Teaching Comics

I attended Collin College’s Trends in Teaching Composition Conference. This particular session was primarily informational, but there were hands-on activities, as the presenters had us engage with activities they use in their classrooms.

Teaching Comics Workshop
Michael Baker, Lauryn Angel, Jonathan Evans

Collin College

How to Utilize Comics in the Comp Classroom
Jonathan Evans

Evaluation, Norton’s ch. 103, English 1301 (111)
Minor writing for students with article analysis. Major for evaluation.
Students were often confused.
Then changed to minor assignment with presentation and group work.
Walked through textbook with Ppt.
Key features of evaluations
Concise presentation
2-sided sheet. One side was a comic-book page. Back side was varied levels of context.
Typically ended with a question, which helps set up criteria for evaluation.
You answered the question. Why did you pick that answer?
w/ expanded version of key features
pass out examples—varied versions

one group criticized Lois Lane, even though they thought it was good
no words was problem
Also the students were not aware of Christopher Reeves.

One of the Superman’s was supportive against suicide ideation… Superman is relevant. 1936/46? Episode where Superman stops a mentally ill man from jumping out of window.

Literacy narrative
Akkarian games with her father. “He was the one who fell.”
You have no idea. You have to read on to find out.

What is a literacy narrative?
Attempting to incorporate images into assignment sheets.
Has a friend who is artistic who created an avatar.
Do further research. Is there engagement?
Students are excited by visual images. But is

marvel_heroesLauryn Angel
Superheroes in American Culture, 232

Reading comics since age 11
Discovered would get students who had been reading since youth, expected Avenger movies, some who had never picked up comic book in lives.
One of the things I did for folks who have been reading.
Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Ch. 2 introduces language of the comics.
Also Making Comics for final assignment
Studying Comics and Graphic Novels by Kukkonem

Activity inspired by Kukkonem.

Cut up copied of pages from comic book
Then had them organize in multiple ways, decide on the preference idea, and write a paragraph
Action Comics #1—introducing Superman

Second part of activity is Why did the story go differently if it did…
Promote the close reading of comic books, get people who have been reading it a lot out of the “just is just for fun.” Makes them pay attention.
Not just for fun.

Class Comixology account. Doesn’t let you print pages.
All of our comics are digital. Takes them out of that sensory. I paid for all the comics.

Did not use more complex panels.
Might not reflect story in traditional narrative, chronological

Read comics as literary text

superfriends Sat morn cartoonsMichael Baker
Visual Rhetoric and Comics

Super symbols—simple or complex?

McCloud calls iconography, ch. 2
Everything in a superhero costume can be read rhetorically.

Wonder Woman, Superman w an American flag, Batman dark with family lit

Let’s play a matching game (image and words)
WW = feminist icon
Superman = American hero
Batman = orphan

Superman = illegal immigrant
WW = marginalized/sexualized
Batman = mentally ill

Symbols are complicated.
In 2014 child murdered by grandparents. Then DC Entertainment allowed Superman S to appear on gravestone.

Jeffrey Baldwin, 5, starved to death by his gradnparents….

Who decides what that symbol means?
Symbol (visual iconography) abstract rep of characters
Clear link btw character identity and symbols
Even comic companies want consistency, authors/writers portray characters differently
Aud’s experience places meaning on symbol.

Problematic when characters have been through iterations.
Look at WWs costumes.
WW in white long super agent costume –right after Star Wars

WW original was patriotic motif, with eagle.
WW can copyright two w’s.
Shift in the costume cut in regard to coverage

First got pants in late 2000s. took away. got again. Took away.
Was eagle a symbol of Roosevelt’s new deal—ideology supported

At end of each comic you had WW advertising for people to buy war bonds.

90s jean jacket
flat boots

have students read 2 or more different comics and then prompt a discussion about how the diff char reps effect their view of the symbol

Comixology provides a convenient digital environment

even indiv panels can work

3 different panels from WW

issue 8, relatively early, her eyes are taped shut—she refuses to escape the blindfold because tape will pull out her eyelashes

early 60s when adopted 2Wws—
WW’s mother giving her a W. W for women everywhere. “It doesn’t look half bad.”

90s WW reading fan mail “And this one wants my old underwear”

Does this feel like the same character to you?
So what is changing?
Different artist and writer
Costume major changes
Hair changes
Body issues—unrealistically proportioned
Compare to Barbie

Confusion that women have—given mixed messages
Be feminine. Be tough.
Is she smiling? Is she laughing?
Looking for context. (She sends an envelope. Is it underwear?)

Evolution of lasso
“encapsulate men”

WonderWoman as Disney princess?
Fairy godmother, Prince Charming, WW as princess w sword.

Comics are about sales.
Creators have to suit audience.
If doesn’t sell, have to change story.

Participatory audience.

Comixology – website and app for Apple and Android
Give class one log in
Digital comics are cheaper. $3.99 per issue is most expensive. $.99 for older.
Mostly mainstream, but some indie

To find paper copies of early editions is expensive.
Sacrifice sensory…

Superheroes only?
Yes. Iconography.

Teach Icon? Black superhero, conservative. Young woman sidekick who gets pregnant.
Teach Cyborg. New series.
Marginalized characters most fascinating because when their sales fail, audience and authors will blame each other.

You buy comic books and students have access.
Hit big 3 of golden age.
Students add to Comixology.
Students would purchase to add to the collection. Wanted other people to be able to look at comics.


Biggest challenge?
Why take the class?
Visual rhetoric of a required class
Biggest obstacle—thinking it will be fun and/or knowing all about it

Taught 112 through graphic novels
Young woman threw stink about 3 comics. “garbage and pornography”
She assumed it was a blow off class.
It was a fiction class about understanding human behavior.
Provided class with list of graphic novels. 3 questions: lit? suitable for composition class? Xx?
Used McCloud for intro

Similar exercise
Make small arguments on what kind of frame (interdependent, etc) it is…
To practice what McCloud explained.

Teaching Allison Bectell this year. Discussion of writing environment. Memoir discussion.
Also discussion of Virginia Woolf.
Use McCloud’s frame of 7 (handout with visual and comic version of it)
Very effective
Feminist relationships, lesbian rel, mother-daughter, father-daughter
Graphic environment forces them to think in a different way.
Bectell –half of strip is where she is when talking about it—driving, etc

Helps that most of our students are visually oriented.

?disability services?
Had to transpose Maus with blind student.

Most I’ve had is color blind.
Everyone looked at it in gray scale.

Would have to do research for blind.

–I spent weeks describing each panel. Audio discourse. No audio version of Maus. Typed the whole dialogue and whole description.
Also did an accounting textbook which is less fun.

–actually visual learner
had sight as a child, struggle to listen to text and not have visual

anything with Braille technology?
Designed geographic maps and geology experiments with tactile.
But not a company that is publishing things like that.
Huge portion don’t read Braille.

?3-D printing, raised images? Anyone doing that?

?how do you overcome resistance?
Reinforcing, fun but not just fun

Context of history
Captain America punching Hitler
1960s XMen marginalized from Marvel pair with Civil Rights movement versus DC “I am Curious Black” Lois Lane, blackface
more an interpretation approach

tried to find ways
Aristotle’s def of rhetoric
If I am trying to persuade, how can I use images to do that?

I love superheroes. But I have been trying to use images to connect with students.

How effective if do one assignment of graphic novel and rest is normal?
I don’t try to overwhelm them with it.

Gradual introduction.
Visual and auditory learner…

Teach a lot of film… evaluation is movie review
Take a movie that is familiar, have a Prezi on Shining
Afterwards students say “Never thought about movies that way.”

Avatar version = modeling

By end of my class, they create their own.

Race issues…
Just come up.
Icon (conservative)
Reaction to new Star Wars character.
Right wing very upset that their heroes aren’t promoting the same cause.
Cpt America
Conservatives were identifying with Sons of Serpent

Intent is to be open, expressive, and inclusive –really?

Race is a continuing issue
Audience members do have a direct connection

Transgendered supervillain in Batgirl
Bunch of people tweeted at writer
Writer issued apology and said would do it right

?respective views of Nita Sarcussian (Sarcazian)
metamorphosis of Laura Croft character

Star Trek became a graphic novel—his vision of progressive

Did a presentation recently about lack of diversity (race and gender) body types, kinds of characters, variety of white male but not women…

Presentation on the online attacks on her—expose of the internet
How to be critical of what you see on internet

Ideas creeping into iconography
Icons of black Christ, female Christ

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