ENGL 685 considers the storytelling potential of graphic novels, an often neglected form of artistic and narrative expression with a long and rich history. Boldly combining images and text, graphic novels of recent years have explored divisive issues often considered the domain of “serious” literature: immigration, racism, war and terrorism, dysfunctional families, and much more. Informed by literary theory and visual culture studies, we will analyze both mainstream and indie graphic novels. 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.



The required work for ENGL 685 takes several forms, detailed below: (1) participation, (2) weekly blogging, (3) a tracing, (4) a Pecha Kucha presentation, and (5) a final analytical essay.

(1) This course places a high premium on participation.

Most of our class time will be given over to discussion, and it is essential that everyone has carefully considered the week’s material, attends class, and participates. If you cannot attend ENGL 685 regularly, staying until each session ends at 10pm, please reconsider your decision to enroll.

A portion of your participation will take place virtually, using Twitter as a “back channel,” streaming real-time comments about the course both in and outside of the classroom. In the first days of class everyone will sign up for Twitter and begin using it for class with the hashtag #ENG685. Aim for posting to Twitter at least once every other day. Also, strive for “thick” tweets, which convey two or more layers of information (versus “thin” tweets, which contain only one layer of information). Thick tweets push the conversation forward; they provide something new, something of value, even if it’s only an unanswered question.

Participation will be worth 20% of your final grade.

(2) Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 300-500 word response to the week’s readings.

Sometimes I will provide specific prompts for you to consider in your post. Other times your blog entry may be more open-ended. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the graphic narrative using critical approaches you’ve used before; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, post your response by 7pm the evening before class. Blogging will be worth 20% of your final grade.

(3) Every student will deliver one class presentation that offers an analysis of a single page of the graphic novel being discussed that day.

You’ll want to consider some compelling aspects of the page’s form, layout, coloring, style, content, or subtext. 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, another rule your presentation must follow is 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. The presentation will count as 20% of your final grade.

(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. The tracing will count toward 20% of your final grade.

(5) The research paper is a 10–12 page seminar paper that requires you to frame and sustain an argument about a graphic narrative, and place that argument within the broader cultural conversation about the text you are studying. This research paper is due Wednesday, December 15, and it will count toward 20% of your final grade .


I give every assignment a letter grade, except for individual blog posts, which are graded on a scale ranging from 0 to 4. In order to calculate your final grade, I convert the letter grades into a percentage. I weight the grades according to the chart above, and then convert the average back into a letter grade. I use the following standard grading scale:

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

Attendance is mandatory (excepting medical emergencies or observation of religious holidays), and more than two unexcused classes will dramatically reduce your class participation grade, effectively lowering your final grade by one step. From the 2008-2009 University Catalog:

Students are expected to attend the class periods of the courses for which they register. In-class participation is important not only to the individual student, but to the class as a whole. Because class participation may be a factor in grading, instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of nonparticipation.

Students are responsible for verifying their enrollment in this class. The last day to add this course is September 14, 2010. The last day to drop this course is October 1, 2010. After the last day to drop a class, withdrawal from ENGL 685 requires the approval of the dean and is only allowed for nonacademic reasons.

A Note about Research

Remember that all written assignments must follow MLA research guidelines. Never take credit for someone else’s ideas or words and always document your sources. George Mason University has an Honor Code, which requires all members of this community to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity. Cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing are all prohibited. All violations of the Honor Code will be reported to the Honor Committee. See for more detailed information.

If you do not own a style guide that covers MLA format, I recommend getting one. I also encourage you to begin using Zotero, a freely available open source reference manager for Windows and Mac, which runs as a Firefox extension.

Classroom Courtesy

Laptops may be used in class but only for classroom activities such as note-taking or Twittering. Text messaging unrelated to class is not acceptable. Late arrivals and early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided as well.

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

Emergency Information

George Mason issues emergency warnings affecting the university community through its Mason Alert system. If you have not already signed up to receive email, page, or text message alerts, please do so at