Philip Nel > Courses > English 825: Comics and Graphic Novels (Spring 2016)

English 825: Comics and Graphic Novels
Required Texts
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: MF 3:30-4:30,
& by appointment.





Sec. B: MWF 2:30 - 3:20 p.m.

ECS 017

Last updated Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Required Texts:


       This course explores two central questions. How do comics work? And what do comics do? To that end, we'll read comics criticism and art criticism, comics, and graphic novels. We will also write five short papers, one longer paper, and draw. (But don't worry: you do not need to be an artist. Full disclosure: I, myself, am not an artist.)

  Points Due
Mini-Projects (5 total) 250 See assignment page.
Class Participation & 200 Daily.
Message Board Weekly.
Leading Class Discussion 150 In class, on day schedued.
Abstract for Paper 100 In class, March 30.
Paper 300 In class, May 4.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Paper | Mini-Projects | Leading Class Discussion | Class Participation and Attendance | Message Board | 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.
        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 <>.
       Mini-Projects: In response to our readings, you will also create five mini-projects that combine words and images. I do not accept late response papers.

       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 the text 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 Canvas Discussion (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 three times a week, you are granted three absences, but more than that 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. As you might guess, "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. Please turn off your cell phone. (If you're expecting an urgent communication, you may instead set the ringer to "vibrate.")
        Leading Class Discussion:
       Students will sign up in pairs to initiate discussion for one of our class sessions. Questions for class discussion (4-5 in number) should highlight issues or themes or queries you think we should address in our class discussion of the reading assigned for that day. After conferring about and drafting the questions, groups leading discussion should email me their questions by 7 p.m. the night before; I will confirm receipt and offer suggestions for the order or focus of the questions.

        Discussion: Post comments to the Canvas Discussion space once a 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 in the Discussion. Though extra postings will not automatically replace participation in class discussions, regular contributions above and beyond your weekly posting can improve your class participation grade.

       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. Due to spam & sheer volume, messages without clear subject lines will be deleted unread. 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.

Kansas State University's Statement Regarding Students with Disabilities:

Students with disabilities who need classroom accommodations, access to technology, or information about emergency building/campus evacuation processes should contact the Student Access Center and/or their instructor.  Services are available to students with a wide range of disabilities including, but not limited to, physical disabilities, medical conditions, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, depression, and anxiety.  If you are a student enrolled in campus/online courses through the Manhattan or Olathe campuses, contact the Student Access Center at, 785-532-6441; for Salina campus, contact the Academic and Career Advising Center at, 785-826-2649.

Kansas State University's Statement Defining Expectations for Classroom Conduct:

All student activities in the University, including this course, are governed by the Student Judicial Conduct Code as outlined in the Student Governing Association By Laws, Article V, Section 3, number 2. Students who engage in behavior that disrupts the learning environment may be asked to leave the class.


Kansas State University's Academic Freedom Statement:

Kansas State University is a community of students, faculty, and staff who work together to discover new knowledge, create new ideas, and share the results of their scholarly inquiry with the wider public. Although new ideas or research results may be controversial or challenge established views, the health and growth of any society requires frank intellectual exchange. Academic freedom protects this type of free exchange and is thus essential to any university's mission.

Moreover, academic freedom supports collaborative work in the pursuit of truth and the dissemination of knowledge in an environment of inquiry, respectful debate, and professionalism. Academic freedom is not limited to the classroom or to scientific and scholarly research, but extends to the life of the university as well as to larger social and political questions. It is the right and responsibility of the university community to engage with such issues.



Schedule of Assignments
Subject to change.

[C] = Canvas. [CSR] = A Comics Studies Reader, ed. Heer and Worcester. [L] = On-line via Library (if you're not on campus you may have to log in via Hale to access this). [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library). [W] = Web.

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

How Do Comics Work? (An Introduction)
January W 20 Chris Ware, “I’m a very generous person” & Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes strip [handed out in class]
  F 22 Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” (1988) [W].  Sample comic strips by Watterson, Schulz, Thompson, Bushmiller, Soglow, Fleener, Al Rabin [all C]. Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Introduction.
What Is History?   What Is Iconic?
  M 25 Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 1; Art Spiegelman, Maus, Vol. 1; Spiegelman, Funny Animals #1(1973) [C]
  W 27 McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 2; Spiegelman, Maus, Vol. 2; Spiegelman, "Looney Tunes, Zionism and the Jewish Question" (1989) and "Letter to the New York Times Book Review" (1991) [C].
   F 29 Spiegelman, Maus; Thomas Doherty, "Graphic Art and the Holocaust," American Literature 68.1 (1996) [L]; Hilary Chute, “History and Graphic Representation in Maus" [CSR]; Philip Smith, "Spiegelman Studies, Part 1 of 2: Maus," Literature Compass 12.10 (2015) [L]
What Is an Image?
February   M 1 Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Week 1; Mini-Project no. 1 DUE
  W 3 May Swenson, "Cardinal Ideograms" (1967); John Hollander, "Swan and Shadow" (1969); H.D. [Hilda Doolittle], "Sea Rose" & "Oread" (1916); William Carlos Williams, "The Red Wheelbarrow" (1923) & "A Sort of Song" (1944); e.e. cummings, "l(a" (1958); Hilary Chute, “Secret Labor” (2013) [all W]; Mitchell, “Beyond Comparison” [CSR]; Chris Ware, “Why I [Love] Comics” (2015) [W]
  F 5 Jeet Heer, “Hitler’s Cartoon Problem and the Art of Controversy” (2013); Jeet Heer, “The Charlie Hebdo attack underscores the visceral power of political cartoons” (2015); Sample of political cartoons: Art Young [C], Robert Minor [C], Dr. Seuss [C], David Low [C], Ann Telnaes [C], contemporary caricatures of Trump [C]
What Is Caricature?
  M 8 Art Spiegelman, "Little Orphan Annie's Eyeballs" (1993) [C]; David Keane, "Cartoon Violence and Cultural Expression," Human Rights Quarterly 30.4 (2008) [L]; Steven L. Jones, "From 'Under Cork' to Overcoming: Black Images in the Comics" (1987) [W]
  W 10 Jeremy Love, Bayou, Vol. 1 (2009); John Hogan, "Jeremy Love's American Style"; Qiana J. Whitted, "Of Slaves and Other Swamp Things: Black Southern History as Comic Book Horror" (Comics and the U.S. South, 2011) [L]. Leading Class Discussion: Robert J. Sanders, Todd Gabbard.
  F 12 Love, Bayou, Vol. 2 (2011).
How Do Pictures Speak?
  M 15 Shaun Tan, The Arrival; David A. Berona, “Pictures Speak in Comics Without Words” (2001) [C]
  W 17 Tan, The Arrival; McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 3; Ivan Brunetti, “Week 2"; Shaun Tan, “The Purposeful Daydream: Thoughts on Children’s Literature” (2015) [C]
  F 19 Mini-Project no. 2 DUE
What Is a Superhero?   (And Why Should We Care?)
  M 22 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through Chapter 3; Peter Coogan, “The Definition of the Superhero” [CSR].
  W 24 Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through Chapter 6; Wertham, excerpt from Seduction of the Innocent [CSR]. Leading Class Discussion: Tim Lake, Corinne Matthews.
  F 26 Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through Chapter 9
  M 29 Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through end.
March W 2 G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (2015)
  F 4 Wilson and Alphona, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal; Faith Erin Hicks, The Adventures of Superhero Girl (2010) [W]. Special Guest: Trina Robbins!
  F 4 4:00-5:00 pm, 2nd floor, Alumni Center. Lecture by Trina Robbins: "Here are the Great Women Cartoonists."
What Is Time?
  M 7 McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 4. Richard McGuire, "Here" (1989); Chris Ware, “Richard McGuire and ‘Here’: A Grateful Appreciation” (2006).
  W 9 Richard McGuire, Here (2014). Leading Class Discussion: Liz Case, Jonathan Blake.
  F 11 McGuire, Here (2014); Theirry Groensteen, "The Impossible Definition" [CSR]
What Is the Relationship Between Words and Images?
  M 21 Robert C. Harvey, "How Comics Came to Be" (2009) [CSR]; Charles Hatfield, "An Art of Tensions" [CSR]. Selected comics [C]
  W 23 Mini-Project no. 3 DUE
What Is Memory?
  F 25 Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons! (2002); Hilary Chute, “Materializing Memory in Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons“ (2004) [C]
  M 28 Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!; Susan E. Kirtley, "Scrapbooking the Self: 'Autobifictionalography' in One Hundred Demons" (2012) [C]
  W 30 Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!; Dylan Horrocks, "Inventing Comics" (2001) [W]. Abstract/proposal for paper due.
What Is Autobiography?
April F 1 Allison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006); Hilary Chute, “Animating an Archive: Repetition and Regeneration” (2004) [C]
  M 4 Bechdel, Fun Home; Ann Cvetkovich, “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home” (2008) [C]
  W 6 Bechdel, Fun Home; Julia Watson, “Autographic Disclosures and Genealogies of Desire in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home” (2008) [C]
  F 8 Mini-Project no. 4 DUE
What Does Emotion Look Like?   And What Does Gender Look Like?
  M 11 McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 5; Robert S. Petersen, “The Acoustics of Manga” [CSR]; Shimura Takako, Wandering Son, translated by Matt Thorn (2011)
  W 13 Takako, Wandering Son; Fusami Ogi, “Beyond Shoujo, Bleeding Gender” [CSR]; LM, "Revealing and Concealing Identities: Cross-Dressing in Anime and Manga," Part 1 and Part 5 (2014) [W]; Mey, "The Complete History of Transgender Characters in American Comic Books" (2015). Leading Class Discussion: Rob Probst, Emily Miner.
  F 15 Takako, Wandering Son.
What Does Lived Experience Look Like?
  M 18 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]; Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware” [C].
  W 20 Branford the Best Bee in the World, & September 23rd, 2000 [Golden Book]; Ware, Building Stories: "Shit" [magazine], Christopher Irving, "Chris Ware on Building a Better Comic Book" (NYC Graphic Novelists, 6 Mar. 2012) [W].
  F 22 Mini-Project no. 5 DUE
  M 25 Ware, Building Stories: "VVVFFFMMMMMMMMMMM" [magazine], DISCONNECT [larger magazine]. David M. Ball, "Comics Against Themselves: Chris Ware's Graphic Narratives as Literature" (2010) [C]
What Is Narrative?
  W 27 Ware, Building Stories: "I JUST WANT TO FALL ASLEEP AND NEVER WAKE UP AGAIN" / [Acme Novelty Library No. 18]. Leading Class Discussion: Chris Sims, Roxana Loza.
  F 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].
May M 2 Ware, Building Stories: "god..." [newspaper], "It all happened so fast... When I think back now I almost can't believe it" [newspaper], Building Stories [the box]; Hilary Chute, "'Something to Hold On To': Materiality and the Graphic Novel" (2015) [C]
  W 4 Paper DUE. Presentation and discussion of projects.
  F 6 Presentation and discussion, continued.


Recommended Resources


  • Coulton Waugh, The Comics (1947, repr. 1991); Stephen Becker, Comic Art in America (1959); Jules Feiffer, The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965, repr. 2003); David Kunzle, History of the Comic Strip, Vol. 1 (1973) and Vol. 2 (1990); Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams (eds.), The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (1977); Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art (1985); Ron Goulart, Great History of Comic Books (1986); Richard Marschall, America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists: From the Yellow Kid to Peanuts (1989); Trina Robbins, A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993); Bill Blackbeard and Dale Crain (eds.), The Comic Strip Century: Celebrating 100 Years of an American Art Form [2 volumes] (1995); Stephen Hess and Sandy Northrop, Drawn and Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons (1996); Maurice Horn (ed.), 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (1996); Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art (1996); Frederik L. Schodt, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (1996); Ian Gordon, Comic Strips and Consumer Culture, 1890-1945 (1998); Pascal Lefevre and Charles Dierick (eds.), Forging a New Medium: The Comic Strip in the Nineteenth Century (1999); Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics (2000); Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons (eds.), The Language of Comics: Words and Image (2001); Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester (eds.), Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium (2004); Gerard Jones, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book (2004); Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons (2004); Daniel Raeburn, Chris Ware (2004); Charles Hatfield, Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (2005); John Canemaker, Winsor McCay: His Life and Art. (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2005); Adam L. Kern, Manga from the Floating World: Comicbook Culture and the Kibyohi of Edo Japan (2006); Scott McCloud, Making Comics (2006); Bart Beaty, Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s (2007); David Kunzle, Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Töpffer (2007); Thierry Groensteen, The System of Comics (1999, English trans. 2007); Dave Gibbons, with Chip Kidd and Mike Essl, Watching the Watchmen: The Definitive Companion to the Ultimate Graphic Novel (2008); Art Spiegelman, Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@z*! (2008); Hillary Chute, Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010); Art Spiegelman, Co-Mix: A Retrospective of Comics, Graphics, and Scraps (2013); Hillary Chute, Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists (2014).



For his good suggestions, a hearty thank you to Prof. Charles Hatfield -- who knows far more about this subject than I. And for great assignment ideas, a tip of the hat to Nick Sousanis's website and Ivan Brunetti's Cartooning Philosophy and Practice


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