Philip Nel > Courses > English 830: Comics and Graphic Novels (Fall 2009)

English 830: Comics and Graphic Novels
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: T 1:30-3:30 p.m.,
& by appointment.




R 3:55-6:45
ECS 017
Last updated Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Required Texts:


       This course offers an examination of the history and theory of sequential art -- what Scott McCloud has called "the invisible art." We'll read comics criticism and art criticism, comics, and graphic novels.

  Points Due
Response Papers (5 total) 100 Roughly very other week, day reading is due.
Class Participation & 200 Daily.
Message Board Weekly.
Leading Class Discussion 200 In class, on day schedued.
Book Review 100 In class, on day schedued.
Abstract for Paper 100 In class, Oct. 29.
Paper 300 In class, Dec 3.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Papers | Response Papers | Book Review | 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 <>.
       Response Papers: You will also write five response papers (2 pp. in length) in response to our readings. Response papers are designed to ready you for class discussion and to explore ideas you could develop further in your longer paper. They are due the day of the reading to which you are responding. In your response paper, you should not repeat previous class discussions or provide a mere summary of the reading. Instead, your response should begin to analyze the reading assigned for that class session, selecting an issue or theme or question you feel to be significant. I recommend that you select an image, panel, word, phrase, or short quotation from the reading to initiate your response. That selection can be from the criticism or from a literary text; you might even apply the criticism to the literary text. Responses will be graded on a 20-point scale: 20-18=A, 17-16=B, 15-14=C, 13-12=D, <11=F. I do not accept late response papers.
       Book review:

       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 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 once a week, you are granted one absence, but more than one 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.

        Message Board: Post comments to the message board 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 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 the "Message Board."

       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. Due to the increased volume of spam, 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.


Schedule of Assignments
Subject to change.

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

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

August R 27 Introduction. Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” (1988) <> [W].
September R 3 Prose and comics. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993), Ch. 1. Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985). Karasik and Mazzucchelli, City of Glass: The Graphic Novel (1994).
  R 10 The vocabulary of comics. McCloud, Understanding Comics, Ch. 2.  Art Spiegelman, Maus I (1986), Maus II (1991), and Funny Animals #1 [CP].  Hilary Chute, “History and Graphic Representation in Maus" [CSR].
  R 17 Some history (western). David Kunzle, “Rodolphe Töpffer’s Aesthetic Revolution” [CSR]. Robert C. Harvey, “How Comics Came to Be” [CSR].  Rodolphe Töpffer, Mr. Pencil (1831) [CP]. George Herriman, Krazy Kat [CP]. Charles Schulz, Peanuts [CP]. Readings 4-9 in the Class Pack (these are on Herriman and Schulz) [CP].
  R 24 What is an image? Mitchell, Iconology (1986), Introduction and Chapter 1. Concrete poetry & imagist poetry [CP].  Winsor McCay, Little Nemo [R]. Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book (1995).
October R 1 Superheroes and/as antiheroes. McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 3. Wertham, excerpt from Seduction of the Innocent [CSR]. Peter Coogan, “The Definition of the Superhero” [CSR]. Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), first half.
  R 8 Watchmen, second half.  Charles Hatfield, "Graphic Novel" [CP].
  R 15 Image and text. Mitchell, Iconology, Chapter 2. Mitchell, “Beyond Comparison” [CSR]. Thierry Groensteen, “The Impossible Definition” [CSR]. Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007).
  R 22 Space and time. McCloud, Chapter 4. Mitchell, Iconology, Chapter 4. Charles Hatfield, “An Art of Tensions” [CSR]. Gene Kannenberg Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware” [CSR]. Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library No. 18 (2007).
  R 29 Some history (eastern); emotional range. McCloud, Chapters 5 & 6.  Robert S. Petersen, “The Acoustics of Manga” [CSR]. Adam Kern, “Manga versus Kibyöshi” [CSR]. Tezuka, Dororo, Vol. 1 (1967-1968). Paper Abstract Due.
November R 5 No class. (I'll be at ASA.) Work on your paper.
  R 12 Personal, Political. Bart Beaty, “Autobiography as Authenticity.” McCloud, Chapter 7. Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006).
  R 19 Frank L. Cioffi, “Disturbing Comics” [CP]. Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (1998).
  R 26 Thanksgiving. NO CLASS
December R 3 Journalism/photographic comics. Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Leferve's The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders (2009). Paper Due.
R 10 Modern Fables. Bill Willingham, et al., Fables: Legends in Exile (2002), Fables: Animal Farm (2003).  Selected fairy tales [CP]

Recommended Resources


  • Secondary Sources: 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).



For his good suggestions, a hearty thank you to Prof. Charles Hatfield -- who knows far more about this subject than I.


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