Philip Nel > Courses > English 440: The Graphic Novel (Spring 2010)

English 440: The Graphic Novel
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: M 3:30-5 p.m.,
W 8:15-9:15 a.m. & by appointment.




MWF 10:30 - 11:20 a.m.

ECS 017

Last updated Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Required Texts:


        After paying a little attention to the genre's history (specifically, Rodolphe Topffer and Lynd Ward), this course will focus on the golden age of the graphic novel, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing to the present day — with a particular emphasis on recent works. 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, Mar. 10.
Paper 1 100 In class, Feb. 12.
Paper 2 200 In class, Apr. 30.

Final Exam


In class, May 11, 11:50 - 1:40 p.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)
        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 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 three times 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.
        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 turn off your cell phone. 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 top left, choose the "Collaboration" menu.
  3. Next, choose "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).

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

Introduction to the Graphic Novel: The Vocabulary of Comics
January F 15 Introduction.
  M 18 Martin Luther King Day.
  W 20 Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, “How to Read Nancy” (1988) <> [W]; selected comic strips in class pack [CP].
  F 22 Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993), Ch. 1; Rodolphe Töpffer, Mr. Pencil (1831) [CP].
  M 25 Lynd Ward, Gods' Man (1929).
  W 27 Robert C. Harvey, "How Comics Came to Be" (2009) [CP]; Will Eisner, A Contract with God and Other Stories (1978).
  F 29 McCloud, Ch. 2. Spiegelman, Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986) and Funny Animals #1 [CP] .
February M 1 Art Spiegelman, Maus I; Spiegleman, Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began (1991).
  W 3 Spiegelman, Maus II.
Blood in the Gutter
  F 5 McCloud, Ch. 3; Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1987), though Ch 3.
  M 8 Selection from Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent (1954) [CP]; Ron Goulart, "The Wertham Crusade" (1986) [CP]; Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen, through Ch. 6.
  W 10 Moore and Gibbons,Watchmen, through Ch. 9.
  F 12 Moore and Gibbons,Watchmen, to end. Paper #1 DUE
  M 15 Hergé, The Blue Lotus (1934-35, revised 1946).
Time Frames
  W 17 McCloud, Ch. 4; Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (2006), through p. 130.
  F 19 Yang, American Born Chinese (2006), to end; Yang, "Monkey Kingdom" (2001) <>
Emotional Range
  M 22 McCloud, Ch. 5; Osamu Tezuka, Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu (1987, English transl. 2003), through Chapter Three (p. 146).
  W 24 Tezuka, Buddha, Vol. 1, through Chapter Seven (p. 274).
  F 26 Tezuka, Buddha, Vol. 1, to end.
Show and Tell
March M 1 McCloud, Ch. 6; Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), through Chris Ware, page from Jimmy Corrigan. (Click on image to see larger page.)
  W 3 Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, through Ware, page from Jimmy Corrigan.
  F 5 Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, through Ware, image from Jimmy Corrigan.
  M 8 Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, to end.
  W 10 Midterm Exam.
  F 12 Lynda Barry, One Hundred Demons (2002), through "The Visitor" (p. 120).
  M 22 Barry, One Hundred Demons, to end.
. W 24 McCloud, Ch. 7; Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006), through Ch. 4.
  F 26 Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, to end.
  M 29 Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2001, English transl. 2003).
  W 31 Satrapi, Persepolis.
April F 2 Daniel Clowes, Ghost World (1993-1997; pub. in single volume, 1997).
  M 5 Clowes, Ghost World.
Colored Tales
  W 7 McCloud, Ch. 8; Neil Gaiman, The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (1988-1989; pub. in single volume, 1991).
  F 9 Gaiman, The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.
  M 12 Jeff Smith, Bone: Out from Boneville (1991-92; coll. 2003), through p. 76.
  W 14 Smith, Bone: Out from Boneville, to end.
Varities of Sequential Art
  F 16 Brian Selznick,The Adventures of Hugo Cabret (2007), through p. 222.
  M 19 Selznick,The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, through p. 407.
  W 21 Selznick,The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, to end.
  F 23 Shawn Tan, The Arrival (2006), through section III.
  M 26 Tan, The Arrival, to end.
  W 28 Tan, The Arrival.
  F 30 McCloud, Ch. 9; selected abstract comics [CP]. Paper #2 DUE.
May M 3 Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2005).
  W 5 O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
  F 7 Conclusion and Review.
    You must take the final exam on the day and at the time scheduled. NO EXCEPTIONS. Mark your calendars.
  Tu 11 Final Exam, 11:50 a.m. -1:40 p.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.
    • 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, 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.  Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
      • Burns, Charles, Guest Editor.  The Best American Comics 2009.  Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
    • Brunetti, Ivan, ed.  An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
    • 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.
    • Ware, Chris. Guest Editor. McSweeney's 13 (2004). 
  • Graphic Novels:
    • B., David.  Epileptic.  Trans. Kim Thompson.  2005.  New York: Pantheon, 2006.
    • Brown, Chester.  Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. 2003. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly Publications, 2007.
    • 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.  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.
    • Holm, Jennifer L., and Matthew Holm.  Babymouse. [Series, 2005-.]
    • Horrocks, Dylan.  Hicksville: A Comic Book.  1998.  Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001.
    • Johnson, Crockett.  Barnaby.   New York, NY: 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.
    • 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.
    • Runton, Andy.  Owly. [Series, 2004-.]
    • Sacco, Joe.  Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-95.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2000.
    • Schmidt, J. Marc.  Egg Story.  San Jose, CA: Slave Labor, 2004.
    • Seth. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken.  Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly, 1996.
    • Thompson, Craig.  Good-by Chunky Rice. 1999. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
    • ---. Blankets.  Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2006.
    • Töpffer, Rodolphe. Rodolphe Töpffer: The Complete Comic Strips. Compiled, translated, and annotated by David Kunzle. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

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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Copyright © 2007-2010 Philip Nel, except for images from Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: those are copyright © 2000 Chris Ware. The titles for most sections of the syllabus have been shamelessly borrowed from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, and so those should be understood as copyright © 1993 Scott McCloud. Please read the Disclaimer.

This page was last updated Wednesday, April 14, 2010 .