Thursday, September 27, 2007

Professor's Private Research Material

To add to the material already (a.) on our Course Reserves List and (b.) listed on the blog under Additional Research Material, I have both primary and secondary materials available for your projects. I have been under discussion over the best way of managing security for the use and storage of items, some of which are irreplaceable, and the resolution is as follows.

  1. Bennett Library Special Collections will make available for our class an impressive collection of individual comics, centred around, but not limited to, Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja.
  2. A collection of comics, graphic novels, and secondary material will be kept in my office and can be signed out privately in any office hour or special appointment. Catalogue includes:

(Girls) Manga Exhibition

I can't talk but I can type.....

An international touring exhibition of manga for girls, under the title "Shojo Manga! Girl Power!," is being held at the Nikkei Centre in Burnaby, 6688 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby, British Columbia Canada. It would be a good idea for a field visit, but the facility is far too small. Any of the small seminar groups working with manga could find a visit fruitful.
Shojo Manga! Girl Power! is an internationally acclaimed exhibition of more than 200 artworks from 23 artists who have contributed to the phenomenon of modern manga in Japan. The Japanese Canadian National Museum is pleased to be the final venue for the exhibition’s successful tour of North America and the last chance for Canadians to see these superb examples of graphic art before the show heads to Japan. Designed by curator Dr. Masami Toku to raise issues of gender and representation, the exhibition explores the power of women's aspirations and dreams in contemporary Japanese culture. From its start in post-war era Japan as inexpensive youth entertainment influenced by American comics and Disney animation, to the current immense popularity of manga worldwide, this show traces the history of a medium at the intersection of evolving social roles and innovation in Japanese aesthetics.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cancellation this Week, and ....

Apologies for those who came up just for us: I have been fighting a heavy cold, and after a speaking through my four-hour Monday evening class I have woken up without a voice. Less fun than it might seem. I thought of coming up to organise Group Project work, but decided against the risk of infecting you all with my coughing & hacking. We'll miss this week's lecture & seminar and re-convene next Tuesday.
  • Please continue with the Reading Schedule as given: that is not effected. Bring Maus and The Contract With God to lecture next Tuesday.
  • Seminar presentations scheduled for this week will be given next week, along with those already scheduled.
  • The deadline for the Proposal of your major Seminar Group Evaluation Projects will be moved back one week. See the syllabus for the updated deadline. We will have some class time next week to work on this, but I recommend that you use your project blog to do work on this between now and then. You do have four hours free class time from this week, as it happens.
  • For the Seminar Presentations, please be sure to read carefully the criteria in the assignment posts, here and here (and in the permanent link list to the right on this blog.) The seminar presentation is you reading your choice of any one of your projects and leading a ten-minute seminar discussion based upon it. You are not being asked to do additional research or writing for the seminar presentation.

E-mail me with any questions or comments: I'm not going anywhere .....

Monday, September 24, 2007

Seminar Presentation Schedule

Here is the Schedule for the seminar presentations, both Individual and Small Groups.


September 18th: Jevon, Courtney
September 25th: Meena, Sonia
October 2nd: Patrick, Erin
October 9th: Lauren, Jennifer
October 16th: Crystal, Ann
October 23th: Emily, Juliet, Feducea
October 30th: Jason, Michael
November 6th: Joanna, Alice
November 13th: Melissa, Stephanie, Logan
November 20th: Neil, Caitlin
November 27th: Kristina, Emma

Small Group
October 16th: Logan, Caitlin, Neil, Melissa, Michael
October 23rd: Meena, Sonia, Alice, Kristina, Emma
October 30th: Juliet, Stephanie, Feducea, Jevon
November 6th: Emily, Joanna, Erin, Patrick, Courtney
November 20th: Jeniffer, Jason, Ann, Crystal, Lauren


September 27th: Ashleigh, Teresa
October 4th: Wendy, Joseph
October 11th: Yilun, Breanna
October 18th: Heather B, Caitlyn
October 25th: Sonia, Mary
November 1st: Elise, Sarah, Canadace
November 8th: Victoria, Michelle, Shane
November 15th: Kelvie, Heather WB
November 22nd: Shamez, Marcy, Darren
November 29th: Kal, Maja

Small Group
October 11th: Kal, Marcy, Maja, Joseph, Teresa
October 18th: Ashleigh, Sarah, Wendy, Breanna, Shamez
October 25th: Caitlyn, Heather B, Kelvie, Sonia, Yilun
November 1st: Heather WB, Elise, Michelle, Mary, Victoria


September 27th: Kathleen, Ben, Kevin G
October 4th: David K, Arti
October 11th: Bonnie, Kyle
October 18th: David H, Nathaniel
October 25th: Dan, Jessica, Jason
November 1st: Mike, Morgan, Samantha
November 8th: Jessica, Kevin T, Mikela
November 15th: Whitney, Cynthia, Heather
November 22th: Bronwyn, Karen

Small Groups
October 11th:
October 18th: Whitney, Jessica, Cynthia, Mike, Dan
October 25th: Jason, Karen, Mikela, Nathaniel, Arti
November 1st: David K, Bronwyn, David H
November 8th: Ben, Samantha, Kevin T, Kathleen, Kyle
November 15th:
November 22nd: Heather, Kevin G, Jessica, Morgan, Bonnie

Film & Graphic Novel

An interview with the director of the film version of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, touching on subject such as the relation between G.N. and film, and the attempts to allegorise the story to contemporary events, is at, here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Art and non-Art

The indispensible Arts & Letters Daily has a Roger Scruton article today that treats of the question of objective value in for art in a way provocative for discussion.

A CENTURY AGO MARCEL DUCHAMP signed a urinal with the name "R. Mutt," entitled it "La Fontaine," and exhibited it as a work of art. One immediate result of Duchamp's joke was to precipitate an intellectual industry devoted to answering the question "What is art?" The literature of this industry is as empty as the neverending imitations of Duchamp's gesture. Nevertheless, it has left a residue of skepticism. If anything can count as art, then art ceases to have a point. All that is left is the curious but unfounded fact that some people like looking at some things, others like looking at others. As for the suggestion that there is an enterprise of criticism, which searches for objective values and lasting monuments to the human spirit, this is dismissed out of hand, as depending on a conception of the artwork that was washed down the drain of Duchamp's "fountain."

Seen in a Starbucks....

I saw a line on a VIFF poster at my Starbucks that I applied à propos distinction between comics and graphic novels, "It is acceptable to kiss during a "movie," but it is not so during a "film."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From Seminar Week Two

In seminar last week, all three tutorials came up with lists, that I copied down on the blackboard, of objective critera distinguishing art from non-art. I would like to collate these and post them centrally, so those groups yet to email me from their notes please do so at your best early convenience.

Seminar Project Blogs

Should your seminar wish to use a blog to communicate casually withe ach other for the seminar project, here are the URLs for the three seminars again:
In order to have your post appear on the blog, it is simply necessary to email to the blog at the address below: no extra steps required. Note the send address for the email: there may have been a typographical error on the blackboard for one of the seminars last week.

On Bruno Bettelheim & the Holocaust

The book by Bettelheim, Bruno, The Informed Heart : Autonomy in a Mass Age, that I referenced in lecture has now been put on course reserve. Bettelheim, a child psychologist was imprisoned before WWII in Buchenwald and Dachau as an Austrian Jew. The Informed Heart is a study of human psychology under extreme conditions, and draws an astonishing force from the distance between the horrors of the events that he details (his own experience in the camps and his observation of fellow prisoners, the army guards, the Gestapo, and the SS in general) and the detached and analytical scholarly tone in which the book is set.

The passage that I refered to, in the context of the last panel on page 227 in Maus is as follows:
....the latrines themselves were usually nothing but a trench with logs on either side on which prisoners had to balance. Any public elimination was extremely degrading to Germans, because in Germany utter privacy when eliminating was the absolute rule, except for infants and small children .... Therefore, enforced observation of and by others was a demoralising experience.
I highly recommend the book as an indispensible analysis of not merely the details of the Nazi concetration camps, but of the psychology of the administrators, the guards and the prisoners: issue such as individualism, the fate of the hero, rationalisation of attitudes in both directions (e.g. helpless prisoners to all-powerful guards, and German guards to Jewish prisoners.) It is also a sustained argument against moral equivalancy: the extreme brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis a thesis.

Class Participation Anxiety Seminar

There is a seminar on overcoming anxiety about class participation on Wednesday, October 3rd from 1:30pm - 3:00pm at the W.A.C. Bennett Library, 7th floor, Room 7301. The poster with full description can be viewed here.

Recommended Text, no longer

This e-mail from the University Bookstore has the beneft of clarity if not helpfulness:
The publisher of the text, Manga Manga is on strike and nothing is leaving their warehouse.

... and what about T.P.?

Classfellow C.B. raises the important issue of Trade Paperbacks -- a industry term -- in relation to graphic novels. Her email is entirely self explanatory and, here again, is a case where engagement by the entire class is impelled.

I know we've been discussingthe differences between what makes a comic and what makes a graphic novel, but I was curious about another term. I know that comic shops make a point of also separating books into categories of comic mags and graphic novels. But they also make a point of dividing another section into TPs or trade paperbacks. What is the difference, then, between a TP and a graphic novel? I know from what I've seen that the shop puts Sandman and Batman "novels"in this section. Is it because they're from a "comic"-like background? Does this make them a higher or lower art form than graphic novels?

Classfellow on G.N. & Art

I appreciated very much the soundly empirical formulation of this engagement from classfellow K.S. with my "Blake & Potter" standard for 'Illustrated Books' artistry.

It sets a benchmark which, I am convinced, impells a broader engagement from the class as a whole.

My problem is this: The claim was "Comics, including Graphic Novels, have lower literary merit and stature than W. Blake and B. Potter." Our class argued that Comics and G.N.s have just as much literary merit and stature and then proceeded to site reasons as to why Comics/GNs should be considered a high art giving examples such as moral engagemnet, integration, complexity, emotional responsiveness and the such.

The problem I'm having is that the claim was for LITERARY MERIT and LITERARY STATURE not high art. I can't deny that Blake and Potter have high art as well as literary value (I've been told so by people I consider much smarter than me since the highschool grades and although I may not completely agree due with them, due to personal tastes, I can understand why the above mentioned authors places in high art and literature exist). This may all be a problem I'm having with semantics but graphic art is pictures and literary art is words. Although most scholars believe it is in bad taste to seperate Blake from his art and similarly Potter from hers it has been done in numerous anthologies, to the point where I didn't even know that "The Tyger" came with illustrations until second year of university. Likewise, in the North Anthology of Children's Literature, Potter's works are shown with a limited number of illustrations. These are stories and poems that can (even if they should not) stand alone without their artistic counterpart and still flow evenly and be very engaging. I'm doubting whether Comics and GN's can.

For example, remove the pictures from the section of MAUS (pg 201- ) which everyone decided refuted "The Claim" Time Flies... "Vladek died of congestive heart failure on August 18, 1982...Francoise and I stayed with him in the Catskills back in August 1979. Vladek started working as a tinman in Auschwitz in the spring of 1944...I started working on this page at the very end of February 1987... (skipping two frames here)...At least fifteen foreign editions are coming out. I've gotten 4 serious offers to turn my book into a T.V. special or movie. (I don't wanna) In May 1968 my mother killed herself. (She left no note.) Lately I've been feeling depressed." "Alright Mr. Spiegelman... We're ready to shoot!..."

It's a story just that, the place of high art is lost without the visual metaphor of humans wearing mice masks and emanicimated pile of mouse bodies. As is it's place of High Literaturee. It really doesn't shine a light to Blake pure poetry with just the GNs skeletal words showing. Now don't get me wrong, I do think Comics/GNs can be compared to and reside in the same category as masters such as Blake but I'm now skeptical on whether or not they get their based solely on their Literary Merit.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Comics Terms

A useful glossary of terms and concepts for comics -- including the formal aspects -- is at this link.

The University of Dallas has this helpful page on design basics.

And you will get value from Anina Bennett's "Visual Language: Writing for Comics" - especially its use of McCloud's work.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Additional Research Material for Comics

My catalogue of course support texts is available to Engl 383 students to be signed out from my office.

There is a useful on-line Comics Research Bibliography helpful for materials which can be ordered through Inter-Library Loans.

In addition to the salient research material the university catalogue, there is this online volume of Comics as Philosophy, edited by Jeff McLaughlin (requires SFU proxy authentication.)

There is also Graphic Storytelling by Will Eisner, and the Comic Book Encyclopedia : the Ultimate Guide to Characters, Graphic Novels, Writers, and Artists in the Comic Book Universe by Ron Goulart, both available at our Surrey campus Reserves section.

An online portal for G.N. web research is supported through an Association of College & Research Libraries at ALA.

Definitional musings from illustrator Eddie Campbell, embedded elsewhere, are brought to the surface by classfellow N.K.: Mr. Campbell has a blog, The Fate of the Artist, (good for him) in which links to what he calls his manifesto.


Remember to bring your Spiegleman & Eisner texts to class this week, and to be on top of the assignment due dates: listed helpfully online on the syllabus.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Comics & Popular Music qua Literature

I hadn't thought about this until I started lectures in our course, but on the question of the literary status of comics, graphic novels, etc, I am experiencing a similarity toward them in my attitude toward popular music.

As I mentioned to one of the seminars, I believe, I am a rock music geek of decades-long standing: I am confident that I would past most tests of rock geekery -- indeed, I am a recovering rock snob. Furthermore, I have

Concentrating for now on the lyrical aspect of popular music, I believe there is beneficial justification for teaching it at university, within some broader context. Moreover I have two different courses draughted for upcoming semseters on just that. That being said, when I read Wordsworth, or Blake, or Vaughan, or a modern poet, say Canada's Margaret Avison, I recognise that I am in another universe of depth, resonance, ability, range, power, insight, intensity and sheer bloody Art.

Same, I think for the moment, for the literary aspect, mutatis mutandis, of comics.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Upcoming Conference on G.N. & Comics

Let me draw your attention to The New Narrative? Comics in Literature, Film, and Art: an interdisciplinary conference University of Toronto 9-11 May 2008. (Conference Poster at this link.) I note that the call for papers describes the conference as taking the academic and sceptical attitude to the claim for literary credibility to G.N., comics, etc.
Comics, whether in the form of novelistic illustrations, newspaper serials, animated films, film adaptations, graphic novels, or sequential art narratives, have been with us since the rise of literature itself, yet until recently such media have never been considered “serious”—or at least, serious enough to be considered novels that might be on university syllabi. However, with the recent rise of the graphic novel and related filmic adaptations, comics—otherwise generically grouped as “comix”—garnering considerable attention, are (yet again) being hailed as the “next big thing.” The (Canadian) publishing industry acknowledges that comix are the largest growth area: is the future now?
But are comix (sic) literature? Are they more than Saturday morning cartoons? Does the study of the genre belong in an art class? Are illustrated novels and live action films really about the pictures and not the narrative? How can the history of the form be reconciled with consumer culture and the ill-defined categories of “high” and “low” culture?

Student Commentary

A classfellow send along this commentary which seems spot on & perhaps more broadly stimulative.
I have been mulling over the question you posed to us at the end of tutorial last week with regard for what makes graphic novels good/literature. One of the issues I keep coming up against is the vocabulary we have been using for comic books versus graphic novels. Really I suppose your point is exactly this, that the phraseology of the medium is pure semantics, that when we (as a class) attempt to defend graphic novels we are, in fact, defending comic books (or condemning them as the case may be). As I mentioned in discussion, most of the artists or authors we are examining have had their work presented in serial format long before they started producing graphic novels. From this statement an important question arises vis a vis the medium's integrity: why did these artists decide to begin displaying their work in graphic novel format? Was/is it an attempt to bring some legitimacy to the medium, or is it simply a more practical format for presenting an extended work?

I have always found it interesting to come upon graphic novels that present existing works of literature (there are many graphic novelizations of Shakespeare's work as well as a great version of Tolkien's Hobbit) or historically accurate studies (From Hell). I wonder whether these collaborations/graphic interpretations are designed with a specific demographic in mind or whether they are an attempt to legitimize the medium.

If we were to take the example from the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, where Rimmer is elated to discover that Lister is reading Shakespeare and dismayed to find that it is a comic book version, then we could assume that the general consensus is that these works (Shakespeare, Tolkien, et al.) should not be converted into graphic novels.

If there is a justification for the graphic novel as literature I believe it must come out of the quality of work irregardless of the artwork which must be secondary to the writing, that is not to say that the art work is not important but that without solid writing the pictures may mean very little.

Along with this quality there should be a level of social/political/economical/self-referential content, as there is in many great works of literature. These works should provide some level of contribution to the medium as a whole, as Miller's Dark Knight does with it's critique of the Batman character and the world of super heroes in general.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Maus" Lecture Week Upcoming

We got a solid grounding in the "graphic" component of the graphic novel -- well, solid for our purposes today -- and began our engagement with Maus as it demonstrated several of the concepts presented in lecture. Of course, we still have to get at full grip on Spiegelman's work (pointedly not using the term 'graphic novel', as yet unexamined in the case) which we shall do next week in lecture.

Do bring also your Eisner text, as the two do connect and we shall see how the time goes. I am best pleased that we have begun by successfully framing the literary, visual, and intellectual background in which graphic novels both are set and would like to be set by their advocates.

Seminar Group Evaluative Project.

The class as a whole will produce a compendium of work on the graphic novel, with the following three sections, each seminar contributing work on one:
  1. History of the graphic novel
  2. Form of the graphic novel
  3. Evaluation of the artistic merit of the graphic novel.

Each section will amount to fifteen hundred words per student or equivalent. Significant seminar time throughout the term will be designated for work of the project. The completed compendium will form the basis of a work that is suitable for publication. The project is open to include any form of work that qualifies as a graphic novel.

Small Group Written Research Presentations

In groups of four or five students set by the Intructor, deliver two written research projects over the course of the term, on a schedule of your choosing contracted in writing with the Instructor.
Update: each assignment is due in seminar.
  • Each will contain four hundred words of written work or equivalent per student.
  • Each project must be a cohesive whole: the format is open and can vary over the five assignments.
  • Projects project will analyse, evaluate and present a graphic novel, manga or comic in a specific social context.
  • Or, projects will detail the structure and effect of a formal aspect of a graphic novel, manga or comic: i.e. its visual, picture-plane, or verbal aspect.
  • The schedule must span a period of nine weeks, and no two projects may be scheduled on the same week.
  • All five presentations must be on a graphic novel, manga or comic not on the course required reading list.
  • One of the projects will be read by you as a presentation to the seminar and will form the basis of a ten-minute class discussion that you will lead

The essays can be creative in form, and will be judged on cohesiveness, explanatory effectiveness, creativity, and evenness of contribution across the group membership.

Individual Research Presentations

Deliver four brief research essays over the course of the term, on a schedule of your choosing contracted in writing with the Instructor.
Update: each assignment is due in seminar.
  • Each will be two hundred and fifty words in length.
  • The schedule must span a period of nine weeks, and no two essays may be scheduled on the same week.
  • Each will analyse and evaluate a putative literary quality of a graphic novel, manga or comic.
  • A minimum of three of the essays must treat of a primary course text; one may be on a text of your own chosing.
  • Include the bibliographic information, in MLA format, at the end of each essay.
  • One of the essays will be read by you as a presentation to the seminar and will form the basis of a ten-minute class discussion that you will lead

The essays will meet standards of scholarship, such as laid down in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (6th Edition), and will be graded on their content, structure, grammar and strength of research analysis.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Criteria by which comics are Junk, Glorious Junk

Here are the lists from the three seminars (well, two so far ....) of your suggested criteria by which comics can fairly be classified as junk. (Cf. Neil Postman: "the best things on television are its junk."

Tuesday morning:
- Comic books are comfort food.
- Comic books natively are not been -- have resisted being -- didactic.
- Comic books first just are junky.
- Published to a childish level of engagement.
- Socially recognizable as mass produced.
- Absence of artistic unity-closure, framing: non-monumental.
- Repetition of simplistic major and minor themes.
- Socially stratified as junk (ie: similar to Star Trek). Conventionsand collections.

Thursday afternoon:
--entertainment, solely
--pleasure, pure and simple
--instant gratification
--minimal reading requirements
--small amounts of time and capital are invested (doesn’t time = capital?)
--they are shallow, through and through—one reading, you got it all
--read primarily for escapism
--sensationalism (superheroes), repetitiveness (easy to define the good from the bad)
--marketed as junk
--found on 7-11 shelves
--static and mono-dimensional

Definitions of Literature

Some framing definitions of literature, which differentiate literature from non-literature: a framework for answering the research question "are graphic novels literature?"

Plato: “that which instructs by delighting.”
• Its character as mimesis forces on it a profound ontological alienation from true reality.
• Artistic mimesis addresses itself essential to the emotional, rather than the intellectual, aspect of the psyche.
Aristotle: that which pleases and sustains interest of the audience.
• Mimesis: fundamental part of human nature, from our desire to know. I.e. homo sapiens.
• hamartia (injury committed unknowingly) creates katharsis through the faculty of sympathy.
• peripateia (reversal of circumstance) – anagnorisis (recognition)
• so-called three unities.

Aquinas: that which serves the Good.

Dr. Johnson: that which endures; that which Time retains.
• "The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted arises therefore not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest known has been most considered, and what is most considered is best understood."

Ethnological: that which tells the story of a tribe, nation or civilisation.


1. Functionalist: that which works as literature: i.e. that people use as literature.
a. i.e. Publishing, Marketing.
2. Institutional: that which is taught as literature.
3. Canonical: that which contains and can perpetuate central, significant and eruditely-judged standards of literature.
4. Reductivist or Eliminativist: whatever is said to be literature.
5. Egotistical-Hedonistic: that which I like is literature.
6. Elitist: that which the cognoscenti read and write: that which is inaccessible to mass culture. (c.f. The Frankfurt School)
[ pretentiousness can unite 5 & 6….. ]
7. Formal: Acquaintance with ‘letters’ or books.
i. “letters” was the ability to read: hence, a social definition.
ii. Graphic Novels: “Written New Things”
. “graphic” a pleonasm?
. Illustrated literature with a plot, theme & character?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Maus - First GN to read

The reading list of the primary course texts will follow the order on the course outline. Maus by Art Spiegelman is thus first, and we will be working with that text starting next week. A useful webpage on Spiegelman from the American state radio network, NPR, is here. It includes audio clips of Spiegelman's recordings of the interviews with his father, depicted in the comic.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Required Text, Change to

Being informed last-minute that the manga Shakespeare is "unavailable", I substituted in the following: The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga. It will be in our Bookstore in due time.

If you have already purchased the manga Romeo & Juliet (as I did) you can still profitably use it for the course....or return it as your bent is.