Show your support



Get involved!


Join our Mailing List

Stay informed!


Media in Cultural Context: Comics, Cartoons, and Graphic Storytelling

Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.
— Harvey PekarThis is a course about words, pictures, and stories. We hope over the term to map as broad a range of different things you can do with words and pictures as possible. Our central focus will be on two important strands of graphic storytelling — comix (understood as both comic strips and comic books) and cartoons (understood as moving images). We will also be looking along the way at other forms of graphic storytelling, ranging from tapestries to children’s book illustrations. We will be examining some of the groundbreaking work which helped define comics as a medium in the early part of the 20th century as well as cutting edge work in classical and contemporary comic books (both independent and mainstream). We will be talking about superheros and funny animals, since they have been at the heart of the American comics tradition, but we will be reading a broad range of work which has nothing to do with either genres. We will be looking at issues of visual style, narrative and narration, myth and genre, authorship, ideology, and audience. A word of warning: comics are expensive and we are going to be reading lots and lots of them, so the course readings are going to be astronomically expensive compared with any other CMS subject you have taken before. I will be working with the class to make this material as accessible as possible, but be ready to explain to your parents why you just spent several hundred dollars on funnybooks.Required Books:
Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules #5 (Will be provided free on the first day of class)
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics 22.95
Will Eisner, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative 22.99
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan
Herge: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 1 (The Calculus Affair, The Red Sea Sharks, and Tintin in Tibet.)
Neil Adams (Ed.) The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told 15.95
Alan Moore Watchman 19.95
Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels 19.95
Art Spigelman, Jack Cole and the Plastic Man 19.95
Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby 14.95
Daniel Clowes, Eightball #22 19.00
Joe Sacco, Palestine 24.95
Brian Michael Bendis, Fire 9.95
Elizabeth Watasin, Charm School 1, 2
Neil Gaiman, Death: The High Cost of Living 12.95
Naoki Yamamoto, Dance Till Tomorrow 15.95
Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville 10.00
Additional comics and secondary readings are available in the reserved book room.

Weekly Response Papers. Select one page from one of the comics we have read each week which you think deserves closer attention. Write a one page analytic discussion of that page. You may deal with it from the point of view of form, character, narrative, genre, authorship, ideology, myth, or any of the other approaches we are developing through the class. You may make reference to other moments in the book or in other books by way of comparison but the central goal should be to illuminate something that emerges from a close examination of a single page. (40 percent)

Early Comics Digital Project: Using the early comics digital archive, develop a short essay discussing one aspect of early comics making use of at least five panels from the collection and at least one of the critical essays. You will be given five minutes to present the main ideas from this paper to the class. (10 percent)

Author Report: There are simply more great animators and sequential storytellers than we can include in even a course as far reaching as this one. Select someone you value but who was not included in the course. Write a 5-page essay for distribution to your fellow students summarizing what you see as their primary importance to the evolution of graphic storytelling. These materials will be made available to the class as a whole. (20 percent)

A final essay for undergraduates, 5-7 pages; for graduate students, 10-15 pages. You should choose a personally meaningful topic in consultation with the instructor. Topics may range beyond the specific works, genres, or authors represented in the class, but the paper should demonstrate a mastery over the analytic frameworks we have been exploring and thus should make use of the assigned secondary materials. (20 percent)

Class attendance and participation. (10 percent)

UNIT ONE: The Aesthetics of Graphic Storytelling


Read and discuss in class: Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules!

The Image

Read: Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, chapters 2, 5, and 8.
Will Eisner, Comics & Sequential Art, “Expressive Anatomy.”
Greg M. Smith, “Shaping the Maxx: Adapting the Comic Book Frame to Television.”
Lab: Screening- The Maxx, Comic Book Confidential

SEPTEMBER 11, 2002
The Frame

Read: Scott McCloud, chapters 3, 4.
Eisner, “Timing,” “The Frame.”
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan (part one).
Catherine Khordoc, “Visual Sound Effects in Asterix.”
Gene Kannenberg, Jr., “The Comics of Chris Ware: Test, Image, and Visual Narrative Strategies” (rec.)

SEPTEMBER 16, 2002
Words and Images

Read: McCloud, chapter 6.
Eisner, “Comics as a Form of Reading” and “Imagery.”
Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan (part two)

Lab: From Winsor McCay to Max Fleischer Brothers
Read: Donald Crafton, “Graphic Humor and Early Cinema” in Emile Cohl, Caricature, and Film (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)
Screening: selected works of early animation
Little Nemo
Gertie the Dinosaur
The Sinking of the Lusitania
The Flying House
Felix Revolts
Felix in Fairyland
Koko’s Earth Control
She Reminds Me of You
A Date to Skate
Betty Boop’s Bizzy Bee
Minnie the Moocher
Crazy Town
Betty Boop’s May Party

SEPTEMBER 18, 2002

Read: Herge, The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 6

UNIT TWO: The Historic Evolution of the Comic Strip

SEPTEMBER 23, 2002

SEPTEMBER 25, 2002
Early Masters
For this unit, we are going to be working with a digital archive of early comic strip material. Read: David Kunzle, “Movement Before Movies: The Language of the Comic Strip.” N.C. Cristopher Couch, “The Yellow Kid and the Comic Page.” R.C. Harvey, “Peddlers to Poets.”

SEPTEMBER 30, 2002
The Aesthetics of Early Comics

Be ready to present your projects in class.
Read: M. Thomas Inge, “Fantasy and Reality in Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo”
Gilbert Seldes, “The Krazy Kat That Walks By Himself”

Lab: Warner Brothers
Jones Hugh Kenner, “Who’s in Charge Here?”
Screening: Selected Warner Brothers Cartoons; Chuck Jones Documentary
Chuck Jones — Extremes and Inbetweens
What’s Opera Doc
Duck Amuck
Rabbit Fire
Duck Dodgers

UNIT THREE: Superheroes, Now and Forever

OCTOBER 2, 2002
The Classic DC Superhero
Read: William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson, “I’m Not Fooled By That Cheap Disguise.”
Selections from Neil Adams, Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.

OCTOBER 7, 2002
The Superhero Across Media

Read: Thomas Andrae, “From Menace to Messiah: The History and Historicity of Superman.”
Gary Engle, “What Makes Superman is So Damned American.”

Lab: (Part One) Super

hero Across Media (concluded)
(Part Two) The Marvel Way: Genre and Authorship
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “The Origins of the Fantastic Four,” “The Coming of the Sub-Mariner,” “Battle of the Baxter Building,” “Death of a Hero” from the Essential Fantastic Four Vol. I and II.
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, “Introducing Spiderman,” “Return of Doctor Octopus,” and “Unmasked by Dr. Octopus” from the Essential Amazing Spiderman Vol. I.
R. C. Harvey, “What Jack Kirby Did” and Earl Wells, “Once and For All, Who Was the Author of Marvel?” in The Comics Journal Library Volume 1: Jack Kirby.
Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs, “?The Hero Who Could Be You.”
The Shadow
Green Hornet
Electric Earthquake
Eleventh Hour
The Underground World

OCTOBER 9, 2002
Revising the Superhero 1

Read: Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels.
Scott Bukatman, “Boys in the Hoods” (Forthcoming).

OCTOBER 14, 2002

OCTOBER 16, 2002
Revising the Superhero 2
Read: Paul Chadwick, “A Stone Among Stones” and “A New Life.”
Scott Bukatman, “X-Bodies (The Torment of the Mutant Superhero).”

OCTOBER 21, 2002 (sub: Sajan Saini)
Revising the Superhero 3

Read: Allen Moore, Watchman

UNIT FOUR: An Alternative Tradition

Lab: Disney
Luca Raffaelli, “Disney, Warner Brothers and Japanese Animation.”
Trees and Flowers
The Ugly Duckling
The Country Cousin
Mickey’s Orphans
Truant Officer Donald

OCTOBER 23, 2002
Funny Animals with Funny Ideas

Read: Carl Banks, “Uncle Scrooge — So Far and No Safari” and “Uncle Scrooge in the Second-Richest Duck.”
Walt Kelly, excerpt from Positively Pogo.
Martin Barker, “Deconstructing Donald.”

OCTOBER 28, 2002
Postwar Surrealists

Read: Art Spigelman, Jack Cole and Plastic Man.
Basil Wolverton, “A Nightmare Scare” and “An Encounter at the Counter.”
Harvey Kurtzman, “Superduperman.”

Lab: Screening – Selected of Tex Avery and UPA
Read: J. Hoberman, “Vulgar Modernism.”
Leonard Maltin, “UPA.”
Bacall to Arms
Screwball Squirrel
Red Hot Riding Hood
King-Size Canary
Bad Luck Blackie
Symphony in Slang
TV of Tomorrow
Gerald McBoing Boing
The Tell Tale Heart
The Unicorn in the Garden
Rooty Toot Toot
Family Circus

OCTOBER 30, 2002
Seduction of the Innocent?

Read: William Krigstein, “The Bath” and “Murder Dream.”
Jack Davis, “Telescope.”
Jack Kamin, “Cold War.”
Robert Warshow, “Paul, The Horror Comics and Dr. Wertham.”
Amy Kiste Nyberg, “The Senate Investigation.”

NOVEMBER 4, 2002
Day 16: Underground Comics

Read: R. Crumb, “Fritz Bugs Out.” Justin Green, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary.”
Roberta Gregory,”Hippy Bitch Gets Laid.”
Aline Kominsky, “Growing Up as Arnie’s Girl.”
Mark James Estren, “Sex and Sexism.”

Lab: Screening- The Faith and John Hubley Story (with filmmaker Sybil Delgaudio)

NOVEMBER 6, 2002
Day 17: The Raw Bunch
Read: Charles Burns, “Teen Plague.”
Kim Deitch, “Karla in Kommieland.”
Richard McGuire, “Here.”
“Art Spigelman,” Andrea Juno (ed.) Dangerous Drawings.
Art Spiegelman, “Ace Hole, Midget Detective.”
Ben Katchor, “The Evening Combinator.”

NOVEMBER 11, 2002

NOVEMBER 13, 2002 (sub: Kim De Vries)
Sequential Tarts
Read: Neil Gaiman, Death: The High Cost of Living.
Elisabeth Watasin, Charm School 1,2.

NOVEMBER 18, 2002
The Autobiographical School

Read: Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby.
Stanley Wiater and Stephen R. Bissette, “Howard Cruse.”

Lab: Digital Comics, Webtoons, and Computer Animation
Read: Scott McCloud, “The Infinite Canvas: Digital Comics.” Scott McCloud, “My Obsession With Chess.”
Demian 5, “When I Am King.”
Patrick Farley, “Chrystalis Colossus”
Tristam Farnon, “Rhapsody in Yellow.”
Daniel Merlin Goodberry, “Doodleflak.”
Jason Lex, “The Awful Science Fair: Snapping Turtle Cabaret.”
Pencil Test
A Cosmic Zoom
Luxo Jr.
Tin Toy

NOVEMBER 20, 2002
Comics and Ethnic Identity

Read: Jaime Hernandez, “100 Rooms.”
Gilbert Hernandez, “Chelo’s Burden” and “Heartbreak Soup.”

NOVEMBER 25, 2002
Experiments in Narrative and Narration

Read: Excerpts from Edward Branigan, Narration, Narrative Comprehension, and Film.
Daniel Clowes, Eightball 22

Lab: Screening – Waking Dreams
Excerpt from Waking Dreams
Excerpt from South Park: Uncut…
Excerpt from The Simpsons

NOVEMBER 27, 2002
Documentary Comics

Read: Joe Sacco, Palestine

DECEMBER 2, 2002
Words and Images (Revisited)

Read: Brian Michael Bendis, Fire.
David Carrier, “The Speech Balloon; or, the Problem of Representing Other Minds.”

UNIT FIVE: Cartoons and Comics in the Global Marketplace

Lab: Animation in Canada and the UK
Begonne Dull Care
The Cat Came Back
The Sweater
The Street
25 Ways to Quit Smoking
One of These Days
How to Kiss
The Wrong Trousers
Excerpt from Monty Python
Excerpt from Yellow Submarine

DECEMBER 4, 2002
Animation in Eastern Europe

Screening: Masters of Animation — Yugoslavia

DECEMBER 9, 2002
Comics in Japan

Read: Sandra Buckley, “Penquin in Bondage: A Graphic Tale of Japanese Comics.”
Matt Thorn, “What Japanese Girls Do With Manga, and Why.”
Naoki Yamamoto, Dance Till Tomorrow

Lab: Anime
Read: Susan J. Napier, “Anime and Local/Global Identity.”
Screening: Metropolis

DECEMBER 11, 2002
Comics in New Zealand

Read: Dylan Horrocks, “A Letter from Hicksville: Why I Love New Zealand Comics.”
Tom Bollinger, “Comics in Antipodes: A Low Art in a Low Place.”

(Contributed by Henry Jenkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)