From Comics to Graphic Novels (EAS3242)

StaffDr Paul Williams - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Each week you will read primary texts and academic scholarship, developing (a) your understanding of relevant critical debates, and (b) your skills of close reading sequential art. Those debates might concern the comic book industry, historical events, cultural movements, or critical theory. You will think about the institutional contexts which structure readers’ responses to comics, so graphic novels will be studied alongside film adaptations and in relation to narratives serialised in newspapers. By the end of From Comics to Graphic Novels you will have a stronger grasp of the critical concepts used to study sequential art and the contexts in which the graphic novel is located. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse contemporary sequential art texts
  • 2. Explain the institutional changes that have transformed the North American comics industry since the 1960s, and how those changes have affected the form of the texts produced and their critical reception
  • 3. Explain and analyse the dominant genres of the contemporary graphic novel
  • 4. Locate sequential art texts critically in their historical, cultural, and institutional contexts
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of current critical debates in Comics Studies and evaluate the appropriateness of translating key concerns in literary studies into the analysis of sequential art texts

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse contemporary literature, and, where appropriate, film, and to relate their concerns and modes of expression to historical context
  • 7. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 8. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literature

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 10. Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 11. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 12. Through research and writing, demonstrate an advanced capacity to make critical use of secondary material, to question assumptions, and to reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

Across the module you will look at comics in myriad forms, from periodicals to books, webcomics to newspaper serials. You will study one graphic novel or group of comics/comix each week, starting with an extended introduction to the study of comics form (e.g. colour, line, panelling, page layout). The central spine of the module is the changing constitution of the US comics industry from the 1960s to the 2000s and the course ends by considering contemporary issues in Comics Studies.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminar
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11The weekly one-hour teaching session is a mixture of lectures and student discussions of secondary sources

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay352000 words1-12Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial followup
Diorama Task 15Three-dimensional model of an exhibition of comics art1-12Oral feedback from tutor in seminar, supplemented by feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay503000 words1-12Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial followup

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12Referral/deferral period
Diorama TaskDiorama Task1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Various comics provided as photocopies

Gilbert Hernandez, Love & Rockets: Heartbreak Soup (volume 2 of the 2007 Titan books Love & Rockets series)*

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen*

Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth*

Art Spiegelman, Maus [buy both volumes or The Complete Maus]*

Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe*

Daniel Clowes, Ghost World*

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis*

[* Students will be expected to purchase texts marked with an asterisk]


Selected secondary texts

Ball, David M. and Martha Kuhlman, eds. The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010.

Chute, Hillary. “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.” PMLA 123.2 (2008): 45-65.

Geis, Deborah R., ed. Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman's Survivor’s Tale of the Holocaust. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama P, 2003.

Gordon, Ian, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister, eds. Film and Comic Books. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2007.

Groensteen, Thierry. The System of Comics. Trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2007.

Hatfield, Charles. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2005.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1993. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

Robbins, Trina. Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999.

Sabin, Roger. Adult Comics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 1993.

---. Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels. London: Phaidon Press, 1996.

Williams, Paul, and James Lyons, eds. The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010.

Witek, Joseph. Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 1989.

Wright, Bradford W. Comic Book Nation. Rev. ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2003.

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Key words search

Comics, graphic novels, mainstream comics, underground comix, webcomics