L210 2072 FOSTER
Studies in Popular Literature and Mass Media

11:15a-12:30p TR (30) 3 cr.


The goals of this course will be to examine the generic diversity of the American comic book as a hybrid medium of visual art and print fiction, as well as to discuss in detail specific examples of the medium and its potential, using Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. The first half of the course will provide a historical introduction, while the second half will focus on close readings of a selection of important texts from the mid-1980s to the present.

Texts for the course might include at least one example of early comic strips that demonstrate the influence of avant-garde art (either Krazy Kat or Little Nemo in Slumberland). Depending on availability of texts, we will read some short examples of comics from the 1940s that translate the pulp fiction genres of romance, war, western, science fiction, horror, detective, or true crime into graphic storytelling form. We will then read some examples of what has become the dominant comic book genre, the early DC superhero comics (Superman, Batman, and/or Wonder Woman, along with Art Spiegelman's recent book on Plastic Man). We may discuss the development of these DC comics in the 60s and 70s (Bizarro, Superman, Jimmy Olson), but we will certainly discuss the "realist" turn in early Marvel superhero comics and the attempt to make the superhero genre relevant to youth audiences in the 60s and 70s (Fantastic Four, Spiderman). One goal of the class will be to understand the ways in which superhero comics functioned as a site of cultural debate and contestation, and the ways in which this genre has been continually redefined and reimagined.

At this point in the course, we will begin to focus on more contemporary revisions and alternatives to superhero comics, possibly beginning with Chris Claremont's X-Men. We will definitely read Alan Moore's Watchman, and a graphic novel by Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Elektra: Assassin, or Sin City), as well as some example of the Milestone comics line, with its multicultural take on the superhero genre. But we will also spend some time discussing the significance of 60s underground comics, and the later emergence of alternative comics. Examples of the latter might include Spiegelman's combination of historical fiction and the "funny animal" comic (Maus); Joe Sacco's documentary journalism (Palestine); feminist comics (Roberta Gregory's Naughty Bits); autobiographical comics (Julie Doucet, Chester Anderson, Adrian Tomine); and at least one example of DC's alternative Vertigo line of horror/fantasy comics, either Sandman or Swamp Thing. Other possible texts in this second section of the course might include David Mack's Kabuki; Larry Marder's Tales of the Beanworld; Dave Sim's Cerebus; Ho Che Anderson's King; Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library/Jimmy Corrigan.

Assignments will include midterm and final exams, as well as a series of short essays (probably 3-4) during the semester.