Week 2 of English 333 finished off with the first of two sessions devoted to Spiegelman's Maus (perhaps the most often-taught book in courses of this type). After my students drew attendance cards on the theme of self-as-animal, we launched into Maus right away--thanks to our discussion leader, who smartly raised the question of Spiegelman's use of animal "masks" straight off, and tied this into our drawing activity (nice). We spent an hour-plus discussing first this device, then a larger set of issues emerging from the first volume of Maus--from characterization, including the father/son relationship, to formal questions, such as the sudden rupture that is "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" (Spiegelman's pioneering underground comic, published in 1973, interpolated into the pages of Maus to dramatic effect). I asked about our sympathies, as readers, for either Vladek and/or Artie, and questioned the inclusion of the final page in Chapter One, which depicts Artie making a promise to his father that the book has already, in effect, broken (Artie promises discretion and respect for privacy, as his father wants, but Maus delivers rough honesty instead). I also sought to extend the discussion of the animal metaphor beyond its dramatic effectiveness to its possible ethical and ideological implications.
In the second half of class, we continued to discuss Maus. I found the conversation productive and encouraging, the class engaged and serious (and I look forward to further discussion tomorrow, at the start of Week 3!). I also gave my Spiegelman Pecha Kucha lecture (developed last fall in 620AS), by way of background, and showed off some other Spiegelman publications, such as the original "Maus" from Funny Aminals and an issue of the oversized RAW magazine. Finally, we discussed minicomics; I brought a raft of examples, some by past 333 students, and zipped through my usual lecture notes on the topic. I gave out Kevin Huizenga's splendid page "The Varieties of Comics Experience" (from his Center for Cartoon Studies promo booklet, 2006) to discuss comics genres, e.g. strip, one-pager, comic book, graphic novel, and minicomic. As a reminder, my students have to produce a one-sheet minicomic about their experience reading Maus by this Thursday, June 11.
Yesterday, Tuesday, June 2, my English 333 class practiced drawing very quickly, discussed readings from Schulz's Peanuts and Brunetti's textbook Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, and then took Schulz and Brunetti as departure points for a larger consideration of style in comics, with Joseph Witek's 2011 essay on comics "modes" (found in the book Critical Approaches to Comics, ed. Smith and Duncan) as guide. I did a lot of lecturing. Finally, I showed the class some minicomics created by past 333 students, and ended our session by assigning a one-sheet minicomic response to our next major reading, Spiegelman's Maus. This was another busy, productive session, though to my mind perhaps a bit too busy, i.e. too crammed, to allow for deep discussion. Already I'm feeling the time pressure of the six-week summer term. Whew.
We began with rapid-fire doodling exercises inspired by Week 1 of Brunetti's text. In lieu of our usual, Lynda Barry-inspired attendance cards, I gave out greenbooks (i.e. exam booklets) to serve as impromptu sketchbooks, then asked everyone to draw themselves again and again, in ever-decreasing increments of time (three minutes; a minute and a half; 45 seconds; 20 seconds). We discussed what happens as you draw the same thing again and again, more and more quickly. What changes in the drawings, and what stays the same? What identifying features of "you," as a character, remain constant? My thinking here was to focus on what happens when, as a cartoonist, you have to repeat yourself again and again, and to build on Brunetti's idea that drawing something very quickly, rather than fussing over it, is likely to bring you closer to the essence of that thing (I should have referenced Schulz's famous remark that doing a comic strip is "the art of doing the same thing over and over again without repeating yourself").
From there we discussed the readings, looking at particular Peanuts strips along the way. We talked about Peanuts's depiction of children, its tone, its changes over time, and some of the surprises in the selected strips I assigned (for example, the unusual artistic choices in the 1954 continuity that pits Lucy against grownups in a golf tournament). I sought to tie this into Brunetti. Many students had recognized a link between Brunetti's aesthetic of simplicity and his reverence for Schulz.
In the second half of class, I sought to put Brunetti's aesthetic into context by pointing out that there are other styles or modes of comic art. Here Witek's distinction between the "cartoon mode" and the "naturalistic" mode proved useful. I made this distinction the springboard for a long talk on different traditions and styles in comic art, what genres and storytelling tendencies we expect from those different styles, and some of the historic sources of those styles (i.e. what other traditions in visual culture helped inspire those ways of drawing comics?). My lecture/slideshow began with the Robert Kanigher/Alex Toth comic "White Devil...Yellow Devil" (from DC's Star Spangled War Stories #164, Aug.-Sept. 1972). It went on to include examples by Schulz, Segar, Herriman, Richard (Cul de Sac) Thompson, Watterson, Randall (xkcd) Munroe, Foster, Raymond, Caniff, Eisner, Stan Drake, Neal Adams, JH Williams III, and Alex Ross, plus Isaac Cruikshank, Doré, and N.C. Wyeth, plus detours into caricature, history painting, illustration, deep focus cinematography, and vaudeville (plus a cameo by King Kong). Whew again!
Probably too much information, eh? I also discussed the concept of remediation, and returned to a point I had made on the first day of class, that "comics aren't movies," though I also complicated that by trying to show how much they had been influenced by movies and other forms. To complicate things still further, I gave out Wally Wood's famous "22 Panels That Always Work" (as assembled by Larry Hama), and used that to talk about composition:
I concluded by anticipating the way Spiegelman's Maus might blur or confuse our sense of comics' different "modes." That was the teaser for our next class!
Well, part of the teaser, anyway. There was also the matter of setting up a special homework assignment based on Maus. Using the One-Sheet Workshop website built by Nomi Kane, and the one-sheet comic template provided by Beth Hetland, I demonstrated how to fold a single sheet of paper into an eight-page zine, and assigned students the task of responding to Maus in that very form. That's due in a little over a week.
Er, whew again? Another very full session.
It's been a gratifying and invigorating first week in the new summertime version of English 333. I'm working with (now that the dust has cleared) twenty-one students, which is down from our usual Fall/Spring number of about thirty-five. This week saw the launch of our Moodle site and syllabus, discussion of these things in class, and analysis of several comics, including our first major reading, Keiji Nakazawa's memoir I Saw It (1972; trans. 1982). We had two class sessions, on Tuesday the 26th and Thursday the 28th. The roster settled, I gave out tons of handouts, most everyone got scheduled for their discussion leading dates, and we all started to get to know each other. We filled a Moodle forum with conversation about Nakazawa, which led to lively discussion on Thursday, and I gave out the first cartooning homework based on Ivan Brunetti's textbook Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (2011).
On our first day, Tuesday, we began with what will be a custom for us, the drawing of attendance cards, that is, cartoon self-portraits on index cards (an idea I lifted from Lynda Barry's splendid book about teaching, Syllabus). I then dove into a Pecha Kucha-style lightning talk designed to introduce (or reintroduce) students to the comics world. From there, students took turns introducing one another: I asked everyone to supply a dialogue balloon for a classmate's self-portrait, and then to interview that person and tell us briefly about them). We then analyzed, at length, a classic Calvin and Hobbes Sunday by Bill Watterson, from August 1988 (the same one I discuss in my first book, Alternative Comics). That led to analysis of the following classic Cul de Sac Sunday by Richard Thompson, from 2007:
This meta-strip seems to lend itself to analysis of the form (though of course there's always the inevitable danger of breaking the butterfly of art on the wheel of criticism, sigh). I presented the class with a "diagrammed" version of the Cul de Sac strip, as well as a number of other diagrams of the comics page, including examples from the books Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (2008) and Panel Discussions: Design in Sequential Art Storytelling by Durwin Talon (2003) as well as self-made ones like this:
A classic mid-1980s Love & Rockets page, taken from one of our required books, Jaime Hernandez's The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. (2007). Ugly annotations by CH.
I also shared Talon's glossary of comics terms, and gave out a self-made handout I call The Comics Toolkit, which is basically the précis for a textbook I hope to write in the next few years. All of this was by way of equipping my students with some basic formalist terms they can use throughout the course.
On Thursday, besides the usual attendance cards and other icebreaking stuff, we discussed the syllabus somewhat, particularly the Moodling requirements. Then we delved into I Saw It, building on the online discussion of the previous two days. After a bit I asked the class to divide up into four groups so that each could discuss a particular question about I Saw It and report back to us. (To break the class into groups, I used randomly distributed panels from comics pages that I had cut up, jigsaw-style, and asked students to group with other students who had panels from the same page. They had to reassemble the page, so to speak; that's how we formed the four groups.) The four questions I pitched were:
We discussed these questions, in some cases perhaps without consensus but with many thought-provoking observations (I would have liked to debate the question about children more vigorously!). I tried to tie in the discussion to the Toolkit introduced earlier. We also discussed issues such as numbing or desensitization, PTSD, and whether I Saw It is an anti-American text. I ended with a slideshow designed to contextualize Nakazawa (and postwar manga generally), partly based on one kindly given to me by I Saw It publisher Leonard Rifas. Wish we could have spent at least another hour with I Saw It!
(Interestingly, one member of our class is an international student from Japan, who remembers reading I Saw It as a required school text when she was ten. Good to hear about Nakazawa's work and reputation from that angle!)
What a week! The readings for next Tuesday are the first four "weeks" of Brunetti's syllabus-in-book-form, Cartooning, alongside a selection of Peanuts strips by Charles Schulz from the 1950s and 60s (including the first week of Peanuts ever, from October 1950, the introduction of Lucy in 1952, the strange continuity in 1954 where Lucy competes with grownups in a golf tournament, and the classic 1961 continuity where Lucy buries Linus's security blanket). In addition, students are to do the following cartooning exercise lifted from Brunetti's Week 1:
...Pencil out a grid (or grids) in your sketchbook, enough to contain 100 small drawings. Now, spending no more than 5 seconds per drawing, let your stream of consciousness guide you, drawing whatever word comes to mind (do not stop to think about it). Examples: persons, places, objects, occupations, concepts, emotions, etc. You should, at the end, have a little system of pictograms. (Exercise 1.3, pages 26-28)
Looking forward to next week! As if the above wasn't enough, we'll have our first student discussion leaders come Tuesday, and by Thursday we'll be into Art Spiegelman's fabled Maus.
David A. Beronä, an important historian, curator, and critic of visual narrative, has died. This fills me with sadness. David was a colleague, a bright, inspiring man, and a warm and generous presence. His broad smile, kind and affirming ways, and boundless enthusiasm were both a joy and a lesson. I had the pleasure of meeting David at several conferences over the years, including the OSU Festival of Cartoon Art and International Comic Arts Forum, and at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. I also had the honor, thanks to David's generous invitation, to co-present with him at Reading Pictures: The Language of Wordless Books, a panel at the American Library Association conference in 2008. This panel, organized by the Association of College and Research Libraries, also included scholar Perry Willett and artist Eric Drooker. I count it as a highlight of my conference presenting career. Here's an admittedly blurry picture taken at that panel, showing (from left) me, Eric, Perry, David, and organizer Juliet Kerico:
I always be grateful to David for that wonderful gig, which opened doors for me and introduced me to some great people.
David was not only a generous colleague but also our foremost historian of wordless visual narratives in book and comics form, including, for example, the early 20th century woodcut novels of artists like Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward. He curated two exhibitions and several editions in that field, doing more than any other scholar to bring that extraordinary work back to public consciousness. His historical anthology, Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels (2008), is the single best source for introducing readers to that area. And he did still more: over the past twenty years, David spearheaded the republication of key works, wrote introductions to a dozen volumes, including a remarkable run of eight books published by Dover from 2005 to 2011, assembled anthologies of work by artists Eric Gill and Baron Hans Henning Voigt (a.k.a. Alastair), contributed chapters to the books Critical Approaches to Comics (ed. Smith and Duncan, 2011) and The Language of Comics: Word and Image (ed. Varnum and Gibbons, 2001), reviewed comics and scholarly books continually, and spoke at myriad conferences and in classrooms, museums, and galleries. He was a busy, and happy, scholar, one who enabled the work of others.
David was a scholar, librarian, and teacher with a multifaceted professional life. Until his retirement last year, he served as Dean of the Library and of Academic Support Services at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and before that (2005-2009) as Plymouth State's Library Director. A native Ohioan, David earned his B.S. at Wright State in Dayton, his Masters in LIS at Simmons College in Boston, and a Masters in Liberal Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Before Plymouth State, he held positions at UNH (1999-2005), U of New England in Maine (1996-1999), and Westbrook College in Maine (1990-1996). His CV shows a remarkable record of professional service, which his website could only hint at. The breadth and depth of his accomplishments are humbling.
I feel very fortunate to have known David Beronä and benefited from his scholarship. He was a good soul and a good scholar and he made a difference. My condolences to his loved ones and colleagues everywhere; his stay was too short, and we are poorer without him.
CSUN Prof. Charles Hatfield here. The CSUN Summer Term is upon us—which means that English 333: Comics and Graphic Novels begins again tomorrow, Tuesday, May 26! I've been eagerly prepping the class syllabus, Moodle pages, and other materials, and look forward to our first meeting tomorrow evening.
As part of my prep, I've updated this site's informational page on 333 to show what we'll be doing this term. From that page you can follow links to pages that set out the course requirements and textbooks.
So, if you spend a few minutes with this site, you can find out about the history of 333, its aims and rationale, and its place in the world of comics studies, as I see it. Note that there's even a PDF of the syllabus that you can print out and read ahead of time!
Students, I'm looking forward to meeting you and to our shared work together this term. See you tomorrow!
I'm busily prepping for my Spring 2015 course, English 495SH: The Comic Book Superhero, which starts next Wednesday, Jan. 21, and will go to mid-May. This senior seminar covers the superhero in several media, but particularly in the genre's medium of origin, the US comic book. I've just updated the course's informational page (see the link to ENGL 495SH in the banner above?) to include updated links re: requirements and textbooks. Dig a little deeper there and you'll find a link to a page about how to blog for the course (because everyone in class will be blogging).
Over the next couple of weeks, as the class gets rolling and we all start to get acquainted, you'll see quite a few student blogs linked to the ENGL 495SH page, which will become our class hub for the duration.
Students in 495SH, I urge you to pore over the information here and get an advance feel for our class. Of course a lot of this info will be recapped in class and on our private Moodle site. See you soon—looking forward to it!
It's been a long time—about two and a half months—since I posted to this blog. Truth is, the busyness of teaching often knocks me out of the blogging rhythm, causing me to sideline the blog while CSUN is in session. But... hope springs eternal! I look forward to giving this blog another go during the coming Spring 2015 semester, during which I'll be teaching two comics-related courses, English 333 (Comics & Graphic Novels, my regular undergraduate GE course) and English 495SH (The Comic Book Superhero, a senior seminar). My classes will begin on Wednesday, Jan. 21—and I hope to blog about them here! Likewise, I hope that you (whoever you are) will join me from time to time. :)
Tonight at 8:00 at UCLA's Royce Hall, Art Spiegelman and jazz composer Phillip Johnston, along with Johnston's sextet, present their collaborative "intellectual vaudeville" show, WORDLESS!
A combination of wordless comics, scripted commentary, and live, on-stage music, WORDLESS! is absolutely the perfect thing for the students in my Spiegelman seminar—and a gift for the students in English 333 classes as well!
Thanks to the DIG LA program, WORDLESS! has become an official CSUN field trip. That's right: I'll be leading a busload of students (and family, friends, and colleagues) to Royce Hall to take in the show!
To say that I'm looking forward to this is like saying that I enjoy comics. :)