It was threatening to become a professional embarrassment that I hadn't taught a course on comics yet. I'd published on comics, chaired conferences on comics, even spoken at a PEN/Faulkner event about teaching comics, but I'd never taught an entire class dedicated to comics. I would throw an individual graphic novel onto any syllabus I could--I'd even slipped The Birth Caul in there a couple of times that one year I was moonlighting as a British lit professor--but the course on comics remained elusive.
That changed this week.
Here's the reading list for "Genres in American Literature: Comics and Graphic Novels," the course I've been waiting to teach for nearly a decade:
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen
Art Spiegelman, Maus vols. I and II
Kyle Baker, Nat Turner
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Gilbert Hernandez, Human Diastrophism
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Boy on Earth
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, We3
Plus lots of reserve readings, both comics (Siegel and Shuster, Kane and Finger, Lee and Kirby, Lee and Ditko, Ware's "Thrilling Adventure Stories/I Guess" and Moore and Veitch's "How Things Work Out") and comics criticism (Bart Beaty, Jonathan Frome, Dylan Horrocks, Richard Reynolds, Annalisa di Liddo, R.C. Harvey, Joseph Witek, Julia Watson, Charles Hatfield, and Gene Kannenberg).
Something else changed this week, too. In a burst of foolish enthusiasm, I realized the changing weekly focus and the steady supply of new material made the course an ideal subject for a blog.
It was at that very moment when, in some act of Jon Osterman-like synchronicity, Tucker Stone generously named my piece on Final Crisis as one of his favorite works of online comics criticism in 2009. (It's incredibly heartening to see that Tucker has cracked that Dirk Deppey/Tom Spurgeon stratosphere of bloggers who can direct hundreds of visitors to your site with a single link. It's also incredibly weird that Final Crisis is still attracting hundreds of visitors--or is that rubberneckers?--nearly a year after it ended, but that post was far and away the most popular this site has ever generated.) With all the new traffic pouring in just as a perfect subject was falling into my lap, it seemed like the ideal time to fire up the blog again.
For the next fourteen weeks--though not every week, and I make no promises about anything after--I'll be blogging about the course readings and my experiences teaching them. Some are old classroom standards for me, and some I'm approaching for the first time. This is the first time I've ever taught Morrison, for example, which also seemed like an oversight that needed correction.
And yes, I know that he and Moore don't exactly fit the American literature categorization, though I could probably justify it since Watchmen and We3 are published by an American company and set in America. Not that I have any intention of justifying it. I've been waiting a decade to teach this class; a couple of those readings are just for me.
First up is Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which I'll post about next week. To start things off, I'll be reprinting a 2008 review of Making Comics that shows some of my recent thinking on McCloud and highlights some of the problems of using him in the classroom at all.