Engl 368a

T. Tensuan

F 1:30-4




Breaking the Frame: Comics and the art of social transformation


In an infamous introduction to Print magazine’s 1988 special issue on “comix,” Art Spiegelman (the creator of the highly acclaimed Maus [1973-1991], a work that was awarded a special Pulitzer in 1992) characterized comics as “the hunchback half-witted bastard dwarf step-child of the graphic arts,” a tongue-in-cheek reference to the medium’s marginalization in relation to visual arts as well as to literary culture throughout much of the last century. Spiegelman’s delineation of the medium might still be seen as an apt description of the work of contemporary artists such as David B., Lynda Barry, Joe Sacco, and Chris Ware who challenge aesthetic and social investments in idealized forms. 


A key element of our work will be an exploration of the ways in which comic books provide new ways of seeing, reading, and interpreting other literary texts. To fully attend to the resonance and dissonance between word and image in the texts we will be studying,  we will draw upon work of critics such as W. J. T. Mitchell, Julia Watson, Charles Hatfield,  Pato Hebert, Gene Kannenberg,  and Scott McCloud to explore how comics can open up new visions of memory,  history and social exchange by refocusing the perspectives that construct, mediate, and authorize our concepts of common culture  and that shape our practices of reading and interpretation.  In drawing attention to the expectations that underlie an assessment of a medical chart that offers a vision of an “ideal” body,  or reexamining the premises that cast a caped crusader as an archetype of heroic individualism,  such cartoonists delineate the ways in which cultural norms and conventional histories are encoded in visual idioms as well as in archetypal narratives and provide a lens through which to see the world anew.


In addition to two 5-7 page essays and a 12-15 page semester-long project, each student will prepare weekly responses to the readings and a class presentation based on his/her independent research project.



Ho Che Anderson, King

Marisa Acocella Marchetto, CancerVixen

David B. Epileptic

Lynda Barry, What it Is

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Montgomery Story

Phoebe Gloeckner, A Child’s Life

Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

Joe Sacco, Safe Area Gorazde

Art Spiegelman, Maus

Chris Ware, “Thrilling Adventure Stories”



2 200-level courses or consent of instructor.