About ENG 325: Outcomes and Structure

In lieu of uploading a standard syllabus, below is a version of the course introduction module provided to my students in ENG 325, Fall 2021. It outlines the course premise, structure, outcomes, and classroom standards.

Class Overview

Hey there! Welcome to ENG 325: Studies in Graphic Narratives. In this course, we will be exploring an atypical way of understanding graphic narratives: critical-making

We’ll be doing so through studying three primary sites of graphic narratives: 

  • Children’s & Young Adult Comics
  • Graphic Medicine
  • The MSU Library’s Comic Art Collection.

Read on through to learn more about the syllabus and our course trajectory!

Course Description

This course will explore methods and approaches to studying graphic narratives through the critical study of three sites of graphic narratives: Children’s & Young Adult Comics (CL/YA); Graphic Medicine (GM); and the MSU Library’s Comic Art Collection (CAC).

  • CL/YA comics are increasingly relevant and radically popular graphic narratives disseminating complicated concepts to dual audiences of young folks and adults.
  • Graphic medicine comics are graphic narratives that engage with discourses of healthcare, illness, and therapy, among others.
  • Our final site is local, but expansive: the CAC, which is home to over 300,000 comics and comics artifacts, housed within the library.

We will learn about, then apply, three methods of critical engagement to study these graphic narratives:

  • literary close reading;
  • critical-making;
  • digital humanities.

In essence, we will write about graphic narratives, make our own comics, then create digital visualizations of comics archives!

This will culminate in a project where students will present their comics in a public showcase, either on campus or online. The overall goal is first learn about comics, demonstrate understanding by writing and making them, then gain valuable experience by educating a public audience about graphic narratives through presenting your comics. 

**A note: I do not expect anyone to have artistic skill, nor comics experience. We’ll develop some of those skills along the way! ** 

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to: 

Content-based outcomes

  • Demonstrate in written work a broad familiarity with the purpose, function, and history of graphic narratives in myriad forms.
  • Be familiar with core concepts of graphic narratives, such as: paneling; lettering; thumbnails; inking; perspective; abstract vs realistic; time; space; etc.
  • Recognize and understand how graphic narratives can promote values of diversity, gender, and identity.

Skills-based outcomes

  • Engage in practices of critical-making via creating comics and digital visualizations.
  • Develop experience in critical reflection and written articulation.
  • Participate in a public exhibit of critical creations.

Course Texts

All supplemental/informational texts/readings will be supplied by me online through D2L. Purchase the version of each text that is cheapest for you as a student, and the version that you will be able to access most easily throughout the semester (unless otherwise noted). And if that’s a used copy, also great! I have worked to choose as many freely available, electronic/open-access, or public texts as possible, and even secured a few for unlimited user access through the Library.

Required Texts

  • Tim Fielder, INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale, Amistad (2021): ISBN: 978-0062964083.
  • Trung Le Nguyen, The Magic Fish, Random House Graphic (2020). ISBN: 9780593125298
  • Victoria Jamieson, Omah Mohamed, and Iman Geddy. When Stars are Scattered. Dial Books. (2020). ISBN: 9780525553915
  • Karlos K. Hill and David Dodson. The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History. Oxford University Press. (2020). ISBN: 0190216018
  • COVID Chronicles: A Comics Anthology. Graphic Mundi. (2021). ISBN: 0271090146
  • Ellen Forney. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. Avery (2012). ISBN: 9781592407323
  • Ian Williams. The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life and Times of Dr. Iwan James. Penn State University Press. (2014). ISBN: 9780271067544
  • Joel Christian Gill. Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence. Oni Press. (2020). ISBN: 154930335X
  • Lynda Barry. Making Comics. Drawn and Quarterly. (2019). ISBN: 9781770463691
  • Cece Bell. El Deafo. Harry N Abrams. (2014). ISBN: 1419712179

Required Supplies

Do NOT break your bank on these supplies. We’re all learning and beginning, so inexpensive is the name of the game here. 

  • Paper Mate Black Felt Tip Pen
  • Pencil (any)
  • Box of 24 (or so) crayons
  • Drawing paper (100pgs or so, preferably 8”x11”
    • Inexpensive options are the Strathmore Sketch series (usually under $10)
    • Computer paper is fine too, but recommended to have a pad-proper for keeping it all together
  • Index cards (preferably blank on at least one side)

Optional Texts 

These are required texts we will be reading, but are optional for purchase. Each of these are available online through the library for free; purchase only if you would like your own copy; I REPEAT – available and online through library, only purchase if you want your own copy. 

  • Nick Sousanis. Unflattening. Harvard University Press. (2015). ISBN: 0674744438
  • Susan Merrill Squier et al. Graphic Medicine Manifesto. Penn State University Press. (2015). ISBN: 0271066490
  • Gwen Athene Tarbox. Children’s and Young Adult Comics. Bloomsbury Academic. (2020). ISBN: 1350009199

Assignment Descriptions

Curator’s note: these point totals and assignments shifted slightly by the end of the course due to schedule shifts from the pandemic; only assigning ten weekly responses total, not fifteen; and making the final project worth more overall.

Student Introduction Essay & Comic: 10pts total

1pg comic about yourself.

250w essay about your comic.

Submitted to D2L by Sunday, 11:59pm of the first week of the semester.

Use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself to me. Use this as an opportunity to think through the affordances of graphic narratives and textual ones. What do I need to know about you, and about who you are? How is that translated differently in written and visual forms?

Weekly Responses (15 responses, 1pt each): 15pts

For this assignment, you will create comic responses each week, which you will post to D2L. This will typically take the form of:

  • Graphic responses to guided discussion questions
  • Graphic reviews of one of the texts from the week.
  • Critical analysis and reflection on the week’s text via comics.

These will typically be a 1-pg comic in one of the three prompts, and a 1-pg write-up of your comic explaining what you did, why you took this approach, how you illustrated your ways of thinking, etc.

I will not be grading your ability to make comics, but your ability to grow each week based on my feedback concerning ways to more fully illustrate your ideas.   

Attendance, Participation, and Professionalism: 15pts

This course is designed to maximize your learning of the subject matter and advance your skills through a variety of activities. Therefore, our attendance policy is aimed at supporting our educational goals, NOT as a punitive or gatekeeping measure, particularly during a global pandemic.

You begin the class with 15 points in Attendance, Participation, and Professionalism.

Participation: The bare minimum to participation is showing up, attending lecture, and participating in mandatory activities. In order to earn full points for the Participation side, you must also lead discussion, volunteer your own ideas, and/or contribute meaningfully to the class conversation.

Attendance: Attendance is taken at the top of the hour with a Question or Drawing of the Day. If you arrive after we finish this exercise, you will be marked tardy. You have three free unexcused absences. After that, each unexcused absence (unrelated to COVID) will result in a loss of 3 participation points (20% of the participation grade). Again, this is not punitive, but accountability. 

See full attendance policy under Course Policies for information on COVID-related absences.

Critical Creations (3x projects, 10pts each): 30pts

Throughout the course, we will make three separate critical creations that are project-based. Each will be a form of graphic narrative accompanied by a short reflective essay. Each project will be have specific requirements, which will be provided later in the semester.

  1. One comic engaging with children’s/YA graphic narratives (due Week 7)
  2. One digital humanities project (due Week 10)
  3. One comic engaging with graphic medicine (due Week 13)

Revised Graphic Narrative: 20pts

Your final project will be a revised and expanded version of one of your two comics. We will be turning these into expanded comics that will be printed. More info to come later in the semester (due Week 15 for Comics Showcase, see below)

Comics Showcase: 10pts

During Week 15 of the course, we will showcase your graphic narratives in a public space, either virtually or face-to-face. This is an opportunity to extend your work beyond the classroom, to engage with a public community and your peers at MSU. Should ENG 325 pivot online, our showcase will pivot online too. More details will be provided later in the semester.

The Graphic Narratives Covenant

In this class we will: 

  • Be brave
  • Be kind
  • Read comics
  • Make comics
  • Respect each other’s creativity
  • Support each other during struggles
  • Respect the medium that we use to deliver our story
  • Give each other space to tell our stories

COVID-19 & Our Classroom

Curator note: my students and I adhered to this approach to COVID-19 and our classroom. When students were sick, they stayed home; I would meet with them over zoom during office hours or touch base in email format, depending on how they were feeling. To make up participation points from staying home, students were to complete one full page of sketchnotes related to the primary reading for the week, per class session missed. This approach was developed in week 3 or 4 in conjunction with students.

We are still in a state of emergency. It is important to begin from that premise because the pandemic will fundamentally shape what the semester looks like, how we inhabit the class, and how we relate to each other and the course material. As I write this syllabus the COVID-19 crisis is worsening. We are a community; we are thus dependent on, and affected by, the actions, precautions, and protections each of us takes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our classroom provides a direct link between you and our families, friends, loved ones, roommates, etc. As such, I ask that you take reasonable efforts to protect yourselves, our campus, and our broader community from the spread of COVID-19.

As the pandemic continues, I want to share thoughts about our collective experiences: 

  • Some of our lives may be relatively unaffected by the pandemic while others have experienced profound tragedies—we cannot make assumptions about others’ experience with the virus. 
  • We ought to be more compassionate with each other and with ourselves—now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to give the gift of grace freely and lovingly. 
  • Together, we will make this semester as safe, thoughtful, rigorous, and insightful as we can—this applies both to our intellectual efforts and adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols.

All students are expected to follow the guidance provided by the University with regard to COVID-19 precautions, masks, and vaccinations. 

On Symptoms

If you are sick, particularly with any symptoms of COVID-19, do not come to class. I will work with you to make sure you have the opportunity to learn the material you missed because of an illness. 

On Masks

As the Delta Variant of Covid-19 spreads and the reality of breakthrough cases becomes clear, I cannot help but think of those in in my community who are unvaccinated or immuno-compromised. Until we have a better sense of if, and how, vaccinated individuals can carry or be infected by the Delta Variant I plan to wear my mask in class. I invite you do to do the same.

On Zoom

ENG 325 is designated as a face-to-face class and will be held in that format unless the University makes changes to course modalities. Students are not able to attend class via Zoom. If you will miss an extended amount of time because of illness please contact me to discuss options. Should MSU move online, our class will too, and we will adapt accordingly.