ENGL 135 (S18N02): Literature and Criticism: Graphic Novels

PAUL WATKINS
Location: BLD 345, classroom 209
Class Hours: Mon & Wed 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Office Hours: 10 am – 12 pm
(or by appointment)
Email: Paul.Watkins@viu.ca
Phone: Ext. 2118
Office: 345.204

“Did your mother ever tear up your comic books? Did you ever receive warnings about how comic books were going to ruin your mind?  Were you given lectures about how comics were cheap trash put out by evil men?”
-Robert Crumb

This course examines the boundaries between literature and graphic novels. The three primary texts will be read through lenses of cultural theory, aesthetic practices, and because two of the three texts belong to the graphic memoir genre we will look at how comics function as a medium that allows for personal stories to take shape and even change public perception. Along the way, we will ask questions about how graphic texts test the limits of literature, and we will explore the close relationship between popular culture and art. For example, what constitutes a book or literature, and more importantly, how do new media (particularly popular ones like graphic novels) relate to questions of personal, literary, and social transformation? If the medium is changing, does that mean we are as well? Ultimately, this course will offer you innovative ways to reflect and engage with how we fundamentally approach and analyze literary works. Not only will you develop an awareness of the relationship between graphic novels and literary criticism, you will also observe how broader questions around accurate representation are integral to the discussed literature. Students will share their own experiences (or lack thereof) with graphic texts and there will be a show and tell assignment.


Texts:

  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

*A good style guide, such as The Broadview Pocket Guide to Writing, is recommended.


Evaluation:

Participation 5%
Close Reading 1: Show and Tell (400-500 words) 10%
Close Reading 2: Watchmen (600-750 words) 15%
Midterm on Maus 15%
Workshop 5%
Research Essay (1500-1750 words) 25%
Final Exam 25%


Assignment Breakdown:

  1. Participation (5%)

 Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors.

  1. Close Reading 1: Show and Tell (10%): Due January 17th and January 22nd

Choose a page from a comic book, graphic text, newspaper, or something from graffiti, photography, or another form of mixed-media art (Banksy, Basquiat, Romare Bearden, etc.). If you are unsure about whether or not your chosen page is appropriate please see me. For this assignment, you are to write no more than 500 words in which you offer a close reading of that page. A close reading functions to bring out the nature and interrelations of a text in order to illuminate a given passage, page, or work. The act of close reading is an explication: explicate coming from the Latin explicare, meaning “to unfold, to fold out, or to make clear the meaning of.” In that vein, how do key elements of form, style, and structure contribute to the meaning of that graphic work? You need to include some of the technical terminology from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in your analysis. Your reading must have a focused critical argument. What essential point are you making about how we can more fully understand your chosen graphic text/surface/image?

You must attach your image to back of your paper or upload it online. You can submit a paper copy or a digital copy to D2L. More details will be provided in class.

You will present your image to the class in a show and tell format for a few minutes on January 17th. Be prepared to say why it’s meaningful to you, or at least be prepared to say a few things about how you’ve approached the image/ comic page/ while using some of McCloud’s comic terminology. On January 22nd you will hand in the written portion.

  1. Close Reading 2: Watchmen (15%): Due February 19th

Choose a chapter from Watchmen and write a 600-750-word analysis. In your short essay provide a close reading of those pages, discussing how the techniques and images used enhance the narrative that is being told. How do key elements of graphic/visual/textual form or style from a specific passage contribute to how we understand graphic novels? Ensure you have a thesis that you follow throughout your analysis. You must engage with at least one peer-reviewed academic source in your write up (the one on D2L counts, but there are many others available through the library). Your interpretation must have a focused critical argument. 

  1. Midterm on Maus (15%): March 21st 

There will be an in-class essay (page/panel analysis) on Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Details will be provided in class.

  1. Essay Workshop (5%): Due April 4th

In one paragraph you will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis), as well as an outline that shows a critical engagement with both secondary criticism and the primary text(s) you have chosen. On a second page you will provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. I will sign a copy of your marked-up workshop, which you will then attach to your final papers. More detailed instructions (and a handout) will be provided.

  1. Research Essay (25%): Due April 16th

The Research Essay will be around 5 pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. More detailed instructions, as well as possible topics, will be provided. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing.

  1. Final Exam (25%): TBA

Panel(s) Analysis (choose 5 of 7) and Comparative Essay.


Class Schedule:

Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

Jan 8
Class Introductions; course outline; standards and expectations

Jan 10
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapters 1-2)

Jan 15
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapters 3-5)

Jan 17
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapter 6)
 Show and Tell Due

Jan 22
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapters 7-9)
Close Reading 1 Due

Jan 24
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 1-2)
Listening: Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

Jan 29
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 3-4)
Listenings: Buck 65, “1957”

Jan 31
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 5-6)
Listening: Nina Simone, “Pirate Jenny”

  • Alan Moore HARDtalk Interview
  • See the Watchmen Motion Comics series, here.

Feb 5
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 7-8)
Listenings: Billie Holiday, “You’re my Thrill”; Shawn James, “Through the Valley”

Feb 7
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 9-10)
Listening: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”

Feb 12: Family Day

Feb 14 
Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (chapters 11-12)
Read Article on D2L: Polley, “Watching the Watchmen” (on D2L)
Listening: John Cale, “Sanities

Feb 19
Film screening, Watchmen
Close Reading on Watchmen Due

Feb 21 
Finish Watchmen and discuss

Feb 26-March 2Study Days

March 5
Art Spiegelman, Maus I (chapters 1-2)

March 7
Art Spiegelman, Maus I (chapters 3-4)

March 12
Art Spiegelman, Maus I (chapters 5-6)
Read Article on D2L: Hathaway, “Reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus as Postmodern Ethnography”
Discussion of the Research Essay

March 14
Art Spiegelman, Maus II (chapters 1-2)
Midterm Prep

March 19
Art Spiegelman, Maus II (chapters 3-5)

March 21
Midterm on Maus

March 26
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (pages 1-71); watch first 15 minutes of Persepolis film
Read Article on D2L: Chute, “The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

March 28
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (pages 72-153)                                                 

April 2: Easter Monday, VIU Closed       

April 4
Essay Workshop

April 9
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (pages 155-275)

April 11
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (pages 276-341)
See Darda’s article, “Graphic Ethics: Theorizing the Face in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis” on D2L 

April 16
Finish Persepolis film; Exam Review
Final Paper Due

 

 

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Ph.D. Professor. Writer. Musician. A space for riffings on film, literature, and music.

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