ENGL379L - Introduction to the Graphic Novel

Two points are frequently made about the set of texts variously referred to by many names (sequential art, comic books for adults, graphic narratives, graphic novels): that comic books have “grown” up and that they still struggle for legitimacy (as the novel itself did for centuries after its origin). In this course, we’ll begin with these questions of naming and legitimacy, grounding our considerations of these texts in some history and theory of comics. Then, we’ll explore graphic narratives by considering how various genres of narrative emerge within the category. After some theory by McCloud, Eisner and others, our readings will include narratives of superheroes grown up (Watchmen); memoir (Fun Home, Maus) and other biography/history/nonfiction; journalism (by Joe Sacco and others); manga; adaptations of literary stories (the Age of Bronze series); and original fiction (Berlin, the Hernandez Brothers, Eisner). We’ll also consider how graphic narratives themselves have been adapted to film (Persepolis, Watchmen, Sin City). Our overriding theoretical inquiry will be to consider how the rhetoric of the medium persuades, regardless of the kind of story being told, and how the rhetorics of various genres of narrative (memoir, journalism, etc.) adapt to the rhetoric of the comics medium. Midterm, considerable participation in discussions, short papers, collaborative project, final exam.


1. Graphic narratives are expensive but WILL NEED TO HAVE THE TEXTS for the course (I suggest ordering early on-line, looking at local comic bookstores, or checking your local public library. I’ll order books through the regular channels, but you may also find new copies

2. Some things to know about this as an online course: the course will be asynchronous, but there will be specific due dates each week. Students are expected to be familiar with elements of the online arena. We’ll likely use some new tools that are not too challenging, but you will need to be willing to try them out. Be sure you have a reliable internet connection and a scanner; having a webcam would be ideal. Also, there will be considerable collaborative work for the class that can all be done online, but be prepared to work nicely with others.

This is an online course.


Two lower-level English courses, at least one in literature; or permission of department.