Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Day Job: Comics in the Classroom

I will be posting more about David Hajdu's great book, The Ten-Cent Plague, later this week. I had planned on running posts about it all week, but a computer problem at the Dr. K Head Office resulted in a harddrive crash. From the looks of things, most essential stuff was backed up, and the worst things that I lost were some images for the blog. But until the replacement harddrive comes, I can't use the scanner, so some stuff I was planning to do with the Hajdu book and other things will need to wait.

But, meanwhile, I'm still working on the reading list for the graphic novel class I mentioned in an earlier post. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.

On a similar topic, I recently received a review copy of a new literature textbook--Legacies, edited by Jan Zlotnick Schmidt, Lynne Crockett, and Carley Rees Bogarad--and I was surprised to see that the anthology contains a work of graphic literature in each chapter along with the usual poetry, fiction, drama, and nonfiction.

The graphic literature selections come from Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Lynda Barry's One! Hundred! Demons!, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese.

Individually, these are all fine selections, and I'm glad to see a lit anthology making this move to include graphic literature, but they also all tend toward autobiography, with the exception of the American Born Chinese exerpt on "The Myth of the Monkey King" (this section also suffers from not being reprinted in color). While autobiographical comics tend to be the dominant genre of "indy" or literary graphic novels, I would like to see more variety in an anthology like this (though I don't know what decisions went into the selections and how much cost and availability played as factors). I know this is a criticism that was lodged at the recent Best American Comics volume edited by Chris Ware, which seemed top-heavy with autobiography, and has been an issue of some controversy. Nonetheless, I think the editors of Legacies should be commended for this effort, and I hope this indicates a trend in lit textbooks.

I know Legacies isn't alone in this progress: I recently saw a manuscript of a new composition reader that included a short story by Will Eisner, and a lot of comp readers have moved toward including sections on visual rhetoric, which can include graphic literature as well as advertising, political cartoons, etc.

In preparing my graphic novel class, I've lamented the absence of a good, teachable graphic novel anthology that would serve my purposes, and this Legacies anthology has made me think about this issue more. Ivan Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories is the closest thing, but lacks any kind of apparatus or sense of historical scope to make it truly useful in the classroom. I can imagine, though, an anthology with a historical view, perhaps like the books the Smithsonian put out on newspaper comics and comic books, would be a nightmare of permissions and expenses that would make such a publishing venture cost-prohibitive, especially with its limited use in a specialized course. I wonder, though, as classes in graphic literature become more common, such an anthology will more than likely be forthcoming.

In addition, scholarly research in graphic literature is booming right now, and I'll have more to say about that trend in a later post.

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