Philip Nel > Courses > English 440: The Graphic Novel (Fall 2012)

English 440: The Graphic Novel
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: Tu & Th, 8-9 am; Tu, 4-5 pm;
& by appointment.




T & Th 11:30 - 12:45 a.m.

ECS 017

Last updated Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Required Texts:


        Paying only scant attention to the genre's history and more attention to its form, this course will focus on the golden age of the "graphic novel," beginning in the late 1970s and continuing to the present day. In order to foster these goals, you will write two papers, take quizzes and exams, make regular postings to the message board, and participate in class discussions. In this class, education will not be a passive experience: I expect discussion, debate, and exchanges of ideas. You must be not only present but an active presence.

  Points Due
Quizzes 100 In class, day reading is due.
Class Participation & 200 Daily.
Message Board Weekly.
Midterm Exam 200 In class, Oct. 11.
Paper 1 100 In class, Sept. 20.
Paper 2 100 In class, Oct. 2.
Paper 3 100 In class, Nov. 27.

Final Exam


In class, Dec. 13, 9:40 - 11:30 a.m.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Papers | Quizzes | Class Participation and Attendance | Technology | Assignments

        Papers: The papers must be typed (word-processed) and double-spaced; include a title, your name, the date; and have numbered pages that are stapled together. Late papers will be penalized one grade (e.g., B+ to C+) for each day late.
Paper 1 (link to assignment)
Paper 2 (link to assignment)
Paper 3 (link to assignment)
        Sources: Use the MLA method for documenting sources. Don't plagiarize. When you turn in a paper, you pledge that you have faithfully abided by the guidelines for documenting sources -- most grammar handbooks provide guidelines for documentation. Remember: You must cite the sources of any ideas that are not your own. If you quote, paraphrase, or use another's ideas, you must give credit to the person whose ideas you are using. If you have questions, please ask. If you plagiarize, you will automatically fail this course. For more information on Kansas State University's Honor System, please visit <>.

        Quizzes: Approximately 12 times during the semester, there will be a quiz. Sometimes the quiz will be announced, and sometimes it won't. But the quiz will always address the reading for that day. Because everyone can have a bad day, I will drop the lowest quiz grade.

        Class Participation and Attendance: Read everything, and come to class prepared to talk about what you have read. On the first day of discussion for each assignment, you must have finished the reading and be ready to discuss it. "The reading" is all of the work assigned for that day. We make sense of literature by discussing it. For this reason, class participation will count for 20% of your final grade. Discussion will take place both in class and out of it, via the Message Board (explained below). I reserve the right to assign homework or in-class writing projects that are not listed on the syllabus.
        Class attendance is required. Since the class meets twice a week, you are granted two absences, but more than two will lower your final grade by one increment for each absence (e.g., B+ would become B). I appreciate your offering explanations for absences; however, the only way to excuse an absence is to provide me with an official letter from the dean. You cannot earn credit for work missed in class. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to discover what went on that day. "I didn't know because I wasn't in class" is never an acceptable excuse.
        If you have medical reason for doing so, you may (if you provide documentation to me at the start of the term) use a portable computer for taking notes in class -- but that's all you may use it for. If you lack such a reason, then you must put your laptop away during class. Similarly, out of common courtesy, you may not text-message during class. And set your cell phone to vibrate or, better, turn it off. Thank you.
        Technology: This syllabus is on-line, available through the "Courses" section of my homepage <>. I have linked authors' names to relevant webpages, listed resources, and provided links to the paper assignments.

        Message Board: Post comments to the message board every other week (or more frequently, if you wish). An average posting should run one or two paragraphs in length. In other words, your postings do not need to be long, but they must be substantive -- long enough to convey clearly the problem you are taking up and your point of view, connecting your comment to others' comments, as appropriate. I will monitor these discussions and asses a grade (at the end of the semester) based on the thoughtfulness of your comments, their ability to foster discussion among your classmates, and their responsiveness to both our readings and to your classmates in comments on the message board. Though extra postings to the message board will not automatically replace participation in class discussions, regular contributions above and beyond your weekly posting can improve your class participation grade.

       Access the message board via K-State On-Line.

  1. Log in to our class on K-State On-Line.
  2. At left, choose "Message Board."

       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. Due to the sheer volume of email I receive, messages without clear subject lines may be deleted or simply missed. Also: if you don't receive a response for over 24 hours, please send again. Thank you. You can write with questions, send a thesis statement or outline for an essay, make an appointment to meet me in my office, or do anything else that could be handled with a quick exchange of messages. I check email several times daily, but I am not on-line at all times.

Schedule of Assignments
Subject to change.

[W] = Web. [CP] = Class Pack. [CSR] = Comics Studies Reader, eds. Heer & Worcester. [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library).

Note: "through" means "to the end of" (not "up to"). Page numbers refer to the editions assigned.

August T 21 Introduction. Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” (1988) <> [W].
Th 23 Newgarden and Paul Karasik, cont'd. Group of selected comics in class pack: Soglow, Herriman, Bushmiller, Schulz, Fleener, Al Rabin. Also: Spiegelman and Ware on Schulz (2000) [CP].
Prose & Comics
T 28 Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985).
  Th 30 Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993), Ch. 1. Karasik and Mazzucchelli, City of Glass: The Graphic Novel (1994).
Icons & Intervals
September T 4 Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Introduction & Week 1. McCloud, Ch. 2.
  Th 6 Hergé, The Blue Lotus (1934-35, revised 1946). Charles Hatfield, "An Art of Tensions" [CSR].
T 11 Lynda Barry, One Hundred Demons (2002), through "The Visitor" (p. 120). McCloud, Ch. 3.
Th 13 Barry, One Hundred Demons, to end. Brunetti, Week 2.
Some History (Western)
T 18 Robert C. Harvey, "How Comics Came to Be" (2009) [CSR]; excerpt from Rodolphe Töpffer, Mr. Pencil (1831) [CP]; David Kunzle, “Rodolphe Töpffer’s Aesthetic Revolution” [CSR]; excerpt from Lynd Ward, Gods' Man (1929) [CP].
Th 20 Will Eisner, A Contract with God and Other Stories (1978); Hatfield, "Graphic Novel" (2011) [CP]. Paper #1 DUE
Funny Animals
T 25 Art Spiegelman, Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986) and Funny Animals #1 [CP].
  Th 27 Spiegleman, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (1991); Hilary Chute, “History and Graphic Representation in Maus" [CSR].
Boxes of Time
October T 2 McCloud, Ch. 4; Brunetti, Weeks 3 & 4; Richard McGuire, "Here" (1989) [CP]; Chute, "Comics form and Narrating Lives" (2011) [CP]. Paper #2 DUE
Th 4 Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006), through Ch. 4.
T 9 Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, to end.
Th 11 Midterm Exam
Superheroes, Antiheroes, Heroes
T 16 Peter Coogan, “The Definition of the Superhero” [CSR]; Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through Ch. 4.
Th 18 Wertham, excerpt from Seduction of the Innocent [CSR]; Ron Goulart, "The Wertham Crusade" (1986) [CP]; Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, through Ch. 8.
  T 23 Moore and Gibbons,Watchmen, to end; Brunetti, Week 5.
Th 25 Ho Che Anderson, King: A Comics Biography (1993-1997; pub. in single volume, 2005), through "May 3: Double D-Day" (p. 134).
  T 30 Anderson, King, through end (p. 232).
Some History (Eastern)
November Th 1 Adam Kern, “Manga versus Kibyöshi” [CSR]; McCloud, Ch. 5; Osamu Tezuka, Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu (1987, English transl. 2003), through Chapter Five (p. 210).
T 6 Tezuka, Buddha, Vol. 1, to end.
Memory, Space, Time
Th 8 Daniel Clowes, Ghost World (1993-1997; pub. in single volume, 1997); Brunetti, Week 6.
T 13 Chris Ware, Building Stories (2012): [wordless / 7.5 x 25 cm / nights and days], "God... I can't bear it... I can't... I can't" / "I don't care... I just don't care..." [2-sided folded strip], "Her laugh is like a flight of tiny birds, taking off..." / "Momma, I don't know how I feel right now. I mean, I don't know how to say it. I'm just not happy or sad. I'm in between." [2-sided folded strip], Branford the Best Bee in the World, & September 23rd, 2000 [Golden Book]. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware” [CSR].
Th 15 Ware, Building Stories: "Shit" [magazine], "VVVFFFMMMMMMMMMMM" [magazine], DISCONNECT [larger magazine]; Christopher Irving, "Chris Ware on Building a Better Comic Book" (NYC Graphic Novelists, 6 Mar. 2012) [W].
  T 20 University Holiday
  Th 22 Thanksgiving
T 27 Ware, Building Stories: "I JUST WANT TO FALL ASLEEP AND NEVER WAKE UP AGAIN" / [Acme Novelty Library No. 18]. Paper #3 DUE.
  Th 29 Ware, Building Stories: The Daily Bee [newspaper], "Recently, my high school boyfriend friended me on Facebook..." / "As a kid, I could sit in front of a mirror and stare at myself for hours, trying to imagine what I'd look like when I grew up..." [newspaper], "Before winter starts" [architecture / blueprint], "god..." [newspaper], "It all happened so fast... When I think back now I almost can't believe it" [newspaper], Building Stories [the box].
December T 4 Tan, The Arrival (2006).
Th 6 Conclusion and Review.
  Th 13 Final Exam, 9:40 - 11:30 a.m.

Recommended Resources & Further Reading :

In the Library

  • Reference, Scholarship, Etc.:
    • Eisner, Will.  Comics & Sequential Art.  1985, Expanded 1990.  Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse Press, 2001.
    • Feiffer, Jules.  The Great Comic Book Heroes.  1965.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2003.
    • Hatfield, Charles.  Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
    • Heer, Jeet, and Kent Worcester, editors.  Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
    • ---. A Comics Studies Reader. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
    • Hignite, Todd.  In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2006.
    • Kunzle, David. Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
    • ---. The History of the Comic Strip: The Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, 1990.
    • McCloud, Scott.  Making Comics.  New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
    • Newgarden, Mark, and Paul Karasik. How to Read Nancy. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2013. [This isn't out yet, but the book-length version offers 43 ways of reading Bushmiller's classic strip. Eagerly anticipated!]
    • Sabin, Roger.  Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art.  1996.  New York and London: Phaidon Press, 2002.
    • Taylor, R[ichard].  Introduction to Cartooning: A Practical Instruction Book.  New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1947.
    • Varnum, Robin, and Christina T. Gibbons.  The Language of Comics: Word and Image.  Jackson: UP Mississippi, 2001.
    • Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Da Capo Press, 2007.
  • Anthologies:
    • Blackbeard, Bill. The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1977.
    • Blackbeard, Bill, Dale Crain, & James Vance, 100 Years of Comic Strips.  New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.  Originally published in two volumes as The Comic Strip Century by Kitchen Sink Press, 1995.
    • Best American Comics series:
      • Pekar, Harvey, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2006.  Anne Elizabeth Moore, Series Edior.  Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
      • Ware, Chris, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2007.  Anne Elizabeth Moore, Series Edior.  Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
      • Barry, Lynda, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2008. Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
      • Burns, Charles, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2009.  Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
      • Gaiman, Neil, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2010.  Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
      • Bechdel, Alison, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2011.  Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.
    • Brunetti, Ivan, ed.  An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
    • ---.  An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons & True Stories, Vol. 2. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
    • Callahan, Bob, ed.  The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories: from Crumb to Clowes. Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2004.
    • Carlin, John, Paul Karasik, and Brian Walker, eds.  Masters of American Comics.  Essay by John Carlin.  With contributions by Stanley Crouch, Tom De Haven, Dave Eggers, Jules Feiffer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Glen David Gold, Matt Groening, Pete Hamill, J. Hoberman, Karal Ann Marling, Patrick McDonnell, Françoise Mouly, Raymond Pettibon, Robert Storr, and Brian Walker.  New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2005.
    • Spiegelman, Art and Françoise Mouly, editors.  Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies.   A Raw Junior Book.  New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
    • ---.  Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Children.  A Raw Junior Book.   New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
    • ---.  Little Lit: "It Was a Dark and Silly Night."  A Raw Junior Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.
    • ---.  Little Lit: "It Was a Dark and Silly Night."   A Raw Junior Book.  HarperCollins, 2003.
    • ---.  Big Fat Little Lit.  New York: Puffin, 2006. [Collects the best of the above three volumes.]
    • Ware, Chris. Guest Editor. McSweeney's 13 (2004). 
  • Graphic Novels & Comics:
    • B., David.  Epileptic.  Trans. Kim Thompson.  2005.  New York: Pantheon, 2006.
    • Blechman, R. O.  Talking Lines: The Graphic Stories of R. O. Blechman.  Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009
    • Brown, Chester.  Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. 2003. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly Publications, 2007.
    • Bushmiller, Ernie. Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2012.
    • Clowes, Daniel.  Ice Haven: A Comic-Strip Novel.  New York: Pantheon, 2005.
    • Cruse, Howard.  Stuck Rubber Baby.  Introduction by Tony Kushner.  New York: Paradox Press (DC Comics), 1995.
    • Drooker, Eric.  Flood! A Novel in Pictures.  1992.  Introduction by Luc Sante.  Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2002.
    • Eisner, Will.  The Best of the Spirit.  Introuction by Neil Gaiman.  New York: DC Comics, 2005.
    • ---.  To The Heart of the Storm.  1990. New York: DC Comics, 2000.
    • Feiffer, Jules.  Tantrum.  1979.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 1997.
    • Gaiman, Neil.  The Sandman. [Series, 1988-.]
    • Gross, Milt.  He Done Her Wrong: The Great American Novel and Not a Word In It -- No Music Too.  1930.  Introduction by Al Capp.  New York: Dell, 1963.
    • Hernandez, Gilbert.  Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories.  2003.  Third Printing.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2005.
    • Herriman, George.  Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman.  By Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell, Georgia Riley de Havenon.  New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986. [For further reading, Fantagraphics has repreinted the entire series.]
    • Horrocks, Dylan.  Hicksville: A Comic Book.  1998.  Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001.
    • Johnson, Crockett.  Barnaby.   New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1943.
    • ---.  Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley.  New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1944.
    • Johnson, Lynn. The Lives Behind the Lines: 20 Years of  For Better or For Worse.   New York: Andrews & McMeel, 1999. [If you have the time, go back and read all 30+ collections of For Better or For Worse (1979-), starting with I've Got the One-More-Washload Blues... (1981).]
    • Kafka, Franz.  The Metamorphosis.  Adapted by Peter Kuper.  New York: Crown, 2003.
    • Katchor, Ben.  Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer.  Introduction by Michael Chabon.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.
    • Kim, Derek Kirk.  Same difference and other stories. 2003.  Marietta, GA: Top Shelf, 2005.
    • King, Frank O.  Walt & Skeezix: 1921 & 1922.  Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly Books, 2005. [And subsequent volumes in the series -- as of this writing, there are two more.]
    • Kochalka, James.  Peanut Butter & Jeremy’s Best Book Ever!   Gainesville, FL: Alternative Comics, 2003.
    • Lutes, Jason.  Jar of Fools: A Picture Novel.  Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly Publications, 2001.
    • Masereel, Frans. The City: A Vision in Woodcuts. 1925.  Mineola, NY: Dover Publication, 2006.
    • McCay, Winsor.  The Best of Little Nemo in Slumberland.  Edited and with an introduction by Richard Marschall.  Includes appreciations by Maurice Sendak, Ron Goulart, Art Spiegelman, Charles M. Schulz, Chuck Jones, Bill Watterson.  New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997.
    • Medley, Linda.  Castle Waiting. Introduction by Jane Yolen. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2006 .
    • Miller, Frank.  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  With Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley.  1986.  New york: DC Comics, 2002.
    • O'Malley, Bryan Lee.  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Vol 2. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2005. [You really ought to read the whole series, but Vol. 2 makes for a good introduction.]
    • Runton, Andy.  Owly. [Series, 2004-.]
    • Sacco, Joe.  Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-95.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2000.
    • Satrapi, Marjane. Perspolis: The Story of a Childhood. 2000-01. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.
    • ---. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.  2002-03.  New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.
    • Schulz, Charles M. The Complete Peanuts. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2004-. [Fantagraphics is printing the complete run of Schulz's classic strip. You owe it to yourself to read the first 20 years, at least.]
    • Seth. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken.  Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly, 1996.
    • ---. George Sprott 1894-1975. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009.
    • Smith, Jeff. Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume.  Columbus, OH: Cartoon Books, 2004. [You can also get individual volumes in black-and-white via Cartoon Books, or in color via Scholastic.]
    • Thompson, Craig.  Good-by Chunky Rice. 1999. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
    • ---. Blankets.  Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2006.
    • Thompson, Richard. Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2009. [Or get the individual collections: Cul de Sac: This Exit (foreword by Bill Watterson), Children at Play (foreword by Mo Willems), Shapes and Colors, The Mighty Alice).]
    • Töpffer, Rodolphe. Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips. Compiled, translated, and annotated by David Kunzle. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
    • Trudeau, G. B.  40: A Doonesbury Retrospective.  Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Universal, 2010. [This will give you a good introduction. Then, if you're so inspired, you can go back and read the entire 40-year epic.]
    • Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.  New York: Pantheon, 2000.
    • Watterson, Bill. The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. New York: Andrews & McMeel, 1995. [If you can swing it, you want the three-volume Complete Calvin & Hobbes, published by Andrews & McMeel in 2001.]

On the Web

Resources for writing:

Imagery and Figurative Language
Thesis vs. Topic
Keys to Structure and Style
William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style

Resources for research:

KSU Libraries' Databases
Oxford English Dictionary

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This page was last updated Tuesday, October 16, 2012 .