Comics Studies Summer 2017

Course Title: Critical Approaches to Comics

Course Number: HUHI 6327: Artist and Writer in Society

Schedule | Assignments | Research Resources | Course Policies

The focus of this seminar is on the critical study of comics or comic books. Centering our critical attention on comics raises a number of questions: Are comics a genre, a medium, or a language unto themselves? How do we define “comics” and “comic books”? Are they different from “graphic novels”? Can pop culture works count as art? Are they a form of literature? Or are they some sui generis form of expression, reducible neither to visual art nor to literature. What gives art and literature their cultural legitimacy, which comics are generally thought to lack? Can comics be an effective form of journalism, political critique, or history? Can works of literature or scientific knowledge be effectively translated into comics? Many of these questions touch on foundational, philosophical issues in the arts and humanities.

We will address these questions philosophically, historically, and by way of an introduction to the interdisciplinary, academic study of comics and comic books. We will read a selection of primary texts from several genres (including classic superhero, deconstructed superhero, indie/underground comix, autobiographical, journalistic, etc.). Each week will be accompanied by different scholarly approaches to the study of comics, e.g., history, philosophy, literary/narrative criticism, visual analysis, communication/rhetoric, political economy, feminism, and race theory.


Because of the nature of the medium, the texts for this course will represent a sizable cost. Comics sometimes cost more than paperbacks, and we will read a lot of them. You might also consider teaming up with a buddy and sharing the cost, swapping off comics each week. Digital is fine if that is cheaper, if you have a way to bring the device to class, and it is reasonably sized (mainly tablets and laptops), though the way the digital medium changes the way comics are read is nontrivial.

All books will be on order at Off Campus Books (561 W Campbell Rd). You are encouraged to read as many of the comics sources ahead of time as possible, so as not to be too pressed during the short summer term.





Course Schedule

Critical readings will be from Critical Approaches to Comics [CAC] (required) or occasionally from The Power of Comics [PC] or The Comics Studies Reader [CSR], which are both recommended. The selections from these texts, and select other readings, will be made available on Electronic Reserves [ER]. For comics on Electronic Reserves, you will need to use a CBR/CBZ reader.

I encourage you to read each week in the following order: Read the comics and take notes. (Actually, as mentioned before, read the comics before the first day of class, if you can.) Then read the critical sources carefully. Take more notes. Then re-read the comics and see what new things you pick up.

  1. 5/30 — Introduction
    • McCloud, Understanding Comics
    • Siegel/Shuster, Action Comics #1 [ER]
    • Jenkins, “Should We Discipline the Reading of Comics?” [CAC]
    • Ricca, “History: Discovering the Story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” [CAC]
    • Read and discuss in class: Newgarden and Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” [ER]; Fine-Pawsey, “How to Mark a Comic” [ER]
    • Recommended: Harvey, “How Comics Came to Be” [CSR]
  2. 6/1 — Genre Analysis: Superheroes
    • Pop-up Library on “Graphic Novels” outside the Student Union: 1-1:30p.m. We’ll meet there at 1pm and move back to the classroom.
    • Comics:
      • Moore/Gibbons, Watchmen
      • Morrison/Quitely, All-Star Superman
    • Critical Sources:
      • Coogan, “Genre: Reconstructing the Superhero in All Star Superman” [CAC]
      • Recommended: Smith, “Auteur Criticism: The Re-Visionary Works of Alan Moore” [CAC]; Iain Thompson, “Deconstructing the Superhero” [ER]
  3. 6/6 — Genre Analysis: Memoir
    • Comics:
      • Spiegelman, Maus
      • Bechdel, Fun Home
      • Recommended: Lewis/Aydin/Powell, March
    • Critical Sources:
      • Duncan, Smith, and Levitz, “Comic Book Genres: The Memoir” [PC]
      • Recommended: Chute, “History and Graphic Representation in Maus” [CSR]; Beaty, “Autobiography as Authenticity” [CSR]
  4. 6/8 — Narrative Analysis in a Visual Medium
    • Comics:
      • Koike, Lone Wolf and Cub
      • Review: Watchmen; Maus; Fun Home
      • Recommended: Morrison, The Invisibles; Kuper, The System
    • Critical Sources:
      • Singer, “Time and Narrative: Unity and Discontinuity in The Invisibles” [CAC]
      • Lefevre, “Mise en scene and Framing: Visual Storytelling in Lone Wolf and Cub” [CAC]
      • Review: McCloud, Ch 3-4
      • Recommended: Berona, “Wordless Comics: The Imaginative Appeal of Peter Kuper’s The System” [CAC]
  5. 6/13 — Comics Adaptation
    • Comics:
      • Butler/Duffy/Jennings, Kindred
      • Crumb, The Book of Genesis
      • Recommended: Auster/Karasik/Mazzucchelli, City of Glass; Porcellino, Thoreau at Walden
    • Critical Sources:
      • Coughlan, “Paul Auster’s City of Glass: the Graphic Novel” [ER]
      • Ferstl, “Novel-Based Comics” [ER]
      • Review: McCloud, Ch 1, 6
  6. 6/15 — Race, Gender, and Ideology
    • Comics:
      • Herge, Tintin in the Congo
      • McDuffie/Bright, Icon: A Hero’s Welcome
      • Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane 121 and 122 [ER]
      • Revisit: Kindred
    • Critical Sources:
      • Rifas, “Ideology: The Construction of Race and History in Tintin in the Congo” [CAC]
      • Stuller, “Feminism: Second Wave Feminism in the Pages of Lois Lane” [CAC]
      • Swafford, “Critical Ethnography: The Comics Shop as Cultural Clubhouse” [CAC]
  7. 6/20 — Comics and/as Social Justice
    • Comics:
      • APB: Artists Against Police Brutality: A Comic Book Anthology, ed. Campbell, Rodriguez, and Jennings
      • DeConnick/De Landro, Bitch Planet vol 1
      • Recommended: DeConnick/De Landro, Bitch Planet issue 6-7
    • Critical Sources:
      • Brenna Clarke Gray & David N. Wright, “Decentering the sexual aggressor: sexual violence, trigger warnings and Bitch Planet”
      • Backmatter essays from Bitch Planet
  8. 6/22 — Analyzing the Visual Form
    • Comics:
      • Sacco, Safe Area Gorazde
      • Review: Unflattening
      • Recommended: Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth; Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp
    • Critical Sources:
      • Witek, “Comics Modes: Caricature and Illustration in the Crumb Family’s Dirty Laundry” [CAC]
      • Molotiu, “Abstract Form: Sequential Dynamism and Iconostasis in Abstract Comics and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man” [CAC]
      • Review: McCloud, Ch 2, 5, 8.
      • Recommended: Nyberg, “Journalism: Drawing on Words to Picture the Past in Safe Area Gorazde” [CAC]; Duncan, “Image Functions: Shape and Color as Hermeneutic Images in Asterios Polyp” [CAC]; Kannenberg, “The Comics of Chris Ware” [CSR]
  9. 6/27 — Visual Thinking Comics as a Way of Thinking
    • Sousanis, Unflattening
    • Recommended: Abbott, Flatland
  10. 6/29 — Science in/through Comics
    • Comics:
      • Marston/Peters, Wonder Woman [ER]
    • Critical Sources:
      • Wertham, from Seduction of the Innocent [CSR]
      • Rhodes, “Wonder Woman and Her Disciplinary Powers: The Queer Intersection of Scientific Authority and Mass Culture” [ER]
      • Recommended: Lepore, “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman”; Brown, “Love Slaves and Wonder Women: Radical Feminism and Social Reform in the Psychology of William Moulton Marston” [ER]


  1. In-class presentations
  2. Draft research proposal (300-500 words)
  3. Annotated Bibliography (~15 entries, 15±2 pages)
  4. Final research proposal (200 words)
  5. Extra credit: Panel proposal (link your research proposal w/ 2 of your classmates (3 total), and collaboratively write a ~200 word explanation of the panel theme and each paper’s contribution to it).

Research Resources

Course Policies