ENGL 493 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.
- Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993)
- Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
- Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1986)
- Art Spiegelman, Maus Boxset (1986)
- Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000)
- Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (2006)
- Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis (2000-2003)
- Junji Ito, Uzumaki (1998)
- Wilfred Santiago, In My Darkest Hour (2004)
- Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006)
- Selected articles from e-reserves and e-journals
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 493.
This section of ENGL 493 is fifty percent larger than most English classes at George Mason University. I nevertheless aim to preserve the student-centered, discussion-oriented nature of my smaller classes, and much of the assigned work in the class reflects this goal.
- 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. A portion of your class participation will take place virtually, using Twitter as what is called a “backchannel,” 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 #ENG493. When it comes time to calculating your participation grade, a quarter of it will be based on your Twitter activity.
- Early in the semester we will divide the class into five groups. Each group will be assigned a weekly role that rotates week-to-week (with one week off). Students in three 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.
Regardless of your group, late posts cannot be made up; if you miss your group’s deadline, then you receive no credit for that week’s blog.
- Students in a fourth group will be responsible for the week’s class notes, written collaboratively by the group on a wiki and then shared on the class blog. The notes should capture what happens in the classroom—synthesizing the discussion, referencing the visuals, highlighting moments of confusion and understanding—and then archive it and make it available for the entire class. I even encourage students to document appropriate moments with their cell cameras and to incorporate annotated versions of this “evidence” into the wiki. The note-taking students can also use the Twitter backchannel as another source for their notes. The notes for Tuesday’s class are due by Thursday morning, and Thursday’s notes are due by Saturday night.
- 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. 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 text’s overall meaning.
- The final project is a combination of new research on a graphic novel and an expansion of earlier writing for ENGL 493. To be more precise, for your final project you will write a 5-7 page critical essay about a graphic novel of your choosing, and also expand and revise several of your blog postings into more fully developed essays. The prospectus for the final project is due Tuesday, November 24, and the final project itself is due Tuesday, December 15.
The final grade will be weighted and calculated in the following manner:
Class Participation: 20%
Final Project: 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%
Attendance is mandatory (excepting medical emergencies or observation of religious holidays). 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 15, 2009. The last day to drop this course is October 2, 2009. After the last day to drop a class, withdrawal from ENGL 493 requires the approval of the dean and is only allowed for nonacademic reasons.
Late assignments will be lowered one letter grade for every weekday 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 simply not be accepted. Therefore, failure to hand in every assignment on time will make it extremely difficult to pass the course.
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 honorcode.gmu.edu 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 use Zotero, a freely available reference manager for Windows and Mac, which runs as a Firefox extension. See www.zotero.org for more information.
Laptops and smart phones may be used in class but only for classroom activities such as note-taking and Twittering. 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.
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.
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