Philip Nel > Courses > English 440: The Graphic Novel (Fall 2016)
English 440: The Graphic Novel
Required Texts
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: Tu 4-5, W 2:30-3:20,
& by appointment.




Tu-Th 2:30-3:45

ECS 017

Last updated Tuesday, November 15, 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, graphic novels, and a little comics/graphic novels criticism. We will also write five short papers, and draw. (But don't worry: you do not need to be an artist. Full disclosure: I, myself, am not an artist.) We will also take quizzes and two exams, 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
Mini-Projects (5 total) 400 See assignment page.
Quizzes 100 In class, day reading is due.
Class Participation 100 In class, daily.
Midterm Exam 200 In class, Oct. 11.
Final Exam 200 In class, Dec. 12, 9:40 - 11:30 a.m.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Papers | Mini-Projects | Quizzes | Class Participation and Attendance | Assignments

       Mini-Projects: In response to our readings, you will also create five mini-projects that combine words and images. You need to bring them to class on the day they're due because we'll be discussing them that day. The full description of these projects is on a separate page.

        Sources: If you rely on sources other than those assigned, please use the MLA method for documenting them. Don't plagiarize. In all of your work, 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 <>.
        Here is the university's Statement Regarding Academic Honesty: "Kansas State University has an Honor System based on personal integrity, which is presumed to be sufficient assurance that, in academic matters, one's work is performed honestly and without unauthorized assistance. Undergraduate and graduate students, by registration, acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Honor System. The policies and procedures of the Honor System apply to all full and part-time students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate courses on-campus, off-campus, and via distance learning. The honor system website can be reached via the following URL: . A component vital to the Honor System is the inclusion of the Honor Pledge which applies to all assignments, examinations, or other course work undertaken by students. The Honor Pledge is implied, whether or not it is stated: 'On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work.' A grade of XF can result from a breach of academic honesty. The F indicates failure in the course; the X indicates the reason is an Honor Pledge violation."

        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 the text assigned for that day. We make sense of literature by discussing it. For this reason, class participation will count for 10% of your final grade. Discussion will take place in class. 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 three absences, but more than three 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.
       You may use a portable computer or tablet for taking notes in class -- but that's all you may use it for. I know it's tempting, but please do not surf the web, check social media, chat with your friends, etc. Similarly, out of common courtesy, you may not text-message during class. And, either turn off or mute your cell phone. You need to be fully present during the two and a half hours we spend together each week.

       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. 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 regularly, but I am not on-line at all times.

       In case you need this advice, Wellesley has great advice on "How to Email Your Professor." Check it out. It's really good advice for professional communication of any kind.

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.

August T 23 Introduction. Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” (1988) <> [W].
Th 25 Newgarden and Karasik, "How to Read Nancy," cont'd. Group of selected comics on Canvas: Herriman, Soglow, Fleener, Ware, Thompson, Al Rabin [C]. Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice (2011), Introduction.
What Is Iconic?
T 30 Hergé, The Blue Lotus (1934-35, revised 1946); Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993), Chapter 1.
September Th 1 Art Spiegelman, Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986) and Funny Animals #1 [C]; McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 2.
What Is History?
  T 6 Spiegelman, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (1991); Spiegelman, "Looney Tunes, Zionism and the Jewish Question" (1989) and "Letter to the New York Times Book Review" (1991) [C]; Hilary Chute, “History and Graphic Representation in Maus" [CSR].
  Th 8 Kyle Baker, Nat Turner (2005-2007); Charles Hatfield, "An Art of Tensions" [CSR].
What Is an Image?
T 13 Ivan Brunetti, Cartooning Philosophy and Practice, Week 1. Mini-Project no. 1 (the Doodle) DUE
Th 15 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]
What Is Caricature?
T 20 Jeremy Love, Bayou, Vol. 1 (2009); John Hogan, "Jeremy Love's American Style"
Th 22 Love, Bayou, Vol. 2 (2011); Qiana Whitted, “Intertextual Journeys: Black Culture, Speculative Fiction and the Past as Text in Jeremy Love’s Bayou” (2015) [C]
How Do Pictures Speak?
T 27 Shaun Tan, The Arrival (2006); David A. Berona, “Pictures Speak in Comics Without Words” (2001) [C]; McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 3.
  Th 29 Tan, The Arrival; Brunetti, “Week 2"; Mini-Project no. 2 (Sequence) DUE
What Are Superheroes (and Why Should We Care?)
October T 4 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), through Ch. 4; Peter Coogan, “The Definition of the Superhero” [CSR].
Th 6 Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, through Ch. 8; Wertham, excerpt from Seduction of the Innocent [CSR]; Authentic Police Cases 6 (1948) [C].
T 11 Midterm Exam
Th 13 Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, to end; Brunetti, Week 5.
T 18 G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (2015); Wilson, Alphona, and Jacob Wyatt, Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why (2015).
Th 20 Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Panther (2016).
What Is the Relationship Betwen Words and Images?
  T 25 Robert C. Harvey, "How Comics Came to Be" (2009) [CSR]; Charles Hatfield, "An Art of Tensions" [CSR]. Selected New Yorker cartoons, comic strips, [C].
Th 27 Mini-Project no. 3 (Word and Image) DUE
What Is Time?
November T 1 McCloud, Understanding Comics, Chapter 4. Richard McGuire, "Here" (1989) [C]; Chris Ware, “Richard McGuire and ‘Here’: A Grateful Appreciation” (2006) [C]; Richard McGuire, Here (2014).
  Th 3 McGuire, Here (2014); Theirry Groensteen, "The Impossible Definition" [CSR]
What Is Memory?
T 8 Lynda Barry, One! Hundred Demons! (2002), through "The Visitor" (p. 120).
Th 10 Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!, to end; Dylan Horrocks, "Inventing Comics" (2001) [W].
T 15 Brunetti, Week 4. Mini-Project no. 4 (Grids and Gestures) DUE
What Is Autobiography?
Th 17 I'll be at a conference. Work on your final Mini-Project.
T 29 Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006).
December Th 1 Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; Ann Cvetkovich, “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home” (2008) [C]
  T 6 Mini-Project no. 5 (Annotation) DUE
Th 8 Conclusion and Review. Bring a list of your Top 5 Comics/Graphic Novels and one or two from that list to share with us.
  M 12 Final Exam, 9:40 - 11:30 a.m.

Recommended Resources & Further Reading :

In the Library

  • Reference, Scholarship, Etc.:
    • Chute, Hilary. Graphic Women: Life Narrative & Contemporary Comics. New York: Columbia UP, 2010
    • ---. Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists. Chicago & London: U of Chicago P, 2015.
    • 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, 2017. [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.
    • Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2015.
    • 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.
      • Mouly, Françcoise, editor.  The Best American Comics 2012.  Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
      • Smith, Jeff, editor.  The Best American Comics 2013.  Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, Series Editors.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
      • McCloud, Scott, editor.  The Best American Comics 2014.  Bill Kartalopolous, Series Editor.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
      • Lethem, Jonathan, editor.  The Best American Comics 2015.  Bill Kartalopolous, Series Editor.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
    • 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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