Office hours – Tu/Th 1:00 - 3:00 (+ by appointment)
Office – Sierra Tower 735 // phone & voicemail (818) 677-3416
Email – email@example.com
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Grading Rubric • Required Texts
Course Policies • On-Campus Resources
Though long dismissed as an especially ripe variety of pulp fiction, or as a weird distorting mirror in the funhouse of Pop Culture, comic art has recently come into its own. Since the late 1980s comics have increasingly been seen as a complex and dynamic form of communication, literature and art. They represent a new horizon in critical study, for we as yet lack a handy set of tools, or a well-worn method, to deal with these fascinating visual/verbal hybrids.
Perhaps this uncertainty is unavoidable – comic art by its very nature seems to frustrate attempts to put it into a neat pigeonhole. (Is it pictorial narrative? visual poetry? graphic design? all of the above?) But by working to build a better toolbox for the study of comics, we can learn to see the swirling kaleidoscope of visual culture more critically, and more appreciatively. Studying comics can help us tune up our critical sensibilities so that we can more productively approach all sorts of hybrid, visual/verbal texts, from concrete poetry to illuminated manuscripts to artists’ books. Along the way, we may discover some of the most arresting and beautiful work contemporary literature has to offer.
These are the goals of Comics: Form & Meaning. This will be a course like no other, one that stakes out new territory in word/image studies: We will test the distinctions between “comics” and “non-comics.” We will examine (and practice using) the formal qualities of comic art. We will read some of the best that English-language comics have to offer, with special emphasis on the contemporary work of such artists as Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Hernandez and Debbie Drechsler. And we will skim through comics history, especially the last thirty years.
Specific aims: Informed appreciation of comics as a literary and artistic practice; beginning knowledge of comics history; greater awareness of word/image relationships, interartistic collaboration, and the growing field of word/image studies; familiarity with resources for research in word/image studies; assessment and strengthening of students’ core analytical, rhetorical and professional skills.
discussion; occasional lectures; student presentations; varied in-class
activities, including groupwork and peer review; frequent writing, both
in and out of class; and field research. No traditional exams.
As befits a senior assessment course, 495CO will pose a high and constant level of challenge. Your grade for the semester will be determined by how successfully you fulfill the following six responsibilities, or tasks (note the point value of each, from a total of 500):
Besides freeform discussion, you should always be ready to join in other classroom activities, whether pre-announced or impromptu. These may include small-group exercises (groupwork), writing exercises of various lengths, peer review of a classmate’s work, and anything else that enhances our work as a class. To prepare for class activities I may occasionally ask you to bring a text of your choosing to class, or to do written homework.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS [10%]:
In response to each week’s reading, you should generate an in-depth discussion question: not a simple yes/no question, but one requiring a discursive answer. This question should be presented in writing each week, in the form of a full typewritten paragraph, with enough contextual information to explain the significance of the question (50 words? 100 words?). These questions, which should be ready for handing in by the beginning of class, will be used as prompts for in-class discussion. Questions must be prepared every week, except when you have an oral presentation to give to the class. Note that these will not be letter-graded.
Students may work singly or in collaboration, and may adapt the tale however they see fit, at any length, with three provisos: one, the end product should represent an attempt to use comic art, rather than exclusively written text; two, the end product should preserve the outline of the original tale, or at least echo it in some recognizable fashion; and three, the end product should be reproducible, i.e., should fit in a photocopier. Each student, or team, should make enough copies of the finished piece so that everyone in the class can have a copy for the sake of reference and critique.
The end product will be graded, not on the finesse of the drawing (even
stick figures will do), but rather on how effectively you apply the tools
of comic art, e.g., breakdown, layout and verbal/visual interrelation.
YOUR WORK: THE CARTOONIST’S JOURNAL [10%]:
The working process behind the minicomic will have to be documented thoroughly at all stages, from early experiments to finished product. Whether working alone or in collaboration with another, you should prepare an individual journal that reveals, through artwork and extensive written description, exactly how you worked on the comic. (Your journal can be neatly handwritten, in traditional journal form, or can be a typewritten narrative paper with interpolated illustrations.) This entire project will be letter-graded.
One option for this assignment would be to write a critical introduction to a specific author. Such an essay would track the development of the author’s work over time, analyzing at least two works in terms of distinguishing attributes (e.g., narrative technique, recurrent themes, design, or style). In addition, such an essay should make a case for the value, influence, or representative qualities of the works in question. This type of paper could conveniently be built from your oral presentation, and indeed this is what I envision (to ease the workload).
However, you may freely pursue other options, including but not limited to: an argumentative essay on a specific controversy; an analytical essay that applies an existing form of critical theory to comics (e.g., How might feminist theory, or New Historicist methods, be applied to certain comics?); a review of criticism, which comments on the critical reception of a particular work; a comparative analysis of a story, novel, play, or film and its adaptation into comics form (or vice versa); an original, well-edited interview with a comics professional; or an historical essay on an author, genre, trend, or market. Above all, you should respect your own interests, and follow them.
Whatever the topic, the paper should show a strong awareness of comics
form, and should engage the visual dimensions of comic art. In addition,
it should draw on outside research. The final product ought to synthesize
that research, along with your original insights, into a coherent, pointed,
and readable essay.
Note: The above rubric represents an attempt to make my grading scheme as open, concrete, and unsurprising as possible Subjective judgments, however, inevitably play a part in the grading process, and I reserve the right to raise borderline grades in instances where exceptional effort, participation, or other factors must be weighed.Participation 100 pts
In-Class Writings 50
Creative Project 100
Oral Presentation 75
Short Essay 75
Research Essay 100465 – 500 = A
450 – 464 = A-
435 – 449 = B+
415 – 434 = B
400 – 414 = B-
385 – 399 = C+
365 – 384 = C
350 – 364 = C-
335 – 349 = D+
315 – 334 = D
300 – 314 = D-
<299 = F
A word about costs: Comics are not cheap, and the graphic novels available for college courses tend to be costly. (Unfortunately, there is no thriving textbook market for comics – and we all know that traditional textbooks are too expensive to begin with.) Rest assured that I have chosen the least expensive texts that satisfy the requirements of the course! The above books, which were chosen to represent various genres and critical issues, will be used extensively both inside and outside the classroom, and I expect you to know them and to have them. (If money is tight, try working out a cost-sharing deal with a fellow student, but remember that there may be times when you have to refer carefully to the text in the classroom.)Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (Harper, $22.50)
Chris Oliveros, ed., Drawn and Quarterly 2:1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 5.95)
Jessica Abel, Radio: An Illustrated Guide (Fantagraphics, cost)
Neil Gaiman et al., Sandman: Dream Country (DC Comics, 14.95)
Art Spiegelman, Maus Vols. 1 and 2 (Pantheon, boxed set for $20-$28 or individual vols. for $14)
Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library No. 1 (Fantagraphics, 3.50)
Jaime Hernandez, Penny Century No. 2 (Fantagraphics, 2.95)
Gilbert Hernandez, Love & Rockets X (Fantagraphics, 12.95)
Debbie Drechsler, Daddy’s Girl (Fantagraphics, 9.95)
Daniel Clowes, Ghost World (Fantagraphics, 9.95)
Plus photocopied reading packet (forthcoming from QuickCopies) and reserve readings
Reserve readings, when necessary, will be announced well in advance.
These will be stored in the Reserve Book Room at the Oviatt Library (2nd
floor, East Wing). More TBA.
Know your dates and procedures! Consult your Fall 2001 Schedule of Classes for information on change of program, withdrawals, and incompletes. You are responsible for knowing this information.
Reading load: Don’t be fooled by the seemingly “easy” nature of much comics reading. I expect you to come to class each day with a thorough knowledge of the assigned reading, by which I mean the kind of familiarity gained only through careful rereading and note-taking. Bear in mind that truly appreciating a text requires, first, enough time to read for pleasure, and second, enough time to reread for critical insight. Don’t forget those weekly discussion questions!
POLICY ON LATE WORK: Papers not submitted by deadline will be docked a full letter grade for each day or part of a day that they are overdue (e.g., a research essay that would have received an A if handed in on Tuesday by 4:20 pm would receive a B if handed in by Wednesday morning, or a C if handed in late on Wed night or on Thurs morning). Papers will always be due at the beginning of class on a deadline day.
Extensions are available at my discretion, provided you make an appointment with me in advance so that we can set a new deadline. I am generous with extensions when warranted, but will not sacrifice time in the classroom to discuss deadline problems at the last minute. Think ahead.Formatting: All written work outside of class should be typewritten, and should follow the format demonstrated on the course Style Sheet (forthcoming). In good MLA form, all essays should include in-text documentation and a list of Works Cited and Consulted.
Use my office! If you have questions about the work we are doing in class, feel free to ask at any time. (Others may benefit from hearing the answer to your question!) However, if you have questions about private concerns, such as grading, please do not attempt to discuss them with me as I walk into the classroom, nor when we are working together as a group. Approach me discreetly after class and arrange to meet me in my office, either during Office Hours or, if necessary, at an alternate time.
Cell phones and pagers should be silenced before entering the classroom!
Students with documented disabilities that affect their ability to do in-class writing should contact me at the start of the term to discuss accommodations – I’ll be happy to help. Many such students work with the CSUN Center on Disabilities (phone 677-2578 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org), which runs an excellent “Students with Disabilities Resources” program. I recommend it to all qualified students!
As seniors, you are no doubt aware of what constitutes plagiarism: passing off the words, ideas, or work of another as your own, without properly crediting your source. (Reminder: plagiarism is discussed at length in your Fall 2001 Schedule of Classes, pgs. 151-152, and within the CSUN catalog.) To avoid committing this academic crime, you must of course acknowledge all ideas and quotations from other sources, and give full bibliographical information. Be sure to keep accurate notes when working from other texts, and to record full bibliographic information at each stage of your writing process. Again, always include a list of Works Cited and Consulted at the end of your papers. Be advised that I will deal with plagiarism by seeking the strongest penalties possible under CSUN policy.