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Comics as Literature, Comics as Art

From the wild promises made in Unbreakable to the abrupt appearance of Adrian Tomine and Art Spiegelman all over The New Yorker, interesting claims are now being made about the value of comics and comic books. Are they the visible percolations of some unconscious knowledge or desire? Probably not. Are they the new literature of the twenty-first century? Possibly, possibly.
This course will examine, first, some of the conventions of comics as a medium of narrative, and the ins and outs of the super-hero genre in particular. Understanding Comics will provide us with a vocabulary for talking about the formal concerns of comics as art, and will insist on the division between “sequential art” and “super-hero stories.” After taking up some exceptional work within the genre, we will stretch our definitions of what constitutes a comic book, looking at recent work that clearly participates in the pleasures and accomplishments of genuine, enduring literature.

The Texts for This Course

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

Alan Moore, et al., Watchmen

Art Spiegelman, Maus (2 vol.)

Joe Sacco, Safe Area Gorazde

Dan Clowes, Ghost World and David Boring

Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville

Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, From Hell

Eric Shanower, A Thousand Ships

Will Eisner, To the Heart of the Storm

Eddie Campbell, Alec: How to Be an Artist

Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth

Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics

A note on the texts: From Hell seems to be in short supply at Book Haven, and they were unable to order returnable copies of Alec: How to Be an Artist. If you like, you can get both of those texts through the internet; you can also ask Book Haven to order copies for you. They are friendly there.

COURSE OUTLINE:

Week 1 (Jan. 14): Exemplary genre comics: What do most people mean when they say comic books? Can standard super-hero comics be treated as literature or art? How can we apply the strategies of literary reading to the comics page?

Week 2 (Jan. 21): Framework: How can we talk about comics as an artistic medium? What are the many choices a comics writer or artist must make, and what is our vocabulary for describing them?
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

Week 3 (Jan. 28): Superlative genre comics. What within the conventions of super-hero comics can an author turn to his thematic advantage? What sort of collaboration between writer and artist can make a super-hero comic literary?
Moore / Gibbons, Watchmen

Week 4 (Feb. 4): Beyond the genre: Comics as biography, comics as memoir. Can a traditionally trivial or marginal form handle something as large and as serious as the Holocaust? And why do the Holocaust in “mouseface”?
Art Spiegelman, Maus, both volumes.

Week 5 (Feb. 11): Beyond the genre: Comics as journalism. Is there something about comics suited to telling other people’s stories, or has Sacco stumbled an amazing fluke? Is comics more impartial than film? How could it be? Joe Sacco, Safe Area Gorazde straightforward “take-home” exam will be delivered by email. Results will be due in class today.

 

Week 6 (Feb. 18): Beyond the genre: Comics as fiction. What debt do contemporary “alternative” comics artists owe to the super-hero genre? What are the effects of serialization on an extended narrative?
Dan Clowes, Ghost World and David Boring.

Week 7 (Feb. 25): Beyond the genre? Comics as comics, comics as cartography. Does it make sense to speak of comics as a map, the way that Horrocks proposes in this book? Do you need to know comics in order to “get” comics? Where is Hicksville, really?
Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville.
Draft abstract for the final essay due in class.

Week 9 (Mar. 4): Beyond the genre? Comics as Homer, comics as archaeology. In some ways, it makes perfect sense to translate The Iliad into comics (“Super-heroes,” get it?), but in other ways it’s an utterly insane project. In what ways does this project craft its own terms?
Eric Shanower, A Thousand Ships, plus selected Homeric material in xerox.

 

SPRING RECESS: better bring From Hell with you. It’s long.

Week 8 (Mar. 25): Beyond the genre? Comics as history, comics as detective work. How does the medium handle work that is norrmally the province of academic researchers? For that matter, is From Hell actually more a history text, or a novel?
Moore / Campbell, From Hell. Read it all, even the notes. Second take-home exam due in class. (Questions will be distributed by email.)

Week 10 (Apr. 1): Beyond the form: the panel and the page. Will Eisner is generally recognized as one of the masters of the comics form — that is, a genius at letting a story flow graphically within a page. What makes his work special?
Will Eisner, To the Heart of the Storm, plus selected Eisner in xerox.

Week 11 (Apr. 8): Beyond the form: repetition and innovation. Chris Ware’s cartoonish, flat style is hardly what we’d expect for the sorts of stories he seems interested in telling. How does he suit the medium to this strange, lonely tale? Are there points at which his work stops being comics?
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth.
Proposal for the final essay due in class.

 

Week 12 (Apr. 15): Behind the form, behind the genre. Campbell’s autobiography is masked as a series of instructions. Does this conceit work? Are the instructions any good? Is Campbell’s sense of the medium and its canon consistent with what we’ve been developing in this course?
Eddie Campbell, Alec: How to Be an Artist.

Week 13 (Apr. 22): Opening out: Is this the future?
Scott McCloud, Reinventing Comics.
Final essay (12-15 pages) due before exam period begins.

 

 

ASSIGNMENTS AND PROCEDURES

The essay for this course is the chief source of your grade, and it is meant to be taken seriously. In it, you will be asked to explore and to offer an argument about not only the meaning of a comic you take as your text, but the way in which that meaning is constructed or delivered. That is, you will be applying close scrutiny to the visual and textual aspects of the comic you choose, and offering insights into the artist’s and writer’s techniques. For this reason, you may not wish to work on standard mass-produced “pulp” comics of the sort you could buy “off the rack.” (On the other hand, these are still created pieces of work, and even the least skillful might provide you with something interesting to say, so I will not rule them out entirely.)

While you may choose to write on one of the course texts for your essay, you may also venture into uncharted territory, either within the superhero or newspaper genres or outside the mainstream. Scott McCloud and Eddie Campbell will suggest texts you might explore, and I will also provide a bibliography that notes a few titles I’ve taken an interest in — though neither should be taken as an exhaustive list.

Because this is a seminar, and because so much of our thinking about comics as literature remains to be worked out, preparation for each week’s discussion will be of primary importance in this course; consistent and thorough preparation of the texts will represent a proportion of your grade roughly equal to the final essay or the two exams considered together.

Since I anticipate that you may have more than two hours’ interest in each of these texts, I am going to try to establish a “discussion section” (of a sort) to meet in the college over lunch before class, regularly enough that I can attend some of the meetings. These were a big hit the last time I taught the seminar.

I will also of course have plenty of office-hours appointments. More on that subject will follow.

I anticipate that many of you will have a lasting acquaintance with comics, and that some of you will already know several of the texts on the syllabus. It should go without saying, however, that taking part in this seminar means doing current work and not merely receiving validation for a life spent in private study. Even if you already know one of these texts, please be sure to read it again (with fresh eyes), to prepare new questions and interpretations of the text. If these texts are to bear my claim that they are (or verge on) literature, they will need to reward your continued and repeated attention.

SUPPLEMENTARY READING

Comics is a medium with at least a century’s history, and although most of the more serious work has appeared in recent decades, there’s still much more of it than will fit in a thirteen-week syllabus. Certainly there’s a lot I have given little attention to — the wide world of Japanese manga, for example; or the masters of the newspaper comic — and these would be good places for you to start looking for your essay and presentation topics.

I’ll round out the reading supplement with a list of books that may be useful for thinking about the comics genre — histories and criticism, as well as a few books that offer advice to comics artists.

FURTHER WORK BY THE AUTHORS WE’RE READING

 

Eddie Campbell has three other autobiographical collections (Alec: Three-Piece Suit, Alec: the King Canute Crowd, and After the Snooter), as well as a multi-volume series with the god of wine in the present day, called Bacchus.

Dan Clowes’s work on Eightball is almost entirely available in paperback now, thanks to his Ghost World fame. The most recent issue (#22) does some of the same work of David Boring in a smaller space. Short pieces are collected in Twentieth-Century Eightball, Caricature, and Pussey!. There’s also an early surrealistic and creepy graphic novel called Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron.

Will Eisner has written a long list of good graphic novels. Dropsie Avenue, A Contract With God, and The DreamerComics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling) and his early work on The Spirit, wihch is now available (but not cheaply) in archive volumes from DC comics. are among his best, but there are more. Also interesting are his two texts about making comics (

Dylan Horrocks has been writing for DC’s Vertigo line, a series called The Names of Magic. I’m told that it’s not bad, but I don’t think it’s as interesting as Hicksville. The follow-up to Hicksville (Atlas) has only one issue out so far.

Scott McCloud cut his teeth writing and drawing a science-fiction comic called Zot!, some of which is available on-line at comicbookresources.com.

Alan Moore has a long and impressive list of genre and non-genre comics. His run of The Swamp Thing from the 1980s is fairly legendary, and his recent books for America’s Best Comics (Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) have a lot to offer. His early works V for Vendetta and Miracleman have also held up pretty well.

Joe Sacco’s other major contribution so far is Palestine, which was his first sustained piece of comics journalism. More cartoony, and less sustained, but also interesting.

Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze is still appearing; A Thousand Ships is only the first of something like nine or ten projected volumes.

Art Spiegelman edited and contributed to the art-comics magazine RAW for a while; he and his wife are currently editing a series of books for children called Little Lit.

Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library is interesting, and in some ways even more interesting than Jimmy Corrigan.

INTERESTING SUPER-HERO COMICS (no particular order)

Mark Waid & Alex Ross, Kingdom Come. Was on a previous version of the syllabus. Very interesting if you’re familiar with the complicated and ornate DC “mythology”; possibly also interesting if you are wondering what to do with a lifetime’s worth of superhero nostalgia. Kill them all? Build a sort of Planet Hollywood? Both?

Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross, Marvels. Tells the Marvel mythology from the perspective of a news photographer (not Peter Parker). Some of the sequences may be of particular interest after the recent events at the World Trade Center. Busiek’s Astro City continues in this “innocent bystander” vein, and is worth looking into (the best arcs are The Tarnished Angeland Confessions), but never really gets beyond the superhero genre.

Gerard Jones, et al., Green Lantern: Mosaic (DC). A sort of fable about cultural tolerance, starring a Green Lantern and a lot of aliens. Interesting for both story and art, but fairly hard to find (not collected in paperback).

Although Jack Kirby has his limitations, I still recommend looking at paperback collections of his work from the ’60s and ’70s when you have an opportunity. The Fourth-World DC titles (except Jimmy Olsen) are recently available in this format (e.g. Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle), and see below under Stan Lee…

Jim Krueger, Alex Ross, et al., Earth X. A sort of companion (read: imitation) to Kingdom Come, though it’s really a labor to read. Does make some interesting explanations of Kirby’s whacked-out Marvel mythology from the ’60s and ’70s. (To “get” this one, you should be familiar with the stories in The Essential Fantastic Four, vol. 3.) There’s a sequel called Universe X; don’t waste your time on it.

Stan Lee and many others, The Essential…. Marvel has recently started issuing affordable paperbacks collecting the old ’60s material. The best are undoubtedly the early Spider-Man (vol. 1-2) and Fantastic Four (vol. 2-3), but they’re all interesting reading, and they’re a lot of bang for the buck — usually more than twenty issues per paperback. Thor, Hulk, Avengers, Iron Man, X-Men… There’s even an Essential Ant-Man, though I can’t imagine what it contains.

Frank Miller, Ronin (DC), which is a samurai science-fiction tale, but has a lot to say about the psychology of the “adolescent power fantasy.” Also worth investigating is Miller’s work on Daredevil (Marvel).

And of course there’s Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman:Year One, both of which were on an earlier version of the syllabus. Very good studies in layout, pacing, and tone, if not in writing. The Dark Knight Strikes Back has yet to grow on me.

James Robinson, et al., Starman (1994-2001, DC). A literate, well-realized character within the regular DC continuity. Early stories are available in trade paperback.

Matt Wagner, et al., Sandman Mystery Theatre (DC / Vertigo). This is not the same character as Neil Gaiman’s Morpheus, but the original 1930s Sandman, a detective with sleeping gas. Gritty, suspenseful, and interesting. Only one sotry arc is in paperback, however. Wagner has also written a number of other interesting projects, including Mage, and he’s most famous for his Grendel.

 

OTHER-GENRE GENRE COMICS

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (Dark Horse) is pretty satisfying — and the art, in particular, is very interesting: highly stylized, angular, high-contrast, asymmetrical. Sort of an X-Files meets Jack Kirby’s The Demon, with a lot of Lovecraft and Nazis thrown in. Best books are the collections of short features.

Kazuo Koike / Gosei Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub. Samurai manga from Japan, but fairly available here in the States. An obvious influence on Frank Miller, particularly the Miller of Ronin. A good place to start reading Japanese comics.

Dave Sim’s Cerebus is a massive (I mean long) ongoing project that moves from one genre to another. It’s available in a number of trade paperbacks; I hear that the best are Jaka’s Story and Church and State, but I haven’t ventured in yet myself.

Frank Miller, Sin City. I have read only a little of this (it’s not to my taste), but if you want to see how far Frank Miller can take “hardboiled,” this is the place to look.

Max Allan Collins & Richard Rayner, Road to Perdition (Pocket Books). A gangster story set in the ’30s, drawn from real life and from Lone Wolf and Cub. Illustrated in a strangely photo-realistic (or engraving-realistic) style that may not work entirely well. Not a bad yarn. Recently made into a movie.

Tony Millionaire, Sock Monkey. (Dark Horse). Totally hilarious, and I’m not entirely sure why. Disturbed, carefully-drawn tales of stuffed animals. Often ends in violence. Is it for kids? Probably not. Also has a newspaper comic strip (Maakies) recently collected in paperback, and definitely not for kids.

Neil Gaiman, et al., Sandman (DC / Vertigo). I’ve found this interesting in patches, but perhaps not quite all it’s cracked up to be. Story arcs are available in paperback. If you’re interested, you’ve probably already found it.

Evan Dorkin’s Dork! (SLG) is an exuberant example of what can be done with comics humor: he out-Mads Mad on a regular basis. First four or five issues are collected in Who’s Laughing Now?, but the more recent ones are better. Also responsible for Milk & Cheese, which are the pinnacle of raging id.

Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics). A genre all their own. Large cast of characters, ranging from broad caricature to subtle observation; by turns sexy, spooky, and funny. Not precisely to my taste, to tell you the truth, but very well done.

I’m less interested in Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, which also has elements of the soap-opera proteanism you see in Los Bros. Hernandez. Moore is a capable cartoonist, but I think he leans too hard on a few easy solutions.

LITERARY COMICS

Jessica Abel is up to something interesting right now called La Perdida. Her earlier work, in Artbabe, is good, too.

James Sturm, The Golem’s Mighty Swing(Drawn & Quarterly). A very satisfying short story about a Jewish minor-league baseball team in the early decades of the twentieth century, facing prejudice and internal troubles on the road.

Jason Lutes has only published the first volume of Berlin (City of Stones), which is on its way to becoming a masterpiece. One issue of the next volume recently appeared. His first effort, Jar of Fools, is also good, especially if you’re interested in the effects of serialization.

Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby (Paradox Press) makes some really remarkable claims to novelistic complexity. A coming-of-adulthood story about growing up gay (but closeted) in the segregated South of the ’60s. Pretty good.

David Mazzucchelli, et al. Paul Auster’s City of Glass. (Neon Lit / Avon) An interesting adaptation of an interesting novella. I had it on a syllabus until I discovered it was out of print. If you can put your hands on it, it’d be good essay material, especially if you’re interested in detective fiction.

Adrian Tomine tells short stories about disaffected Gen-Xers in Optic Nerve, which has been collected into two paperbacks (Summer Blonde and Sleepwalk). He’s very skilled, but so far his work has left me flat. That alone makes it an interesting study in style, however.

Andi Watson’s Slow News Day (SLG) is a nice romantic comedy, cartooned in a very nice clean-line style, and just begging to be made into a movie. He has also written a number of collections that I haven’t put my hands on yet.

Seth’s It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (D&Q) has been on my list for a while (he’s another clean-line nostalgic cartoonist), but I haven’t got hold of it yet.

Chester Brown has three or four autobiographical graphic novels, the only one of which I’ve read yet is The Playboy. Dark, self-critical stuff. You could probably put Joe Matt’s Peepshow in this same category.

James Kochalka has two interesting volumes of Sketchbook Diaries that try to make something of his daily life. They’re cute, and though I don’t think they’re literature, they’re a really pleasant read.

Craig Thompson, Good-Bye, Chunky Rice. Cute, a little weird. A pretty nice story. Very good brushwork, good cartooning. A little turtle-boy goes on a journey by boat.

Jim Woodring, Frank or The Book of Jim. Weird. Wordless. Surreal, childlike, haunting.

Brian Ralph’s Cave-In is also wordless, and cute. He has another book, Climbing Out, which I haven’t seen yet.

Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean, Mr. Punch. Creepy, but affecting. The things kids see but can’t understand til they’re grownups.

Pekar & Brabnik, Our Cancer Year. Got a lot of attention, but I haven’t read it myself. I have seen some of Pekar’s American Splendor work, but I don’t know what I could really write about it.

There are a number of anthologies you can look to for interesting new developments, as well: Drawn & Quarterly, Expo 2000, Expo 2001 and Expo 2002 (published by the Small Press Expo), and (if you can find copies) RAW.

NEWSPAPER COMICS

I’m not a big expert on newspaper comics. Probably you have seen Calvin & Hobbes, which is some really good stuff, and I expect you’ll have your own favorites. Other than that, I really only have a few recommendations:

Walt Kelly, Pogo. Collected (by Fantagraphics) in a number of paperbacks. Pogo is one of the high points of American newspaper comics, by any standard. A very nice place to look if you’re interested in techniques of comedy, caricature, or political satire.

George Herriman, Krazy Kat. Not as readily available as I’d like, but it’s fairly easy to find samples here and there. Innovative and idiosyncratic. Krazy Kat is my favorite of the early newspaper comics, and it’s got a lot to recommend it for critical study. One volume in paperback recently printed by Fantagraphics.

Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland is another early benchmark for the potential of comics. The stories are often repetitive, and the dialogue doesn’t do much for me, but few artists have done so much to mine the potential of the comics page, graphically. And it’s all entirely charming.

Ben Katchor, Julius Knipl: Real-Estate Photographer. A really fine “alternative newspaper” strip, now collected in three different books. Urban, yet magic realist in its way. Katchor is also the author of The Jew of New York, which is very much worth looking at.

Carol Lay, Story Minute. Clever, well-cartooned, and often touching. Available in a collection called Strip Joint and a few that are out of print.

(And I should put in a plug for my friend Jesse Reklaw’s Slow Wave. Appears weekly in the Advocate, and is collected in paperback (called Dreamtoons). Also available on the web (<www.slowwave.com>) and archived there. Interesting stuff, for our purposes, because the form is constraining, yet the “script” each week is essentially a found object.)

THE UNDERGROUNDS

This is another field where I’m no great expert. The big name in the field is R. Crumb, and his work is available in a number of formats. He’s an incredible cartoonist — maybe one of the greatest of all time — but he has yet to write any really sustained narrative.

Also worth looking into, from the underground crowd and influenced by it, are Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Justin Green, Phoebe Gloeckner, Gilbert Shelton, Aline Kominsky, Diane Noomin, and a few of their successors: Pete Bagge, Roberta Gregory, Shannon Wheeler, Julie Doucet, and Ivan Brunetti…

THE HISTORY OF COMICS

Michael Barrier & Martin Williams, eds., A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics (1981). Mostly an anthology of older work, but with short essays as well.

Mike Benton has a series (several volumes) of Superhero Comics: the Illustrated History. Very good source to set you straight if you get Plastic Man confused with the Elongated Man. He also has a nice book on some of the groundbreaking early creators, called Masters of Imagination (1994).

Will Eisner’s Shop Talk (Dark Horse, 2001) has long (and sometimes rambling) interviews with a handful of the titans of the industry, artists (mostly) for both comic books and comic strips. The interviews vary a lot in quality, but they’re worth looking at if you’re interested in early comics history or in a particular interviewee (or Eisner himself).

Jules Feiffer, The Great Comic-Book Heroes (1965). Some essays, some reprints of Golden-Age and older comics.

Ron Goulart, Over Fifty Years of American Comic Books (1991).

Harvey Kurtzman with Michael Barrier, From Argh! to Zap!: Harvey Kurtzman’s Visual History of the Comics (1991). A master of comics satire, writing a genuinely interesting account of comics history.

Dick Lupoff & Don Thompson, eds., All in Color for a Dime (1970) and The Comic-Book Book (1974). Histories of Golden Age comics.

Frederick L Schodt, Manga! Manga!: the World of Japanese Comics (1986). A good place to get oriented in this field, which I’ve neglected in the syllabus.

Stanley Wiater & Stephen R. Bissette, Comic Book Rebels: Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics (1989). Intermittently good interviews, some a bit dated.

COMICS AS AN ART OR A PRACTICE

Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art (1993) and Graphic Storytelling (1996). Although much of the same material is covered conceptually in Understanding Comics, Eisner writes for the aspiring comics artist and not the aspiring comics reader.

Stan Lee & John Buscema, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (1984). I will probably xerox all the pages from this that are actually interesting. Most of it has to do with how to draw the human form or the human face the way Buscema does.

DC has also recently published books on how to pencil and to write comics.

COMICS CRITICISM

The Comics Journal (serial, available at News Haven or the nerd store — or, of course, by subscription). Often contains interesting interviews; always contains reviews of what’s current and interesting.

David Carrier, The Aesthetics of Comics (2000).

“Gone & Forgotten” is a hilarious website dedicated to the worst comics of all time. Everyone who read comics as a kid should pay this site a visit. <www.ape-law.com/GAF>

R. C. Harvey, The Art of the Comic Book: an Aesthetic History (1996). A really excellent supplement to Understanding Comics, especially if you’re interested in talking about page breakdowns, etc. Does some interesting close-reading of Kirby.

Greg S. McCue & Clive Bloom, Dark Knights: the New Comics in Context (1993).

Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio, The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media (1991). Especially valuable for its interviews with Denny O’Neil and Frank Miller, though it’s also interesting as a demonstration of what some kinds of comics criticism might look like.

Richard Reynolds, Super Heroes: a Modern Mythology (1992).

Trina Robbins, The Great Women Superheroes (1996). Also, A Century of Women Cartoonists (1993) and, with Cat Yronwode, Women and the Comics (1985). A subject not spoken about enough.

Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History: the Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (1989).

Cat Yronwode (with Denis Kitchen), The Art of Will Eisner (1992).

 

POSSIBLE ESSAY TOPICS

* Forage further back into the work of one of our authors. Consider the creator’s development (various sets of artistic choices) as a comics artist. Obvious choices would be the early issues of Ware’s Acme Novelty Library or some of Clowes’s work in Eightball (or his early, clumy Lloyd Llewellyn stories); Will Eisner’s career is clearly also worth a look. (Most of our artists could work well for this topic.) The essay will need to have an argument about the nature of the artist’s development, and how that applies to the constraints and freedoms of the comics genre.

* Do a study of the work of a foundational and possibly neglected figure in comics history — Lou Fine, for example, or some of the other artists interviewed in Eisner’s Shop Talk. (Newspaper comics artists like George Herriman or even Walt Kelly would be possible here, as well.) Describe the hallmarks of the artist’s style, the things he or she could do exceptionally well. To what extent is this figure’s work genuinely “literary”? That is, how much does its meaning-richness increase under close scrutiny?

* Consider the problem of adaptation (or translation between genres) as it pertains to David Mazzucchelli’s version of Paul Auster’s novella City of Glass. What can the comic version of the story do that Auster’s prose can’t? What is lost in the translation? Is the adaptation a successful one? You’ll want to read both versions of the story, as well as the Borges, and Poe stories on which it draws; a familiarity with detective fiction also couldn’t hurt.

* Consider the problem of adaptation (or, again, a sort of translation) as presented in Jesse Reklaw’s weekly strip Slow Wave. (The strip is archived at <www.slowwave.com>, and appears in Dreamtoons.) How do the constraints of the four-panel weekly comic play out in Reklaw’s “translation” of other people’s dreams? What makes some dreams funnier (or better comic strips) than others? If you choose to pursue this topic, I can put you in touch with Reklaw, who will probably agree to an interview via email.

* Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde is both tightly constructed (his cross-hatching sometimes approaches Chris-Ware-like carefulness) and strangely open or loose (his self-caricature, for example, is very cartoony). How do these and other aspects of his artistic style effect the narrative he is trying to tell? What does “comics journalism” consist of, anyway?

* How does Alex Ross manage to compose a large-scale fracas like the ones in Kingdom Come without muddying up the page? Would this sort of composition be possible without his rich painting style? You might look at Marvels as a supplement, and possibly some work by George Perez (who is considered a sort of master of the crowd scene) by contrast.

* How can panel layout manipulate dramatic tension? You will want to consider something by Frank Miller, or sequences in Watchmen, possibly From Hell or (if you’re feeling up to it) some horror-genre comics. Are there vocabularies of panel size and shape that seem to have inherent effects, regardless of content?

* Were comics really corrupting America’s youth in the ’50s? Look up The Seduction of the Innocent and some of the EC comics it attacks, and consider not merely the content of the more lurid comics (which is solely where Wertham gets his argument, as far as I know) but the art style, as well. Is there an aesthetic virtue in the pre-code comics that makes them worth saving? (Research for this topic may be difficult. I have never tried to look up any of the pre-code comics, though I suspect Yale may actually have some in one library or another.)

* Evan Dorkin has recently written and contributed to a couple of really interesting parody / homage projects for DC (World’s Funnest and Bizarro Comics) that trade heavily on the sillier aspects of silver-age Superman and Batman comics. If you’re already familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bizarro, and with DC continuity generally consider and evaluate these two projects in a book-review format essay. Which of the two projects is more successful, and why? What are the weaknesses and strengths of this curious combination of parody and homage?

* Fantagraphics has published the Ghost World screenplay, as well as the comic, and there are places where the film itself diverges from the screenplay in interesting ways. Which of the changes (between comic and screenplay, or even between screenplay and film) are most significant, and what effect do they have? You will want to try to get your hands on some other Dan Clowes work, like “Art School Confidential,” (in Twentieth-Century Eightball) and possibly also Terry Zwigoff’s film Crumb or recent interviews with either Clowes or Zwigoff.

* If you want to write a critical essay on a text I have not mentioned, simply clear it with me. You will need to loan me a copy of the comic so I can see what you’re talking about.

(Contributed by Isaac Cates, Yale University)