ENGL 300: The Graphic Novel George Mason University (Spring 2011)


ENGL 300 considers the storytelling potential of graphic novels, a rich form of artistic and narrative expression with a history stretching back hundreds—if not thousands—of years. Boldly combining images and text, graphic novels of recent years have explored issues often considered the domain of “serious” literature: immigration, racism, war and trauma, dysfunctional families, schizophrenia, and much more. Informed by literary theory and visual culture studies, we will analyze both mainstream and independent graphic narratives. In particular, we will be especially attentive to the unique visual grammar of the medium, exploring graphic novels that challenge the conventions of genre, narrative, and high and low culture. While our focus will be on American graphic novelists, we will touch upon artistic traditions from across the globe.


Be aware that several works on the syllabus contain graphic content that may offend some sensibilities, including explicit language and scenes of a sexual nature. If you anticipate that such material may prevent you from completing the required work, I recommend that you reconsider your enrollment in ENGL 300.


This section of ENGL 300 is larger than most 300-level English classes at George Mason University. I nevertheless aim to preserve the hands-on, discussion-oriented nature of my smaller classes, and much of the assigned work in the class reflects this goal.

(1) Participation in the day’s discussion is essential. And of course, to get the most out of the discussion, you must have read the day’s assigned work, thoroughly and critically.

(2) Early in the semester we will divide the class into six groups. Each group will be assigned a weekly role that rotates week-to-week. Students in four of these groups will contribute to the class blog:

First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the week’s reading to the class blog by Monday night. These initial posts should be about 250 words and strive to be thoughtful and nuanced, avoiding description and summary.

Respondents: Students in this group will build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by Wednesday night. The respondents can also incorporate elements of Tuesday’s class discussion into their posts. These posts should be about 250 words.

Searchers: Each student in this group will find and share at least one relevant online resource with the class in time for Thursday’s session. These resources might include news stories, journal articles, podcasts, archives, webcomics, and so on. In addition to linking to the resource, the searchers must provide a short (no more than a paragraph) evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.

Weekly Roundup: In a group blog post due by Saturday at noon, students in this group will each highlight a key moment from the previous week’s online and in-class discussions. These might be moments when there is a dispute over meaning, confusion over an idea, a sudden understanding, or anything else that strikes individuals in the group as especially noteworthy. Follow this formula for the highlights: describe the moment (provide the context and the facts about what you saw, read, or heard), interpret the meaning of the moment (what does it mean?), and evaluate its significance (in other words, why was the moment important?).

Regardless of your group assignment, late posts cannot be made up; if you miss your group’s deadline, then you receive no credit for that week’s blog. All blog posts will be evaluated according to the following 0-4 point scale:

Rating Characteristics
4 Exceptional. The blog entry is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. The entry demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. The entry reflects in-depth engagement with the topic.
3 Satisfactory. The blog entry is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Fewer connections are made between ideas, and though new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. The entry reflects moderate engagement with the topic.
2 Underdeveloped. The blog entry is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The blog entry is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of student engagement with the topic.
0 No Credit. The blog entry is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

The two groups who are not assigned a weekly role have no blogging obligations other than reading their classmates’ work, though I encourage them to post their own thoughts anytime they like.

(3) Every student will deliver one class presentation that offers an analysis of the graphic novel being discussed that day, focusing on a single page from the text. You’ll want to consider some compelling aspects of the page’s form, layout, coloring, style, content, or subtext. You’ll also want to reference or gesture toward other relevant panels or images from elsewhere in the text, or from outside the text entirely. You must craft an interpretation that goes well beyond “this is interesting.” The presentations will strictly follow a Pecha Kucha format, a style first used for the exhibition of architecture designs. Pecha Kucha requires a presenter to narrate a slideshow of 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, adding up to a total time of 6 minutes and 40 seconds. In addition to the time constraint, your presentation must also follow the 1/1/5 rule. That is, you must have at least one image per slide, you can use each exact image only once, and you should add no more than five words per slide. The formal constraints of this rigid format call for discipline, focus, practice, and paradoxically, creativity. Although your attention is trained on a single page for this presentation, you may—and even should—branch out to other relevant pages from the graphic novel as well as to references outside the text. In other words, incorporate into your presentation whatever will help us understand the individual page’s role in shaping the graphic narrative’s overall meaning.

(4) The tracing project approximates a mid-semester paper. I will provide detailed instructions regarding the tracing project later in the semester, but briefly, the tracing is a traced page from a graphic narrative, accompanied by some creative, analytical, and reflective work.

(5) The final project is an approximately 1,250 word (5 page) essay about a graphic narrative of your choosing. Your essay should offer insight and analysis based in the concepts, critical issues, and analytical approaches discussed in class. Although research is not strictly required, you may incorporate ideas from our secondary readings, or secondary readings you discover on your own.


The final grade will be weighted and calculated in the following manner:

Class Participation: 20%
Blogging: 20%
Presentation: 20%
Tracing: 20%
Final Essay: 20%

I give every assignment a letter grade, which also has an equivalent percentage. I use the following standard grading scale for both individual assignments and the overall final grade:

A+ = 100%
A = 95%
A- = 90%
B+ = 88%
B = 85%
B- = 80%
C+ = 78%
C = 75%
C- = 70%
D = 65%
F = below 60%

Late assignments will be lowered one letter grade for every 24 hours they are overdue, unless prior arrangements are made. Even if you are not in class the day an assignment is due, it is still due for you that day. Assignments more than a week late for any reason will not be accepted. Therefore, failure to hand in every assignment on time will make it extremely difficult to pass the course.

Attendance is mandatory (excepting medical emergencies or observation of religious holidays). More than four absences will lower your class participation grade by at least one letter grade. More than six absences will result in a zero for your class participation grade.

Students are responsible for verifying their enrollment in this class. The last day to add this course is February 8, 2011. The last day to drop this course is February 25, 2011. After the last day to drop a class, withdrawal from ENGL 300 requires the approval of the dean and is only allowed for nonacademic reasons.


Students must use their MasonLIVE email account to receive important University information, including messages related to this class. Failure to check your MasonLIVE email every day may result in missed messages, which you are responsible for. See http://masonlive.gmu.edu for more information.

Academic Integrity

Mason is an Honor Code university; please see the University Catalog for a full description of the code and the honor committee process. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Classroom Courtesy

Laptops and smart phones may be used in class but only for classroom activities such as note-taking. Text messaging unrelated to class is not acceptable. The use of MP3 players and portable game systems during class is also unacceptable.

Late arrivals or early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided.

Special Circumstances

If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at 993-2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through the DRC.

Emergency Information

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