Okay, if you were keeping count it's technically week 17 by now. Or maybe 18? So this post will have to pull double duty as the final review.
I don't have a whole lot of new comments to share about We3, especially considering I first started thinking about it right here back in the day. The close readings are going in the Morrison book and the discussions of grand pedagogical purpose will be necessarily short since there was no grand pedagogical purpose to its inclusion on the syllabus. This was the book I assigned purely for myself, to try out Morrison in the classroom, and as a quick read for a week when I knew the students' attention would more properly be focused on their final papers.
This isn't to say that We3's presence in the class was completely devoid of meaning or design. The defiantly unanthropomorphized animals played off well against the more traditional (but equally unfunny) animal characters of Maus, American Born Chinese, and even the monkey chorus of "Human Diastrophism," and the discussions about language's role in the construction of the animals' identity served me well as a dry run at translating my take on the series into an academic setting. But by its late placement in the semester this was always going to be a week devoted to honing skills, not cutting new teeth.
After spending the semester getting to the point where (Ware excepted) we could largely dispense with the formal close readings in our discussions, Quitely's pages brought us right back to panel layouts and pacing, though with a full semester's experience behind us. Dissecting those scenes of the animals in combat, or identifying the momentary suspension of the panel grid when they first escape the base, or even parsing something as relatively simple as the opening scene to show how Morrison and Quitely convey information with only a few rudimentary written symbols, was the equivalent of a comic book master class. I knew I'd chosen the right book when the first class period ended and I'd barely gotten through a couple of scenes. I had no doubts that We3 could fill a week--if anything, the struggle was to take the remaining discussions beyond pure form.
I did notice that a lot of the final papers tended to attribute the book to Quitely, not Morrison, probably a sign of that close attention to his technique--whereas the exam essays tended to refer to the book as Morrison's work, probably because the particular question most students chose asked them to think about the animal portrayals that were more clearly written into the script. That kind of shift in emphasis didn't come up with any of the single-artist graphic novels, of course, but even Watchmen tended to be "Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen" whereas the division of labor in mainstream American comics seemed to be a lot more evident in the students' writing about We3.
That difference in production methods ended up informing one of the most unexpected pleasures of assigning this book. The first comment on the first day of discussion touched on an area I had absolutely not considered teaching--a student suggested We3 was a good representative of the current production aesthetic of mainstream American comics and that quickly turned into an off-the-cuff lecture on different (industrial vs. artisan) modes of production that ended up providing a framework for thinking about the entire semester's reading list. And right before finals, too! Like the Watchmen discussions of many weeks earlier (held in some strange, half-forgotten, snow-packed wasteland), that moment of unplanned expertise was about as clear an indication as I've ever had on exactly where my specialization lies. It's pretty clear that the "sideline" of comics scholarship took over the main line some time ago, as it would have had to; seven years of grad school and nine years in the profession can't compare to a lifetime of reading comics. It was another welcome sign that I was right where I needed to be, teaching exactly the course I needed to be teaching.
The wonderful thing about this semester was that many of my students apparently felt it was exactly the course they needed to be taking. There's always an advantage in teaching a room full of self-selected students--nobody was gritting their teeth and suffering through a required course--but I began the semester with some worries that I might have students who thought a class on comics would be an easy elective. Those worries were never borne out. The class brought just as much passion to the course as I did, right up to the very end, and I probably didn't need to worry about flagging attentions in the final weeks.
I also took great pleasure in introducing a new group of readers to the contemporary graphic novel. Judging by the evaluations I've created several fans, and even the diehards found new artists to follow. Comics evangelism was never the point of the course but I'd call it a happy accident. The class also included a few nascent comics artists and filmmakers who have told me the readings have influenced their own work. From researching artists who weren't on the syllabus to taking part in conventions, the students are now carrying their passion for comics outside the classroom. No matter what the subject is, teaching doesn't get any better than that.