Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Comics & the Graphic Novel in America and Britain"

So a couple days ago I got a call from Deborah Willis, who is Department Chair in English at UCR now but who I will always remember as the woman who taught me Marlowe, and she asked if I would like to teach a class on, well, pretty much anything I wanted. Ordinarily I am kind of a dope when offered awesome things, but this time I had the sense to say yes. The course number we are using is supposed to be 20th century American and British lit, and she suggested something on graphic novels, so I put those two ideas together and decided to do half the class on American creators and the other half on British creators. UCR has 10 week quarters, so our reading list is painfully short. It was easy to come up with the British half: Moore, Gaiman, Morrison and Ennis gave me a great cross-section and every one of them are amazingly talented, active, and accessible.

The second half of the roster was harder to figure. I really wanted to use some old school comics creators, maybe get some Lee & Kirby on there, but it's hard to imagine what sort of self-contained narrative I could use. Silver Surfer maybe? I don't know. Sounds like kind of a reach. So I went back to the big picture and thought, well, who do I have to include? So Eisner went on the list, and I went with Frank Miller because, even if he basically only tells one kind of story, that's become a pretty quintessentially American story in whatever form it takes and for sheer influence on the superhero medium he's huge. Appalled at my lack of female creators on the reading list, I decided to take the chance to read some Gail Simone, whom I have long admired and wanted to showcase. Finally, I picked Jaime Hernandez, because it has been forever since I got to teach Death of Speedy and I just love that god-damn book.

So here's the final reading list. No doubt imperfect, but I'm going to go with it and try to learn from the inevitable failures.
  • Scott McLoud, Understanding Comics
  • Will Eisner, A Contract with God
  • Jaime Hernandez, Love & Rockets: The Girl from HOPPERS
  • Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns
  • Gail Simone, Welcome to Tranquility
  • Neil Gaiman, Sandman: Dream Country
  • Garth Ennis, Hellblazer: Damnation's Flame
  • Alan Moore, V for Vendetta
  • Grant Morrison, All-Star Superman
There's a thousand other books I could use if I wanted, but you know, "world enough and time." All I can do is assign a term paper which sends the students to works beyond this list, show them the Eaton Collection of comics here at UCR, and let them write on whatever they want to read.

I should have 50 students. That's going to be a lot of papers. But it'll be a fun class and I'm very excited. No doubt I will learn much.


  1. If you're looking to add more female comics artists, you could try Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, or Phoebe Gloeckner. If you want to get away from American autobio-style artists, Posy Simmonds has done a couple of well-received literary adaptations (Gemma Bovary and Tamara Drewe).

    I'd look to any of them before Gail Simone, frankly; I don't think Simone's comics have much to teach students in a class that already includes Moore, Miller, and Morrison.

  2. I figured I would get some advice on the reading list if I posted this, so thank you. Nicole suggested Barry as well. I suppose that "because she's funny" isn't really a good reason to include an author.

    I'll check out Simmonds first, I think.