Course: ENG309
Instructor: Alfred Bendixen
F 2018

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

This course aims to teach the student about the graphic narrative, and the graphic form, using several works of prominent graphic literature in order to delve deeply into the graphic novel canon. The course endeavors to equip the student with all the relevant tools to analyze graphic novels, and enables the student to analyze works of graphic fiction both as pieces of literature and pieces of art.

The course spends a week on each novel, with two lectures a week dedicated to exploring various aspects of the novel; its background, significance, themes and artistic direction, and with one precept a week that goes into greater analytical depth, examining specific scenes or panels. Broadly, the course is ordered based on Professor Bendixen’s preference, and he attempts to give a sweeping overview of the world of the graphic narrative through his choices of texts.

The class is reading-heavy, with generally a whole novel read per week; while no outside reading is listed as a requirement, reading background information on the graphic novels, as well as other pieces of literary criticism, is advised, as a full knowledge of the text makes the experience of the class all the more enjoyable, and the conversations in precept more rigorous.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

The course was taught with two lectures a week and one precept. The prominent focus of the lectures was giving a broad picture of the novel at hand – its place in the graphic novel canon, its background, significance, as well as an overview of its various themes and styles. Generally, from the lectures one takes away a solid understanding of the text, as well as several themes and ideas to take into precept (indeed, precepts usually begin with a discussion of the various lessons learned from lecture). Students should come to every lecture having thoroughly read the assigned material as a minimum; students should also generally research the novels, having some knowledge of literary criticism associated with the novel, and the like.

Precepts are taught like the lecture, but with a more cooperative, in-depth look at some specific, in-text examples. Students are encouraged to engage in close reading with the text, analyzing scenes and panels, both in terms of the words on the page and the images. For the precept, students should come with ideas of specific scenes that they feel they can talk about in detail, and should listen attentively to the ideas of other students; the class in very open during precept, and ideas flow freely and quickly. Taking efficient and effective notes can be illuminating and very helpful when it comes time to write papers on specific scenes and comparisons within the texts.

Learning For and From Assignments

Assignments in the course are generally just reading for the following week, though Professor Bendixen will usually suggest that students come prepared to answer specific questions about the readings for precept.

There are two short papers assigned for the course, as well as a final ‘term paper’, and a take-home final exam. The short papers are split across three due dates, and one is free to submit three short papers, with the two best grades officially contributing to the overall grade for the course. Students are encouraged to attempt all three papers, as the practice in writing can be helpful in tackling the longer term paper, and the longer-still take home final.

In preparing to write the papers, close reading of texts is vital. Students should read the novels that they are preparing to write about at least twice, annotating and making notes as they go through, focusing on points of contrast and unity, thematic devices, and analysis of imagery. One is free to choose from five paper topics, and they cover a variety of themes, but all rest on specific, close knowledge of the texts and their various themes. Diligent note-taking during precept and lecture can be instrumental in recalling and writing during these papers.

The take-home final relies heavily on specific knowledge learned from lecture and precept in the short-answer questions; it is an open-book final, so one is freely able to go through old notes to aid in answering the questions. The exam is really a test of how well a student has engaged with the course, and how effectively this knowledge can be applied in writing.

External Resources

The majority of external resources used for this course were third-party literary discussions of the texts that we read, generally found online. These discussions could take the form of theses, articles, or even books written about the graphic form. Google Scholar or the Firestone Articles+ service are both excellent ways of finding these external resources, that can be highly illuminating when it comes to reading the assigned texts, and can offer a variety of insights and points of interest within the text, that the student can then review and form their own opinions on that can later be used in precept discussion.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Students can expect a thorough delve into the world of graphic fiction, exploring a broad array of novels that tackle a diverse set of time periods, themes and styles. The melding of literary analysis and analysis of artistic images is highly valuable, as it sets students up with two different skill sets that can be applied in a variety of different settings in the future. As a student of English and film, I found both aspects illuminating, and the course has aided my ability to critique both works of literature, graphic novels and films. There are no specific pieces of background knowledge or skills assumed for this course; it is very much a class that only demands rigorous self-application and a patient, analytical approach to the material. Students should be aware that participation is hugely important to Professor Bendixen, so one should go into the class comfortable and confident in talking about the texts at hand, because you will likely be called upon at least once every precept.

Graphic Novels and Comics

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