Office Hours: By appointment; contact Amanda Ford
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org / 213-740-9727
I. Course Description
“Comics are just words and images. You can do anything with words and images”
– Harvey Pekar
In this class, we will take apart Pekar’s core claim about the nature of his medium. Our approach is emphatically exploratory. While we will deal with many of the dominant figures of historical and contemporary comics, we will not necessarily observe proper boundaries (between high and popular art, between independent and mainstream comics, between historical and contemporary comics, between American and international comics). We want to explore the full range of different uses made of this medium.
Our central focus will be on comics (including comic strips but primarily comic books and graphic novels) as a medium rather than as a genre – that is, we believe that the formal practices of comics can be deployed to tell a broad range of different kinds of stories and speak to diverse kinds of audiences. We want to put this proposition to the test by developing a core vocabulary for thinking about comics as a medium and then looking at how artists have drawn on that vocabulary in a range of different contexts.
To do this, we will need to read lots and lots of comics. Don’t complain; I am assuming you are taking this class because you like—no, love—comics. Some of them will take you outside your comfort zone. Some of them will deal with controversial material. Some of them will look ugly or strange when you first encounter them. Some of them may frustrate or confuse you. But most of them, when everything is said and done, will entertain you. Few of you will read as broad a range of comics as you will encounter here, so use these readings to map the territory and expand your tastes.
While I hope you like the comics I’ve chosen, I care more that you come to understand and appreciate them for what they tell us about the comics tradition.
II. Overall Learning Objectives and Assessment
By the end of the class, each student will:
Be able to deploy a range of different methods for analyzing comics (including formal technique, genre, authorship, etc.).
Grasp how comics tell stories through words and images.
Be able to describe the basic vocabulary of graphic storytelling.
Be familiar with the core figures and periods that shaped the history of comics as a medium.
Discuss the continuing relevance of the superhero genre as a window into understanding American life.
Be aware of the differences between American comics and the graphic traditions of Japan and France.
Understand the differences among mainstream, independent, and underground comics traditions.
Understand the relationship between comic strip and comic book traditions.
Develop a model for thinking about the ways comics have been a vehicle for journalism, history, autobiography, and social commentary.
Be capable of explaining how contemporary comics artists have built upon materials borrowed from the larger tradition, using past themes and icons to shed light on contemporary culture.
Be able to discuss how women and minority authors have carved out a space for themselves within the comics tradition.
III. Description of Assignments
Participation – Students are expected to regularly attend and participate in class discussions (20 percent)
Page Analysis – Every week, each student should select one page from one of the comics we read and develop a one-page analysis that applies some of the concepts or methods we have been studying that week. Please turn in a copy of the page in question with your analysis to aid with the grading. The writing is intended to be exploratory and will be graded (Check, Check Plus, Check Minus) based on the student’s abilities to look closely at what’s on the page and to explain why the choices made matter in our understanding of the work as a whole. Please keep in mind that this will be the primary means by which I can appraise whether or not you have done the readings each week and whether or not you have understood them fully. Papers are due for every week of the term, except during Spring Break and Exam Week. I will drop the three lowest grades (including zeros) and then average the rest. Papers will not be accept after the following Monday. (25 Percent) DUE DATE: Every Friday via e-mail to email@example.com.
Student Presentation – Each student will give a short presentation about a comics artist, author, or subgenre that is meaningful to them but which we have not been able to include on the syllabus. I will pass around a signup sheet early in the term and ask each student to propose topics she or he would like to lead. The student will be expected to prepare a slide presentation focusing attention on core themes and techniques associated with the artist in question and providing some context for understanding their contribution to the comics medium. (20 percent) DUE DATE: Throughout the term.
Formal analysis paper – Each student will select one of the comics we’ve read this term (or another of their own selection, with the approval of the instructor) and apply one of the methods of formal analysis we have examined in the first part of the class (McCloud, Eisner, Smith and Duncan, etc.), with the goal of helping us to better understand the techniques the graphic storyteller is deploying and how those techniques contribute to the overall meaning and expressiveness of the book. Where possible, ground your analysis in the readings, though do not simply replicate what the critics we are reading have already done. Please provide concrete examples to support your claims. (20 Percent) DUE DATE: April 6 Author Analysis – Select a favorite comic book author, preferably one we have not read in the class, and develop an analysis of their specific qualities as an author, informed by the Randy Duncan essay we’ve read on Alan Moore. (The subject of this analysis may be the artist used for the in-class presentation assignment as well, but it does not have to be.) Draw examples from multiple texts from the author’s larger body of work to show repeated patterns or themes that run through their stories. Discuss the author’s relationship to his or her genres and to the comic book traditions that have informed the author’s approach to comics. Again, the paper will be evaluated based on the quality of the argument and your ability to support your claims with concrete examples. (20 Percent) DUE DATE: Exam Week IV. Grading
b. Grading Scale “A” papers show a firm grasp of the course’s concepts and the ability to apply them to a new context. Specifically, an A paper integrates arguments from the readings and class discussions with an original analysis of one of more works of graphic fiction. Each analytic or argumentative claim is supported by one or more concrete example from the text being discussed. The writing is thoughtfully structured and clearly articulated with few if any grammatical and syntax issues. Reminder: please reproduce the images you are discussing so we are on the same page.
“B” papers show evidence of a critical engagement with the course concepts (even if the student may be fuzzy on some dimension of them). The argument here may be less original but still shows signs of close engagement with particular texts as demonstrated by close attention to particular examples. The writing may be less clearly structured, and the argument may be less systematically developed.
“C” papers are much weaker on several of the dimensions on which papers are being evaluated – argument, support, organization, writing, etc. There is some tendency to revert to plot description rather than analysis and interpretation. Claims are over-generalized and do not look closely at the work under consideration. Writing is still clear but does not show precision or conciseness.
“D” papers are a mess along all the axes of evaluation. They are badly written, lack an original thesis, are not systematically developed, show little signs of grasping course concepts, and/or do not ground their claims with examples.
“F” papers have failed to meet the major criteria of the assignment, are late, have numerous errors, or all of the above. F grades are rarely given but, when they are, they are richly deserved. Students need to work hard to earn their F—but, have no fear, if you achieve a perfect failure, it will be recognized as such.
V. Assignment Submission Policy
All written assignments should be submitted to the professor via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and should be received no later than 5 pm on Friday of the week they are due, unless other arrangements have been worked out with the professor in advance. I would still rather see a late paper than any paper at all, but I will be docking the paper a letter grade for each day it is late, unless arrangements have been made previously.
VI. Required Readings and Supplementary Materials
(A Word to the Wise: Comics are expensive, and we are going to be reading lots of them in this class. My recommendation is that you form a buddy or club system, much as you did when you read comics when you were younger. Go in together with 2-3 people and swap off the comics, so you each carry a more reasonable part of the price.)
The following are the listed required books for the course. The rest of the Readings will be on Blackboard:
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (New York: Harper, 1990, 224 pp.).
Matthew J. Smith and Randy Duncan (eds.) Critical Approaches to Comics (London:
Routledge, 2011, 328 pp.).
Al Capp, The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press,
2002, 144 pp.).
James Sturm and Guy Davis, Fantastic Four Legends: Unstable Molecules (New York:
Marvels, 2003, 128 pp.).
Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke (New York: DC, 2008, 64 pp.).
G. Willow Wilson and Jacob Wyatt, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 (Los Angeles: Marvel, 2015).
David Mazzuchelli, Asterios Polyp (New York: Pantheon, 2009, 344 pp.).
David Mack, Daredevil/Echo: Vision Quest (New York: Marvel, 2010, 128 pp.).
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library, Number 20.
Srividya Natarajan, S. Arnand, Durgabai Vyam, and Subhash Vyam, Bhimayana: Experiences of
Untouchability (Delhi: Navayana, 2012, 105 pp.).
Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1: The Assassin’s Road (Portland,
OR: Dark Horse, 2000, 296 pp.).
David B., Epileptic (New York: Pantheon, 2006, 368 pp.).
All undergraduate and graduate Annenberg majors and minors are required to have a PC or Apple laptop that can be used in Annenberg classes. Please refer to the Annenberg Virtual Commons for more information. To connect to USC’s Secure Wireless network, please visit USC’s Information Technology Services website. Laptops can be brought to class for the purpose of taking notes, but they should be deployed for class related work during class time.
VIII. Course Schedule: A Weekly Breakdown
Part One: American Comics: A Brief History Week 1 Monday, January 11 – Getting Started: Comics Today
Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner, “New Forms, New Technologies, New Audiences,” Comics: A
Global History, 1968 to the Present (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014), pp. 292-310.
Charles Hatfield, “Whither the Graphic Novel?,” Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature
(Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2005), pp. 152-163.
Wednesday, January 13 – The Origins of American Comics
Gerard Blanchard, “The Origins of Stories in Images,” in Ann Miller and Bart Beaty (eds.) The
French Comics Theory Reader (Leuven: Leuven University Press), pp. 25-37.
Thierry Smolderen, “Graphic Hybridization, the Crucible of Comics,” in Ann Miller and Bart
Beaty (eds.) The French Comics Theory Reader (Leuven: Leuven University Press), pp. 47-61.
Thierry Smolderen, “Winsor McCay, the Last Baroque,” The Origins of Comics: From William
Hogarth to Winsor McCay (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), pp. 149-161.
Bill Watterson, “The Cheapening of Comics,” speech delivered at the Festival of Cartoon Art at
Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, 27 October 1989, http://web.archive.org/web/20060210115506/http://hobbes.ncsa.uiuc.edu/comics.html.
Monday, January 18 – NO CLASS MLK Jr. Day
Wednesday, January 20 – The Origins of the American Superhero: Superman and Batman
Henry Jenkins, “I Like to Sock Myself in the Face: Revisiting ‘Vulgar Modernism’,” in Daniel
Goldmark and Charlie Keil (eds.) Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), pp. 153-174.
Wednesday, January 27 – Will Eisner and the Shape of the Page
Will Eisner, “The Frame,” Comics and Sequential Art (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), pp. 39-
Will Eisner, “The Spirit,” in Michael Barrier and Martin Williams (eds.) A Smithsonian Book of
Comic-Book Comics (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1981), pp. 269-294.
Will Eisner, “A Contract With God” and “Izzy the Cockroach and the Meaning of Life,” The
Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), pp. 3-62, pp. 187-204.
Greg Smith, “Will Eisner, Vaudevillian of the CityScape,” in Arno Meteling and Jorn Aherns
(eds.) Comics and the City: Urban Space in Print, Picture and Sequence (Berlin: Continuum, 2010), pp. 183-198.
Monday, February 1 – EC and the Horror Comics Controversy
Harvey Kurtzman, “Corpse on the Imjin!,” Michael Barrier and Martin Williams (eds.) A
Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Comics (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute, 1981), pp. 305-311.
Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Jack Davis, “Foul Play,” Grant Geissman (ed.) Foul Play! (New York:
Harper, 2005) pp. 83-89
Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Joe Orlando, “Judgment Day,” Grant Geissman (ed.) Foul Play!
(New York: Harper, 2005) pp. 147-153.
Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Reed Crandall, “The High Cost of Dying,” Grant Geissman (ed.) Foul
Play! (New York: Harper, 2005) pp. 217-223.
Bernie Kriegstein, “Murder Dream,” and “Master Race,” B. Krigstein Comics (Seattle:
Fantagraphics, 2004), pp. 179-184.
Bradford W. Wright, “Youth Crisis,” Comic Book Nation: The Transformations of Youth Culture in
America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 86-108.
Wednesday, February 3 – Classic Comic Characters
Walt Kelly, The Ever-Loving Blue-Eyed Years With Pogo (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959),
Al Capp, The Short Life and Happy Times of the Shmoo (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2002,
Carl Barks, “The Second Richest Duck,” Uncle Scrooge Vs. Flintheart Glomgord (Prescott, AZ:
Gladstone), pp. 1-20.
Jeff Smith, “The Great Cow Race,” Bone: Book Two (Columbus, OH: Cartoon Books, 2004), pp.
Monday, February 8 – Make Mine Marvel (1): Secret Identity Politics (Guest: Ramzi Fawaz)
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “Fantastic Four #1,” The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time (New York:
Marvel, 2001), pp. 1-25.
James Sturm and Guy Davis, Fantastic Four Legends: Unstable Molecules (New York: Marvels,
2003, 128 pp.).
Rick Moody, excerpt from Ice Storm: A Novel (Boston: Back Bay, 2002).
Paul Chadwick, “A Stone Among Stones,” The Complete Concrete (Portland, OR: Dark Horse,
1994), pp. 11-38.
Ramzi Fawaz, selection from The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of
American Comics (New York: New York University Press).
Wednesday, February 10 – Make Mine Marvel (2): Authoring the Superhero
Gary Conway, Gil Kane and John Romita Sr., “The Night Gwen Stacey Died,” The Amazing
Spider-Man 121-122, 1973, pp. 1-25.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “The Incredible Hulk #1,” The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time (New
York: Marvel, 2001), pp. 1-25.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, “The Final Chapter,” in Bob Callahan (ed.) The Smithsonian Book of
Comic-Book Stories: From Crumb to Clowes (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute, 2004), pp. 122-141.
Charles Hatfield, “How Jack Kirby Reinvented the Superhero,” Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of
Jack Kirby (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012), pp. 78-107.
Monday, February 15 – NO CLASS Presidents Day. Wednesday, February 17 – Going Underground
Joseph Witek, “Comic Modes: Caricature and Illustration in the Crumb Family’s Dirty Laundry,”
in Matthew J. Smith and Randy Duncan (eds.) Critical Approaches to Comics (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 27-42.
R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb, excerpts from The Complete Dirty Laundry Comics (San
Francisco: Last Gasp Comics, 1993), pp. 6-41.
Justin Green, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin
Mary (San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2009) pp. 9-50.
Roberta Gregory, “Travels with Bitchy Bitch,” At Work and Play With Bitchy Bitch (Seattle:
Fantagraphics, 1993) pp. 1-54.
Carol Lay, “Face the Facts of Love,” Phoebe Gluckner, “Magda Meets the Little Men in the
Woods,” Julee Doucet, “Heavy Flow,” in Diane Noomin (ed.) Twisted Sisters: A Collection of Bad Girl Art (New York: Penguin, 1991), pp. 9-18, 45-47, 121-124.
Jared Gardner, “First Person Graphic, 1959-2010,” Projections: Comics and the History of 21st
Century Storytelling (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 107-148.
Monday, February 22 – Art Spigelman and Raw
Art Spiegelman, excerpts from Breakdowns: Portraits of the Artist as a Young %@*! (New York:
Charles Burns, “Teen Plague,” Raw Vol. 2, No.1, pp. 5-25.
Kim Deitch, “Karla in Komieland,” Raw Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 59-68.
Ben Katchor, “The Evening Combinator,” Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories (New
York: Pantheon, 1996), pp. 90-106.
Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner, “The Dawn of the Graphic Novel: The Raw Generation and
Punk Comix,” Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014), pp. 180-197.
Art Spigelman, “Public Conversation,” Critical Inquiry, Spring 2014, pp. 20-35.
Wednesday, February 24 – Alan Moore and the British Invasion
Matthew J. Smith, “Auteur Criticism: The Re-Visionary Works of Alan Moore” in Matthew J.
Smith and Randy Duncan (eds.) Critical Approaches to Comics (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 178-189.
Alan Moore and Rick Veitch, “How Things Work Out,” Tomorrow Stories 2, not numbered (10
Alan Moore, “Secret Origins,” Supreme: The Story of the Year (New York: Checker, 2002), not
numbered (23 pages).
Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke (New York: DC, 2008, 64 pp.).
Geoff Klock, “The Bat and the Watchmen,” How to Read Superhero Comics and Why (New York:
Continuium, 2002), pp. 25-76.
Neil Gaiman with Charles Vest and Malcolm Jones III, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in The
Absolute Sandman Volume One (New York: Vertigo, 2006),pp. 495-519.
Monday, February 29 – Re-imagining The Superhero
Brian Michael Bendis, “The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones part 1 and 2,” Alias 22-23,
(approximately 60 pages, not numbered.)
G. Willow Wilson and Jacob Wyatt, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 (Los Angeles: Marvel, 2015, 120 pp).
Will Brooker, Sarah Zaidan, and Susan Shore, My So-Called Secret Identity,
Matt Fracton, Issue 7, Hawkeye: Little Hits (New York: Marvel, 2013), approx. 21 pages.
Jonathan Tsuei, “9066,” Daniel Jai Lee, “Heroes Without a Country”, Gene Yang, “The Blue
Scorpion and Chung,” Jeff Yang, “A Day at Costumeco,” in Keith Chow and Jerry Ma (eds) Secret Identities: The Asian-American Superhero Anthology (New York: New Press, 2009), pp. 25-28,29-36, 63-74, 119-125.
Part Two: The Aesthetics of Comics
Wednesday, March 2 –From Still Life to Comics
Scott McCloud, Scott McCloud, “Setting the Record Straight,” “Living in the Line,” and “A Word
about Color,” Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, pp. 2-24,118-137, 185-193.
Randy Duncan, “Image Functions: Shape and Color as Hermeneutic Images in Asterios Polyp,” in
Matthew J. Smith and Randy Duncan (eds.), Critical Approaches to Comics (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 43-54.
David Mazzuchelli, Asterios Polyp (New York: Pantheon, 2009, 344 pp.).
Monday, March 7 – The Gutter and The Frame
Scott McCloud, “ The Vocabulary of Comics” and “Blood in the Gutter,” Understanding Comics:
The Invisible Art, pp. 24-93.
Chris Ware, “Lint,” Acme Novelty Library, Number 20 (76 pp.).
Srividya Natarajan, S. Arnand, Durgabai Vyam, Subhash Vyam, Bhimayana: Experiences of
Author Analysis Due May 9 2 p.m. IX. Policies and Procedures
Additional PoliciesInternships: The value of professional internships as part of the overall educational experience of our students has long been recognized by the School of Journalism. Accordingly, while internships are not required for successful completion of this course, any student enrolled in this course that undertakes and completes an approved, non-paid internship during this semester shall earn academic extra credit herein of an amount equal to 1 percent of the total available semester points for this course. To receive instructor approval, a student must request an internship letter from the Annenberg Career Development Office and bring it to the instructor to sign by the end of the third week of classes. The student must submit the signed letter to the media organization, along with the evaluation form provided by the Career Development Office. The form should be filled out by the intern supervisor and returned to the instructor at the end of the semester. No credit will be given if an evaluation form is not turned into the instructor by the last day of class. Note: The internship must by unpaid and can only be applied to one journalism class.
Statement on Academic Conduct and Support Systems
a. Academic Conduct
Plagiarism: Presenting someone else’s ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words - is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Section 11, Behavior Violating University Standards https://scampus.usc.edu/b/11-00-behavior-violating-university-standards-and-appropriate-sanctions/. Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct, http://policy.usc.edu/scientific-misconduct/.
USC School of Journalism Policy on Academic Integrity
The following is the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s policy on academic integrity and repeated in the syllabus for every course in the school: “Since its founding, the USC School of Journalism has maintained a commitment to the highest standards of ethical conduct and academic excellence. Any student found plagiarizing, fabricating, cheating on examinations, and/or purchasing papers or other assignments faces sanctions ranging from an ‘F’ on the assignment to dismissal from the School of Journalism. All academic integrity violations will be reported to the office of Student Judicial Affairs & Community Standards (SJACS), as per university policy, as well as journalism school administrators.”
In addition, it is assumed that the work you submit for this course is work you have produced entirely by yourself, and has not been previously produced by you for submission in another course or Learning Lab, without approval of the instructor.
b. Support Systems Equity and Diversity: Discrimination, sexual assault, and harassment are not tolerated by the university. You are encouraged to report any incidents to the Office of Equity and Diversityhttp://equity.usc.edu/ or to the Department of Public Safetyhttp://capsnet.usc.edu/department/department-public-safety/online-forms/contact-us. This is important for the safety of the whole USC community. Another member of the university community - such as a friend, classmate, advisor, or faculty member - can help initiate the report, or can initiate the report on behalf of another person. The Center for Women and Menhttp://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/cwm/ provides 24/7 confidential support, and the sexual assault resource center webpage https://sarc.usc.edu/ describes reporting options and other resources.
Support with Scholarly Writing:A number of USC’s schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute http://dornsife.usc.edu/ali, which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students.
The Office of Disability Services and Programs:http://sait.usc.edu/academicsupport/centerprograms/dsp/home_index.htmlprovides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations.
Stress Management: Students are under a lot of pressure. If you start to feel overwhelmed, it is important that you reach out for help. A good place to start is the USC Student Counseling Services office at 213-740-7711. The service is confidential, and there is no charge.
Emergency Information: If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Informationhttp://emergency.usc.edu/ will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of Blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.
X. About Your Instructor
Henry Jenkins is Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California. He has written and edited more than a dozen books on media and popular culture, including Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning and Networked Culture (2013) and Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2006). His other published works reflect the wide range of his research interests, touching on democracy and new media, the “wow factor” of popular culture, science-fiction fan communities, and the early history of film comedy. As one of the first media scholars to chart the changing role of the audience in an environment of increasingly pervasive digital content, Jenkins has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media on society, politics, and culture. His research gives key insights to the success of social-networking Web sites, networked computer games, online fan communities, and other advocacy organizations, as well as emerging news media outlets. Prior to joining USC, Jenkins spent nearly two decades at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the Peter de Florez Professor in the Humanities. While there, he directed MIT’s Comparative Media Studies graduate degree program from 1999-2009, setting an innovative research agenda during a time of fundamental change in communication, journalism, and entertainment.