Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Help Out Dr. K: Graphic Novel Class Syllabus

I'm interrupting Apes Week to ask my readers for some help putting together a syllabus for a summer class I'm teaching on graphic narratives. The class goes for five weeks (2 hours per day, 4 days a week), and I plan to include 10 books on the reading list. So far, I have the following 7 picked:

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
The Best of the Spirit by Will Eisner
Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman
Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi
Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

So, I'm looking for 3 more books to include in the class. Here are my criteria for the books already on the syllabus:

V for Vendetta and Jimmy Corrigan are on this list because I've used them in past classes, and they work well. American Born Chinese is there because of current research that I'm doing, and that book fits with Persepolis in a unit on autobiographical comics. I don't feel like I need to add any more of those to the list, but I'm thinking of using Fun Home.

Nightly News is there because I want to end the class with a new work that pushes the rules of page design and narrative form, and I also think this work fits well with a sub-theme of revolution that will tie it in with V for Vendetta. In most of my literature classes, I try to teach at least one first novel so that students can start following the writer's career from the beginning and possibly make a life-long commitment to follow that writer's work. That's another reason why Nightly News is on the list.

The first assignment for the class is going to involve reading Understanding Comics and applying some of McCloud's narrative concepts to another work. One of those works is going to be the Spirit collection, but I'd also like to include something else that's more conventional, and perhaps superhero-y. I'm toying with the idea of using The House of Mystery Showcase Vol. 1, because it will give students a greater variety of short stories to choose from for this short assignment. I would welcome other suggestions, especially collections that don't need to be read in their entirety.

I also want to use something by Gilbert Hernandez, but I'm debating between Heartbreak Soup and Human Diastrophism. I'm certain I will use one of them, but I am on the fence as to which.

I'm also considering Matt Kindt's SuperSpy, to pair with Nightly News to talk about formal experiments, but I worry that the book's narrative experimentation might require too much time to unpack in this short class.

For a wide variety of reasons, I do not want to use Watchmen, From Hell, Maus, and A Contract with God. The first two would take up too much time for this course; Maus is too expensive for the class (I want to keep the cost down, and volume one is unavailable as a separate book; and other than its historical importance, I don't find Contract to be anything more than a mediocre short story collection. All of these will be referenced in the class, however.

I also plan to reference a lot of stuff that I won't be teaching in its entirety, like Jar of Fools and Black Hole. For similar reasons, I don't want to be teaching parts of longer, multivolume narratives, like Y: The Last Man, Fables, Planetary, Transmetropolitan, etc.

I'm also less interested in discussions of canonicity and "essential" works than I am of finding works that are relevent to each other and making connections between works that I can pair up "in conversation."

So, to summarize:
--I need three more books for the class.
--One should be a superhero book or another popular genre, like horror.
--One should be by Gilbert Hernandez.
--One is totally up for grabs, but I'm less inclined to pick something autobiographical, since that is already well-covered. It should also stand on its own as an independent narrative.
--The choices should be less than $20, and preferably around $10-15 in order to keep the cost down for this class.

All suggestions are greatly appreciated.


gorjus said...

I think Fun Home would be a great choice, not only because it's a relatively "easy" read for non-comics readers, but because of how soaked it is in literary references.

In terms of superhero comics, what about using a "classic" text? Other than the Spirit (which, to me, often transcends time and can work as a great genre piece, if you skip the jarring racial stereotypes), the other stuff is all post-1980. So maybe try one of the Steranko-penned S.H.I.E.L.D. volumes? The first one he's still moving from these great Kirby jagged anatomy poses to psychedelic form, and that might be fun to examine in terms of graphic narrative.

I'm trying to think of a good Kirby collection that would be a fun topic, but I just can't.

Let me cast my vote for Heartbreak Soup!! I think the shorter stories would work well.

Maxo said...

Here's what came to my mind:

Superhero: Batman Year 100; it's familiar, self-contained and could tie in with the revolution sub-theme.

Hernandez: I'd go with Heartbreak Soup, just because you don't have to worry about back-story.

Up-for-grabs: Whiteout, Deogratias, We3 or De: Tales.

Is manga included? Because Gyo is some pretty freaky horror, has all that manga-style decompression and both volumes are around $10 each.

Chance said...

I would go with a Little Lulu volume. Other ideas: Concrete. Something by Joe Matt. Hate.

Dr. K said...

gorjus--The Steranko idea is very good. The SHIELD book is $19.95, though, which is at the top of my price range. I wish the shorter SHIELD book were still in print.

maxo--Batman Year 100 is a good idea, too. I wanted to work some Batman in, and Paul Pope connects to some of the other work in the class.

Manga, however, is a bit tricky. A lot of the good stuff falls under the problem of long-form narratives that I mentioned in the post. Also, individual volumes are pretty light on content, so I worry that they might not generate much discussion beyond comments on form and style. But if Gyo is limited to only two volumes, I may check it out.

Chance: The Little Lulu idea is fantastic. I may actually go with that.

Anonymous said...

Dark Knight Returns. It's still alot of fun and contains a gut punch energy that doesn't age.

Scott Pilgrim: It's fun different and almost single handedly brought me back to comics.

Anonymous said...

Icon: A Hero’s Welcome by Bright and McDuffie.

Dr. K said...

Icon: A Heroes Welcome was actually at the top of my list for superhero comics to use, but unfortunately it, like all the other Milestone stuff, appears to be out of print.

I personally think that's a crime, as McDuffie's Milestone work has gotten a lot of scholarly attention of late.

Chad Bowers said...

MARVELS is a really good everything and plus the kitchen sink kind of superhero book... might be too much Marvel, though, if that makes any sense.

Heartbreak Soup for the Hernandez book.

You're right about Manga being "tricky". We had the same problem in HDCC when it came time to choose something. But Astro Boy is pretty good, though not nearly as hip or as nuanced as some of the other stuff available.

Good luck with the class. Sounds like a great idea.

Anonymous said...

That's too bad about Icon. I used it in a similar class a few years ago and it prompted a lot of good discussion.

Mike V. Scholtz said...

Essential Howard the Duck?

Anonymous said...

I agree that you could do a lot worse than Scott Pilgrim.

Anonymous said...

I think DKR would be a good choice for the superhero category. Kingdom Come, or one of the Astro City anthologies are worth considering too.

A Grant Morrison selection would be a great addition. Seaguy or The Filth would provide a lot of discussion and interpretive fodder. Vimanarama is a nice "candy" option.

Mike at MHH said...

I'd be interested in how the you'd apply Understanding Comics to Barr's 'The Crow'.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Sam (Darnell & Ross)

God's Man (Ward) -

Safe Area Gorazde (Sacco)

Dr. Katie said...

hi dr. K! :)

you could try my book, if interested: Teaching Graphic Novels. Katie Monnin