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Course Date: 22 September 2014 to 10 November 2014 (7 weeks)
Comic books have arrived! "Comic Books and Graphic Novels" presents a survey of the Anglo-American comic book canon and of the major graphic novels in circulation in the United States today. Its governing question is simple: by what terms can we discuss comic books as literary art? In pursuit of that question it develops a theory of literary reading and time itself.
Visit us at www.facebook.com/UCBComics or bit.ly/project10-4 to see some student-created comics from 2013!
William Kuskin is Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. He
received his BA from Vassar College (1987) and his PhD. from the
University of Wisconsin—Madison (1998). Prof. Kuskin works on the history
of literary books, from medieval manuscripts to twenty-first century
comic books. He has completed two books on England’s first printer,
William Caxton, a monograph, Symbolic Caxton: Literary Culture and Print Capitalism (Notre Dame Press, 2008), and an edited collection, Caxton’s Trace: Studies in the History of English Printing
(Notre Dame Press, 2006). He has written on fifteenth- and
sixteenth-century English literature, world literature, online pedagogy,
and graphic novels, including guest editing a special issue of ELN, Graphia: Literary Criticism and the Graphic Novel. His new book, Recursive Origins: Writing at the Transition to Modernity is just out.
The comic book pamphlet developed as an independent literary form in the 1930s and early 1940s and has been a favorite of adolescent enthusiasts and cult devotees ever since. Recently, it has entered into a process of transformation, moving from a species
of pulp fiction on the margins of children’s literature to an autonomous genre, one Will Eisner labeled the graphic novel. This transformation has been noted in such literary venues as the New York Times and the New Yorker, as well as in an increasing
number of university classrooms and bookstore shelves.
“Comic Books and Graphic Novels” presents a survey of the history of American comics and a review of major graphic novels circulating in the U. S. today. It is focused on three main points. First, it argues that as comics develop in concert with, and
participate in literary culture, they should be considered literature. Second, it reasons that such a designation forces us to redefine our concept of literature itself. Finally, it explores this transformative literary world by arguing that comics have
much to teach us about ourselves.
Get started by enrolling in an upcoming session, then print out the official course playset and get started!
Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes. Students who successfully
complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the
What resources will I need for this class?
For this course, all you need is
an internet connection and the time to view the videos, write the essays, and enjoy
some marvelous works of art. You do not need to purchase the comics, as the
lectures and assignments are self-contained; of course, you might enjoy
reading and owning the comics.
this course suitable for children?
Comics are written by adults and
are about themes that adults think about.
This course deals with these mature, often passionate and painful,
themes. It is not for children.
comics really for illiterates?
Comics are a vibrant art form
that spans every aspect of the humanities: literature and creative writing, art
and design, world history, and studies of society, gender, race, and class. If you haven’t read comics, or just haven’t
read them in a long time, you are in for a profound experience.
would win in a fight, Superman or Dr. Manhattan?
This course isn’t really about questions like
this, so much as big questions of art, history, and the human urge to create. If you would like to know the answer to this
question, draw your own comic!
should I bother with the essays?
Every writer can improve. Writing essays will develop your writing
skills and help you articulate your imagination.
What are three cool things I'll learn from this class?
You will learn a mode of reading that will allow you to appreciate comics
in a new depth. You will learn an
effective mode of writing that will allow you to express your thinking clearly. Most importantly, you will also learn the power
of the imagination as a force for change: Art is Generative, so there is always
Books and Graphic Novels Professor
William Kuskin University
of Colorado Boulder
This is the final schedule. A final syllabus will be available when the course opens.
WEEK ONE: WELCOME TO THE COURSE(RA)
Video 1: Welcome to the Course
Video 2: The Syllabus (Overview)
Video 3: The Syllabus (Logistics)
Video 4: What is a Comic?
Video 5: Teaching Comics (w/Barry Barrows)
Video 6: Collecting (w/Jim Vacca)
TWO: TERMS AND CONDITIONS
Lecture 1a: Reading the Grid
Lecture 1b: Two Comics Masters
Lecture 2a: The Golden Age
Lecture 2b: Golden Age Master
Lecture 3: The Virulent Art
WEEK THREE: CRASH AND REBIRTH
Lecture 4a: Big Brother Steps In
Lecture 4b: The Comics Code Authority
Video 7: Fredric Wertham and the Atomic Age (w/Jim Vacca)
Lecture 5a: The Silver Ages Rises
Lecture 5b: Silver Age Master
Lecture 6a: Underground Comix
Lecture 6b: Black and White
Video 8: Comics Economics (w/Wayne Winsett)
WEEK FOUR: PATERNITY AND CREATIVITY
Lecture 7a: The Death of the Father
Lecture 7b: The Birth of the Children
8: Art Spiegelman’s Maus a: An American Artist
b: How to Read a
Book 9: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home a: Finding Yourself in a Book
b: What Defines Art
WEEK FIVE: GENRE
Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns a: Innovation and Originality
b: The Rules of Genre
c: Who is The Batman?
Lecture 11: Warren Ellis and John Cassady's Planetary
a: The Possibilities of Genre
b: The Limits of the Page
Lecture 12: Neil Gaiman, Bill Willingham and the Vernacular Canon of Fantasy
WEEK SIX: MEDIA
Lecture 13: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen a: The Media
b: The Poetics of the Page
Lecture 14: Joe Sacco’s Palestine a: Faces Tell Stories
b: Dead Ends
Lecture 15: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates a: War Machine
b: Star Power
WEEK SEVEN: CONCLUSION
Lecture 16: Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories a: The Aesthetics of Loneliness
b: The Book of Honesty
Lecture 17: Comics Energy
Video 8: The Community of Comics (w/Chris Angel)
class will consist of lecture videos and powerpoints, each between 10 and 25
minutes in length. There will also be two close
reading papers, graded through peer-review, a comic shop project, two tests, and a comic
In the spirit of a free course, I do not
require you to buy books for this course. The lectures and assignments
are all designed to be self-contained. Beyond the size of the class, this is the chief difference between the
MOOC and the versions of the course I teach at the University of
I do encourage you to apply what you learn in the
lectures to the comics you own, buy off the shelf of your local comic
store, or borrow from your local library. Reading as many comics as you
can, as slowly and as carefully as you can, regardless of which ones,
will make you a more sophisticated reader.
After week three, the
lectures turn to specific texts. If you are driven to buy some
of the books, I would first suggest that you buy the following three: 1. Art Spiegelman's Maus (especially volume one) 2. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns 3. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen
If you still have some money burning a hole in your pocket, I would recommend these, in this order: 1. Alison Bechdel's Fun Home 2. Chris Ware's Building Stories 3. and finally, Warren Ellis and John Cassady's Planetary, and any book by David Mazzucchelli or Paul Pope.
The remaining books are: 1. Neil Gaiman, et al., Sandman, Volume 3: "Dream Country." 2. Bill Willingham, et al., Fables, Volume 1: "Legends in Exile." 3. Joe Sacco, Palestine. 4. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates I & II.