Comic books in Professor Amy Larsen’s English class are required reading and one of many unique college course experiences at Lone Star College-CyFair.
“My class is appealing and engaging, but still challenging,” said Larsen, who is teaching English 1301 composition and rhetoric. “People usually think comics are kid’s stuff or only about superheroes, which is fun, but we use some more serious and sophisticated content for an adult audience in this class.”
Larsen’s class, titled Composition and Comics, is a Learning Networks course, which is a themed-course option designed to capture students’ interests in Popular Culture. She said she can tell students find the readings engaging, because they arrive early and are often discussing the comics before class.
Students are reading comics and graphic novels as source materials for class discussions and essays. Scholarly articles are also used to give students practice in reading academic writing and structure in essay writing.
The semester begins with Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” to help students learn how to analyze images and how words and images relate to each other. The graphic novel reading list includes American cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and Gene Luen Yang “American Born Chinese.” The first is a memoir of a father’s experience during the holocaust and a son’s relationship with his father, while the second is semi-autobiographical about a boy’s experience dealing with issues of identity. Then she uses more traditional comics, such as issues of Ms. Marvel featuring a Muslim American girl superhero.
These publications are used to hone a variety of skills - analytical, writing, visual and verbal literacy - through discussions and research-based papers.
“I have been impressed with the students' willingness to engage with new skills to analyze the images and text of the comics and analyze how the comic itself impacts the author's target audience, whether that is adults, teenagers, or children,” she said.
Discussion and paper topics cover theory on color and lines in the drawings or character, theme, stereotyping, friendships and identity in the books and looking at the work as whole and how it all fits together, said Larsen.
“Students are sometimes a little skeptical in the beginning that the class will be juvenile. But as they realize it’s a legitimate class where they are writing every day and learning actual skills, they became more engaged and more excited,” she said. “Even regular comics readers have said that the course has opened their eyes to the subtle choices that comics creators make and how those details enhance the meaning of the comic.”
Larsen’s course is one of 20 Learning Networks options available this spring with a Pop Culture and Heroes and Villains theme. For information, go to LoneStar.edu/cyfair-learning-networks.
Registration for the spring semester is under way beginning Nov. 14. For information on courses or to register online, visit LoneStar.edu/registration.