2011-12 Catalog

Decorative graphic

Offering Description

The Graphic Novel: A Critical Examination


Spring 2012 quarter

Steve Blakeslee English, writing, literature , Tom Maddox
Fields of Study
literature, media studies, visual arts and writing
Preparatory for studies or careers in
education, humanities, literature, and writing.

In the past decade, graphic novels have become recognized as an important new form of storytelling, shaping contemporary culture even as they are shaped by it. These book-length, comic-art narratives and compilations employ a complex and iconic visual  language. Combining and expanding on elements associated with literature, 2-D visual art, and cinema, the medium offers unique opportunities for reader immersion, emotional involvement, and even imaginative co-creation.

We will study sequential narratives that represent diverse periods, perspectives, styles, and subject matter--from the “high art” woodcut novels of the 1930s (e.g., Lynd Ward’s Gods’ Man ) to Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Holocaust memoir, Maus , to the bizarre but entrancing alternate universe of Jim Woodring’s Frank . While many of these works include humor, they frequently center on serious topics, including war, religious oppression, social and economic inequality, and dilemmas of ethnic and sexual identity.

We will carefully examine each text at multiple levels of composition, from single frames to the work as a whole, and read selected theory, criticism, and commentary, including Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Matt Madden’s 99 Ways of Telling a Story . More generally, we will work with a widely-employed model of storytelling—based on act structure, character arc, and protagonist-focused narrative—to explore the ways that stories can migrate across media and find new modes of expression.

As writers, students will develop and articulate their new understandings by means of response papers, visual analyses, background research, fictional and nonfictional narratives, reflective journals, and other activities as assigned. Our studies will conclude with group projects focused on particular artists, works, and themes, or on the creation of original graphic narratives. Finally, while this is not a studio art course, we will  experiment with drawing throughout the quarter as a way to develop an artist’s-eye view of comic art. Our goal is to develop an informed and critical perspective on this powerful medium.

The faculty do not assume any previous experience with comic art in general or graphic narratives in particular. Fans, skeptics, artists, and the generally curious are all welcome, provided they are ready for sustained and serious work.

Online Learning
No Required Online Learning
Greener Store
Special Expenses
$7 for admission to the Olympia Comics Festival.
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
February 7th, 2012 New offering added.