Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teaching Comics Update

After a rock start (rockiness which, I allow, was primarily in my head), my comic book course is swimming along. I knew it would all be okay the day when one student asserted, and several more agreed, that because comics have pictures you don't have to interpret them as much as you would, say, a Shakespeare play. (Ah, Shakespeare, the perennial go-to guy whenever the argument for the ornerous-nous of close reading needs to be made.) I knew then, whatever deficiencies I might have in comic scholarship (again, I'll grant those deficiencies are probably mostly imagined) I more than make up for in my ability to read a text well. Plus, I like to think that I've also gotten pretty good at helping students learn to read well.

The first book we read was Eisner's Contract With God and the conversation, over two class periods, was *amazing.* There was actual debate among students about the meaning of the repitition of of the streelight lamp imagery throughout the four stories, discussion of Einser's formal control as evidenced in his varied use of panel size and placement, a weighty discussion about the possibility/impossibility of a contract with God--it was great.

We've moved on now to superheroes. Before reading Dark Knight Returns we read a selection from Peter Coogan's Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre in which he argues that a superhero is defined by his/her selfless, prosocial, never-ending mission; superpowers or superior abilities that set him/her apart from ordinary humans; and a secret identity that is separate from and in contrast to their supehero identity and an iconic costume that is emblematic of that identity. Finally, such a person appears in superhero stories. If such a person appears in another genre, like horror, they are not superheroes.

In this excerpt he gave a very detailed argument for why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a superhero. Apparently those are fighting words. Several students made very impassioned arguments for Buffy's superhero status, with a few votes thrown in for Sam and Dean, the brothers on Supernatural. The result was a lively discussion about genre, the importance, or lack thereof, of genre distinctions, the difference between superheros and antiheroes, and whether a Norse god (namely, Thor) really cares enough about humanity to have a prosocial mission.

Tomorrow is our first day with Dark Knight. Stay tuned.


Mary-LUE said...

I would LOVE to be in this class!!!

Cassie said...

Sounds pretty amazing, C! Glad to hear you're feeling good about things. Send them to me when you're done, so I can mess up all their assumptions about Shakespeare. ;)

a. fortis said...

So cool! I'd love to take the class, too. Just found this via Chicken Spaghetti on Twitter.

tanita davis said...

Oh. WOW. I'm here, dragged by the Twitter-ing. What an amazing sounding class!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a very interesting class. Brian has told me a lot about some of your other comics-based classes.

As for Thor, I think he would be too busy fighting giants and the Miðgarð worm to worry about humans. Not to mention the fact that he's too gullible to compete with the usually highly conniving supervillains.