What can we learn from comic books that we might use in our teaching?

Artist: C. C. Beck/Writer: Otto Binder

“It’s a cliché, but I really did learn to read from comic books,” explains Harper College Associate Professor of English Brian Cremins, who will be teaching a GEC course this fall called Comic Books & Visual Literacy in the College Classroom. The course, however, is not a history of comics or a literature class. “While most of my scholarly writing is on the history and cultural impact of comics in the U.S., I’ve got something very different in mind for the GEC course. We’re going to use comics—you can also call them graphic novels or graphic narratives—as a focus for discussions of visual literacy in the classroom. How might we incorporate these texts into all sorts of classes, and, more importantly, what can we learn from them that we might use in our teaching?”

In addition to studying recent scholarly articles on visual narratives, multimodal literacy, and pedagogy, the class will read a variety of primary texts. “I’ve selected readings that I hope will be of interest to colleagues from the sciences, social sciences, career programs, and liberal arts,” he says. “There’s something in the class for everyone. For example, we’ll be covering Marnie Galloway’s Particle/Wave, an autobiographical comic grounded in physics and cosmology; John Porcellino’s The Hospital Suite, in which he writes openly about his experiences with OCD and anxiety; and biologist Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis, which is not only about the life cycle of honey bees (the focus of Hosler’s research) but also one of the best modern variations on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey that I’ve ever read. We’ll also read classics like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, his memoir about his parents’ survival of the Holocaust. So my colleagues will not only get a good sampling of the kind of work being done today, but also think about how they might be inspired by the verbal/visual strategies these writers, artists, and scientists have used in their work.”

Cremins explains that one of the goals of the class will be for faculty to develop lesson plans of their own that combine verbal/visual components. “A lot of the cutting-edge scholarship right now on graphic narratives looks closely at the cognitive work readers need to do when they are working with verbal and visual texts. In class and in our online discussions, we’ll work together on coming up with teaching strategies based on what these texts can tell us about the nature of visual literacy.”

Will the class be reading any superhero comics? “I’m going to include one or two,” Cremins says. “I’m sure I’ll find a way to fit a Superman or Wonder Woman comic in there! I’m looking forward to asking my colleagues in the class if they have other suggestions on texts they’d like to study. It’ll be a rigorous course with a lot of reading, but it will also be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.”

For more information on the class, which runs from October 5 to November 30, 2017 please visit the GEC webpage on the Academy website or email Brian at bcremins@harpercollege.edu.