Inquiry Project: Graphic Novels & Comic Books Syllabus

Posted: April 23, 2013 in On Comics, On Novels
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

(click ^here^ to download this syllabus as a .doc)

Professor: Dr. Jeffrey McFarland

Office: Admin 666

Office Hrs: Tues Thurs 12-2 or by appointment

Phone: 555-555-5555

Email: (putting your e-mail up online is a good way to get spam)

Class Meets: MW 2-3:15

As you can see, I have memorized this utterly useless piece of information long enough to pass a test question. I now intend to forget it forever. You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system. Congratulations.”

– Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes infamy

Course Description:

Personally, I hated the term “graphic novel”. To me, graphic novel was just a “politically correct” term stuffy literary critics made up in an attempt to mask the fact that they were actually reading something a lot of adults would consider childish: a comic book! After further study, however, I acknowledge that there is a difference between the two – but neither carries less weight than the other! The objective of this course is to take a medium of writing often disregarded by many readers and attempt to demonstrate its ability to stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest literary classics. The graphic novel or comic book consists of the sequencing and melding together of visual images along with writing. The presence of brightly-colored superheroes donning capes and tights often bring the comic book under fire, but with the right material, capes and costumes can stand for much larger issues. Through graphic novels and comic books, we will examine and discuss several diverse themes relevant around the world, including, but not limited to, governmental power and dystopia (V for Vendetta, Superman: Red Son), gang violence and justice (The Dark Knight Returns, Yummy), the complexities of everyday life (Calvin and Hobbes, Everything We Miss), and struggles arising in cultures not our own (Maus, Persepolis). We will take a look at what makes certain comic strips able to stay relevant and endure the test of time while other literature fades (Garfield), all the way up to asking at what point a comic truly becomes a “graphic novel” (Watchmen). We will not only be examining the writing in these novels, but also the artwork. Why do artists position panels in the way that they do? Why are certain colors used in lieu of others? These questions tag-teamed with traditional literary questions provide levels of depth and complexity not offered in some classic texts. We will be asking questions such as, is reading a novel and reading a comic book the same to your brain? Are comic books any worse for you than some novels? By exploring thoughts and ideas often tackled by classic and modern literature alike through the eyes of the graphic novelist, our goal is to not only understand the graphic novel as a serious literary contender, but also to discover an alternative route to the truths that literature can provide us besides just the traditional wall-of-words.

Required Reading:

Brosgol, Vera. Anya’s Ghost. ISBN 1596435526

Busiek, Kurt. Marvels. ISBN 078514286X

David, Peter. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born. ISBN 0785121447

Davis, Jim. 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna. ISBN 0345503791

Hinds, Gareth. Beowulf. ISBN 0763630233

Hinds, Gareth. The Odyssey. ISBN 0763642681

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. ISBN 006097625X

Millar, Mark. Civil War: A Marvel Comics Event. ISBN 0785121781

Millar, Mark. Superman: Red Son. ISBN 1401201911

Miller, Frank. The Dark Knight Returns. ISBN 1563893428

Moore, Alan. Watchmen. ISBN 0930289234

Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta. ISBN 140120841X

Neri G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. ISBN 1584302674

Pearson, Luke. Everything We Miss. ISBN 1907704175

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. ISBN 0375714839

Siegel, Mark. Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid Of The Hudson. ISBN 1596436360

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. ISBN 0141014083

Watterson, Bill. The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. ISBN 0836218051

Attendance/Participation Policy:

You guys are adults and should be responsible enough to show up to a class that you signed up for. Whether or not I take attendance points will depend on the frequency of absences. You are the ones paying to take the class, not me. I expect you to show up to class, have the material read, and be ready to participate in in-class discussions. This class will be fun, we want you and your input there! That being said, more than 2 unexcused absences will incur my wrath, and your grade will most likely begin to reflect this. I understand that things come up – so long as you e-mail me and don’t have a grandma who’s sick every week, I can be pretty lenient.

Weekly Assignments (Blogging):

Besides just having to read the material, each week you will have for an assignment a blog post (on reflecting upon the reading material. Any thoughts, connections, concerns, or questions you had raised by the text will be brought up in your blog. I had originally considered making you maintain a weekly reading journal, but I think it would be better if you were able to see and comment on each other’s thoughts.

These weekly assignments are to make sure that you are in fact doing the reading you claim to be doing, and so that we may get some decent use out of the internet besides cat videos and Facebook walls. One word of caution – read the material. I will be able to tell if you’ve read or if you’re flying by the seat of your pants: you can’t bullshit a bullshitter.

Weekly Blogging Requirements:

  • 600 words at the least.

  • Each post must contain 2 links you found interesting or relevant to the material

    • These can be anything: another blog, news articles, quirky youtube videos

    • Links can be either included in the post or attached at the bottom

  • Comment on at least three fellow classmate’s blog posts (*groan*)

    • These responses have no requirement, but “great post” probably won’t cut it.

NOTE: A blog is a public medium. Once your thoughts are out there, they can’t be reeled back in, so be at least a little wary of what you say. Preferences can be set to restrict people’s comments, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost anyone can see what you have written: employers, authors, professors, students, etc. etc.

Your blog is yours, so make it your own! Almost any personalization, any thought, idea, question, comment, concern, complaint is up for grabs. Think of this less like homework and more like a chance for you to spill the innards of your brain! (gross)

Final Creative Project:

You will have a creative project due the week before finals that can entail almost anything so long as it is relevant to a work or a theme that we have discussed at some point during the semester. I’ve seen it all in my day: YouTube trailers and movies, Minecraft models of locations in books, songs written, cakes baked, pictures taken.. your imagination is the only real cap on this. If you’re unsure about a project or a topic, run it by me and I’ll try to get the ball rolling. This is your chance to do something cool with the subject matter we’ve dealt with. Seeing as how I’m being pretty relaxed about what this project entails, please don’t half-ass it. Why would you ever want to half-ass self expression? This project can be worth up to 10% of your final grade, and you have all semester to decide on what it is. Fair enough? We will present our final projects the week before finals, using whatever time is remaining to review for the final.
Wait, what final?

Mid-Terms and Finals:

There will not be a mid-term in this class. I don’t feel like putting one together, and you don’t feel like taking one. Take the free time to read ahead (or do some independent reading!) The final will be composed of a single, 5-page essay question asking you to identify the presence and the relevance of a theme or themes found in multiple works we have read this semester. More details will be made available to you in class and online as we continue down the line. We will not meet in-class on the day of the final. Instead, your essay will be due by the end of the regular time window in which we would have taken a final exam.

In-Class Behavior:

Turn cell phones off or on vibrate only. Don’t spend the entire class period looking at your crotch – either you’re texting or doing something far worse, and either way, it shouldn’t be happening in class. If you need to take a phone call or a message, step into the hall in an incognito fashion. Laptops, Kindles, and other digital devices are allowed, and as much I would prefer that you use them for strictly educational purposes, if (when) you’re going to use them to browse tumblr, please be discreet and don’t disrupt the class.

If the digital devices get out of control, colleagues of mine have suggested an interesting idea: giving students extra credit when they catch others goofing off with their devices. As much as I don’t want to resort to that, it would be interesting to see how well you all mesh as a unit – don’t test me!

Getting a Hold of Me:

My (fictional) phone number and e-mail address are available at the top of this syllabus. I would prefer if you insist on using my number that you text me, unless it’s a life or death situation, in which case feel free to call me. No drunk calls or texts. I will not bail you out.

Late Work:

Weekly assignments are due preferably by Friday at midnight, but no later than Monday at class time. All I’m asking is a blog post and a handful of related links, blogs posted later than class time on Monday will be rewarded with an “Incomplete”. If you have a (damn) good reason to need more time to complete an assignment, you can contact me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due and ask for an extension. Catastrophic failure of the internet connection due to a snow storm is acceptable. Partaking in a Game of Thrones marathon and completely forgetting about your homework, however awesome, is not.

Escape Clause:

If for whatever reason you are not totally enthralled by my hilarious sarcasm or are not prepared for the reading load this class entails, the class can be dropped and taken again at a later semester. Word of warning: the required reading list will most likely be jumbled around in future semesters. Information about dropping a course and deadlines can be obtained at or call the Registrar’s Office.

Academic Honesty:

Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I’m not going to give you examples of what plagarism is and is not. If you truly don’t know what encompasses plagarism, Google is your friend. As they say, “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Plagiarized work will be returned to students marked “Unsatisfactory” and students will be placed on a probationary period of grading. Students who plagiarize more than once are in danger of failing the course. Students caught plagiarizing will be subject to discipline, as per campus policies outlined in the CSC Student Handbook. Cite your sources, don’t steal other people’s work, don’t reuse old work of yourself or another. Simple.

Nondiscrimination Policy/Equal Opportunity Policy:

Chadron State College is committed to an affirmative action program to encourage admission of minority and female students and to provide procedures which will assure equal treatment of all students. The College is committed to creating an environment for all students that is consistent with nondiscriminatory policy. To that end, it is the policy of Chadron State College to administer its academic employment programs and related supporting services in a manner which does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, or marital status. Student requests for reasonable accommodation based upon documented disabilities should be presented within the first two weeks of the semester, or within two weeks of the diagnosis, to the Disabilities Counselor (Crites 338).


The instructor reserves the right to make changes in the syllabus at any time (but will not be so imposing as to not let you know about said changes). Any changes made will not modify the objectives (or expectations) of the course.

  1. My favorite part of the syllabus: Finals. “I don’t feel like putting one together, and you don’t feel like taking one.”

  2. nikkijh24 says:

    I would totally take this class. This was really well-done and really creative. I hope you do get to teach a class like this some day. I like the list of books. I’m assuming you’ve read them all? Were they your favorites? Or did you pick some that were just mediocre but you wanted your students to read? Great work, Jeff! This is definitely A-worthy.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I’ve read all but a handful of these, actually! Sailor Twain and Everything We Miss I haven’t gotten to reading yet, but they sounded really interesting from what research I’d done on them. Some of these others are definitely my favorites – but I also felt they had enough meat on them to justify putting them in there (like The Dark Knight Returns). Thanks for the kind words!

  3. LOL, I always put something on the syllabus I’ve never read before! Keeps it fresh….

  4. […] of the success of that week. This all culminated in my inquiry project being my own syllabus for a graphic novels course. If I changed even one mind, I call that success. If I didn’t, well, you can’t win […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s