together. All student examples are collected below as well as spread throughout above. – N

Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt1(PDF)
Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt2 (PDF)
Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt3 (PDF)
Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt4 (PDF)
Student Examples Comics and Culture Fall 2018 Pt5 (PDF)
Student Examples Visual Analysis/Annotation projects
Student Examples Comics and Culture F18 Overview Midterm(PDF)