Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reminder: Research Paper due this Friday! (see assignment two posts down)

Just a brief reminder to write your reserach paper and turn it in via e-mail by 5pm on Friday! Remember, too, you can also CC it to jgrasso91@gmail.com if you're worried about it getting through the ECU e-mail (esp. if you use g-mail or another non-ECU delivery system). The assignment sheet is posted just below the post for Ms. Marvel, so read over the options again before you start, and look at my tips for writing papers to make sure you start off on the right foot! 

I'll be posting your Template repsonse for your Sixth Graphic Novel soon, but I didn't want to clutter up the blog so you could have easy access to the paper assignment. 

Thanks again for a great class and please e-mail me with any questions or concerns about the paper. 

--Joshua Grasso

Sunday, December 17, 2017

For Monday: Wilson, Ms. Marvel

For your final in-class reading, finish Ms. Marvel for Monday and turn in your last Comics Template Response. 

Here's a New Yorker Interview with G. Willow Wilson, the writer of Ms. Marvel, who surprisingly enough is not Middle Eastern but is a Muslim (she grew up in America, as she interview explains): https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/g-willow-wilsons-american-heroes

Though here's another article which shows how unforgiving the spotlight can be on a racial pioneer in comics; in this case, she isn't doing enough and is reinforcing dangerous stereotypes: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/05/ms-marvel-g-willow-wilson-muslim-race-comics

Reserach Paper Assignment: due Friday, December 29th by 5pm via e-mail

Choose ONE of the following options to write a thoughtful, persuasive essay using several of the books in class as well as other secondary research (handouts, articles, books, websites, etc.). In this paper, your goal is to educate readers who have not taken this class and/or do not regularly read comic books. With that in mind, consider what they assume about the genre, and why they might not appreciate the basic tenets of your argument. (OPTIONS ON BACK PAGE)

When writing, be sure to quote and discuss the comics in question to help you readers see the artwork and the ideas in the book. Don’t simply summarize the story or vaguely reference each text. For example, if writing about Mockingbird, I might write:

In Cain’s Mockingbird, she explores the difficulty of a female superhero existing in a still-male world of heroes and villains. In one pivotal scene, she is trying to save a girl who is at the mercy of her own powers. While the SWAT team tries to talk her down from a ledge, Mockingbird’s narration appears above the scene, remarking, “How can we have a meaningful dialogue with adolescent girls when we live in a culture that still can’t talk about tampons” (Cain). Her thoughts run parallel to the images, which show the girl attacking an officer and sending him plunging to his doom. Though Mockingbird ultimately saves him, we understand that the entire scene is getting worse because no one at the scene—all of them men—know how to talk to girls, which even the officer admits on the very next page.


* Always introduce quotations or any work you plan to quote from. Explain who wrote it and where it comes from, and after you quote it, cite the page number, or the author, or the specific work/source. EX: In Eisner’s book, Comics and Sequential Art, he writes...

* Don’t write to me: write to someone who isn’t in this class who probably doesn’t know much about comic books. Assume you have to explain a lot of this to them—why it matters, what the major ideas are, and what works contribute to the conversation. The more you assume, the less you’ll make a carefully constructed, well-explained argument on your topic (since you’ll cut corners, saying oh, you already know this, so I won’t explain this...)

* Think about how one work responds to another one. Which works in class most contribute to your conversation, and how might one ‘answer’ the other? Do they agree? Disagree? How do we know they’re sharing the same conversation?

* Find your secondary sources before writing so you can respond to them in your paper. Imagine that you’re having a discussion with 4-5 friends on comic books...you need to hear them all talking before you can sum up the conversation to someone else. Hear what they all have to say, then explain who’s making the best points, and how you respond to each one.

* Start “in the middle” with information or ideas that most interest you about the topic. Avoid a vague introduction that says “Since the beginning of time, man has written comic books,” or “There are a lot of arguments about comic books, and I have a lot of things to say about them.” Be specific and throw us right into a specific passage, idea, or argument.


Option 1, The Ethics of Supermen: For this option, I want you to discuss how comics explore the moral convictions and ambiguities of the superhero. It’s no longer enough to have a hero battle it out with his or her villains; modern-day readers want to explore the man or woman behind the mask, and understand what motivates someone to use their powers to save the world—and the consequences of such salvation. Are heroes always heroic? Or does becoming a superhero necessitate ‘villainous’ actions for the greater good? Consider, too, how superheroes are an evolution from the heroic ideal of ages past. How has our world/time reshaped them in our image? And what does it even mean to be a super human? Is the emphasis on the “super” or the “human”?

Option 2, Who Wears the Mask?: For this option, I want you to discuss the growing struggle of gender and ethnic diversity in superhero comics. As a traditionally male-dominated form, how have comics since the 1960’s been attempting to make superheroes reflect the social reality of 21st century America? Related to this, why might comics be the ideal medium for showcasing such diversity—even more than more traditional forms of literature and art? You might also discuss the obstacles that still face this branch of literature, and why (or when) even well-meaning attempts fall short of inclusion. Does representation always have to be literal—or can metaphors be just as (or even more) important? Have we “won the war,” as Mockingbird jokingly suggests, or “does it still suck”?

Option 3, Comics in the Classroom: For this option, I want you to discuss how superhero comics could be effectively used in the classroom at any level (your choice). What, specifically, is the advantage to using (a) the medium of comics as a reading tool, and (b) exploring the abilities and conflicts of superheroes? How can superhero comics work in tandem with more traditional forms of literature? Shhttps://www.blogger.com/nullould they merely be looked at as “bridges” to take students to more important/challenging forms of reading? Or can they be seen as engaging works in their own right, which pick up where older works left off? How could you convince a skeptical administration (and doubting parents) that comics are a (largely) untapped intellectual resource for students?

Option 4, A Topic Suggested By You—But You MUST Discuss It With Me First! :)

At least 5-6 pages, double spaced, but you can do more  
You should use at least 2-3 comics in your discussion
You should use at least 2 secondary sources (handouts, articles, books, etc.)
 All quotations and sources should be cited properly, using MLA format, or another standard format of your choice (APA, etc.).

DUE NO LATER THAN FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29th by 5pm (via e-mail): you can e-mail it to jgrasso91@gmail.com if you're worried about ECU blocking your e-mail. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

For Friday: Cain, Mockingbird, Vol.1: "I Can Explain"

Is the comics industry big enough for men and women? Apparently not, at least in some cases. Chelsea Cain, writer of Mockingbird, quit not long ago because of on-line harrassment over the title, claiming "I'm amazed at the cruelty comics brings out in people." Read more here: https://www.cbr.com/mockingbird-writer-chelsea-cain-quits-twitter-due-to-harassment/

And here: http://ew.com/article/2016/10/26/chelsea-cain-mockingbird-feminist-backlash/

Also, for your edification, a cool article where the authors analyze 34,000 superheroes for gender representation and characteristics: https://pudding.cool/2017/07/comics/

We'll talk more about the depiction of women in comics on Friday, as well as discussing Mockingbird, Vol. 1. See you then! 

Superhero Graphic Novel/Comic Presentation

Be sure to read a sixth graphic novel or comic book outside of class by this weekend. Remember that a graphic novel is generally a collection of individual comics or a longer comic narrative, whereas a comic book is a single issue; you can do either one for your presentation. I just want the class to learn more about the diversity of superheroes and their related genres, not only for personal knowledge, but to aid the class’s research and ideas for final paper assignments. The presentations will all be on Tuesday. December 19th, and should take the entire class to complete (since we have a pretty large class!). Each presentation should last anywhere from 8-10 minutes, give or take, as long as you present the below information in a coherent format.

ALSO: Be sure to e-mail me your Comics Response Template by Tuesday so I can post it on the blog with the last 4 years of responses. You will be adding to a valuable encyclopedia of graphic novels/comics at ECU (and be sure to look through them yourself!).

THE GENREAL TEMPLATE (What I’m generally looking for):

I. Introduction: the title, the superhero, the artists/writers, and a little background about the superhero and the specific story you’re presenting on. We don’t need the entire plot, but a very brief overview would be helpful to provide context.

II. Discuss question #3 from the Template: “How does this comic discuss the ethics of being a superhero—someone who has powers and abilities beyond that of normal men/women, and is thus able to influence the world based on a hero’s specific notions of good and evil?” Relate this to other comics we’ve read and help us understand how this comic addresses the idea of being a ‘hero’ or a ‘villain’—and/or the gray area in-between.

III. Focus on a specific scene/page: Be sure to let us see some of the artwork, even if it’s just a single frame or page. I want you to discuss a significant passage in your presentation and help us see how the words and images contribute to the story. Consider using some of McCloud or Eisner’s terms/ideas as you do this; help us realize why the story and the artwork is unique and makes this a compelling and innovative comic.

NOTE: You do not have to prepare a multi-slide presentation or Prezi layout for this presentation—you can just get up and talk, or even use the book as a prop. However, I do want the entire class to see at least one image. If you don’t have much experience with Powerpoint or Prezi, just e-mail me an image you want to use, and I’ll compile several images into a slide for you to use in class. If you don’t have a scanner, just take a picture of an image on your phone and e-mail it to me. But if you want to make a presentation, by all means, go for it—but don’t make it too long! :)

Any questions or concerns: e-mail me at jgrasso@ecok.edu 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

For Wednesday: Moore, The Killing Joke

For Wednesday, be sure and read the (much shorter) The Killing Joke, which you might consider less a Batman comic than a Joker one (though they share an important relationship in the book). This book is considered, along with Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (1986), to be one of the comics that rebooted Batman's image and helped set a new direction for comics. However, it's not easy reading and some people find it very disturbing! So read with caution...

Interesting, Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta) has more or less disowned the comic and finds it today "too nasty...too physically violent." Read more about his current thoughts about the book and see if you agree here: https://www.inverse.com/article/14967-alan-moore-now-believes-the-killing-joke-was-melodramatic-not-interesting

Monday, December 11, 2017

For Tuesday: Landis, Superman: American Alien

Be sure to read Superman: American Alien and do the 4 template response questions for Tuesday's class (bring it to class--late responses not accepted). Remember that each story is a self-contained comic (and was released separately) so it has the same writer but completely different artists from comic to comic. Check the pages in the back of the book to learn more about the tone of each work and what they wanted the artwork/story to represent.

If interested,  here's a great review/discussion of the comic that might help you sort out your own feelings towards the book, even if you don't quite feel the same way: https://kotaku.com/american-alien-is-the-best-superman-story-in-ages-1772128282


Answer all four questions for each work we read in class. This is due in class and cannot be turned in afterward for a grade. Each response is worth 7 points for a total of 35 points (out of 100, so be careful, these really add up). The goal of these responses is to (a) get you thinking actively about the works, (b) get you writing about comics, which isn’t something many of you have done before, and (c) give you raw material to use on your presentation and final paper. For each question, give me at least 3-4 sentences and sufficient detail to show me you’ve read the material. No vague responses such as “the style is cool. I like it” will be accepted. Help me appreciate how you read and interpret the work.

Q1: How is the novel illustrated?  Be specific: would you characterize it as sketchy, realistic, cartoony, artistic, ornate, spare, expressionistic, tight, loose, etc.?  What is the overall feel of the artwork, and what kind of tone does it create for the reader?  Do you feel it is the uniquely suited to the story being told?  Or is supposed to go against the grain of the story? In the case of a work with more than one artist (i.e. Superman: American Alien), focus on the artwork of one of the stories, or discuss just a few of them.

Q2: Why do you think this story was written as a graphic novel/comic book?  What might this story lose if translated to a novel, short story, or even a film?  What elements of the story almost require the juxtaposition of words and images? In other words, what does the comic format allow us to see and experience that a traditional novel wouldn’t?  Again, be as specific as possible. 

Q3: How does this comic discuss the ethics of being a superhero—someone who has powers and abilities beyond that of normal men/women, and is thus able to influence the world based on a hero’s specific notions of good and evil? According to this comic, what does it mean to be a “hero” and a “villain”? Do the heroes ever cross ethical boundaries in his/her quest to save humanity? Also, does a superhero always play by the same rules, or does one’s age, sex, race, or religion also play a role?

Q4: Examine a single passage in the novel, either a frame or a series of frames (but no more than 1-2 pages) that you feel is particularly significant to understanding the book.  Help us appreciate what this passage helps you (and others) see and why. Choose the passage more for the theme/characters than the technique (though you can mention how the technique helps underline the larger thematic concerns).  Make sure we can not only see what’s going on here, but we see how it relates to the story at large. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Welcome to the Course!

Welcome to our lighting-fast Superheroes as Literature course for the December 2017 Intercession! Remember that we meet in HM 325 from 9:00 to 12:00 Monday through Friday, and again the following Monday and Tuesday. The syllabus will cover all the basics of the class, and I've pasted some of the basic information below in case you lose your copy:

  • Moore, The Killing Joke
  • Claremont/Miller, Wolverine (or) Loeb, Spiderman: Blue
  • Wilson, Mrs. Marvel, Vol.1
  • Landis, Superman: American Alien
  • Cain, Mockingbird, Vol. 1
Required Work (out of 100 points)

  • Participation/Attendance (10 points)
  • 5 Template Response Questions (7 each = 35 points)
  • Class Presentation (20 points)
  • Final Paper (35 points)
Tentative Course Schedule:

Dec.11: Introduction/The Basics of Comic Book Art
Dec 12: Superman: American Alien / The Origin of the “Superhero”
Dec 13: The Killing Joke / Rise of the Supervillain/The Attack on Comics
Dec. 14: Wolverine & Spiderman / Marvel Comics and Youth Culture
Dec. 15: Mockingbird / Sexism and Feminism in Comics

Dec. 18: Ms. Marvel / Diverse Stories in Comics
Dec 19: Individual Presentations 

WEEK THREE (Write your paper!) 

REMEMBER, all the books for class are in the ECU bookstore and you will need them all right away! Please let me know if you have any questions or will have to miss any classes so I can figure out how to keep you connected to the class and the assignments. 

Otherwise, look forward to meeting you all on Monday! Excelsior!