Comic Books and Academia
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Comic Books and Academia

What’s the big deal?. THREE parts to what we will look at today. What exactly are comic books?. How can comic books relate to academics?. How I am applying comic books to academics?. Part 1: . What .

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Comic Books and Academia

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Comic Books and Academia


What’s the big deal?

THREE parts to what we will look at today

What exactly are comic books?

How can comic books relate to academics?

How I am applying comic books to academics?


Part 1: What are comic books?


Start with a question…

So, if I ask you what comic books are, what would be your reply?

Now, when I talk about comic books I am talking in general about a large grouping of texts

Monthly, weekly, etc. regularly published comic books

Graphic novels

Manga and other pictographic representations



Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics, quickly admits that defining a world so huge and varied is difficult. He ultimately arrives at the definition that they are “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence”


Tim Leong’s Super Graphic helps a bit to see more…


Here is just a sampling of some of McCloud’s work,

done in the form of a graphic novel aimed to explain

how images work and why we become “so engaged”


Will Eisner

Famous comic book artist, writer, and dare say, theorist believed a great deal in the power of imagery as a communicator

He states:

Comics deal with two fundamental communicating devices: words and images. Admittedly this is an arbitrary separation. But, since in the modern world of communication they are treated as independent disciplines, it seems valid. Actually, they are derivatives of a single origin and in the skillful employment of words and images lies the expressive potential of the medium


Comic Books are more..

Comic books are not just Superheroes like Superman, Batman, Wolverine and Spiderman – this is but one genre within the medium

There are, especially at different times and places, all kinds of comics from horror and western to romance and kids books.

Comic books, according to Eisner, have the potential for the greatest forms of human expression – and I agree with him

Comic books even are divided up by age appropriateness too.

However…that was not always the case.


A little History

Where did they start?

The modern comic book began in the late 19


century and early 20



They were color cartoon strips found in Newspapers and often were designed to reach illiterate individuals and groups.

Modern “comic book” appeared in around 1935 and developed into a form popular with children

It is worth noting that many who were involved in the early comic book industry, the artists, writers, and many of the editors were minorities in America: Italians, Jews, African-Americans, and even women


Catching on quick

The superhero comic book took off, drawing upon sources such as Pulp novels and newspaper strip characters with the appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, printed by National Comics (now DC Comics)

This created a sensation. Sails of Superman reached 1,250,000 issues a month in 1940.

Superman’s comic books were quickly duplicated by other publishing firms and as many 30-40 existed right before, during, and through the end of WWII


The War

Comic books were a highly popular and patriotic method employed during WWII.

The U.S. Military bought them and distributed them to the soldiers.

This increased both sales and popularity of titles that the GI’s brought back with them.

Comic books also served to promote propaganda in support of the war effort as well.



Action Comics #58, published in March, 1943

Promoted the idea of Superman promoting kids and readers to “Slap a Jap”







After WWII a rise in juvenile diligence and teenage violence.

This sparked critics such as the Catholic Church, the Government, Organizations, and Child Psychologists (such as Fredric Wertham) to view comic books as the cause of this problem

A fantastic and full account of all of this and backlash, in detail, can be found in David Haidju’s book

The Ten- Cent Plague

Main backlash was against EC Comics “Horror” comics but all comics were targeted.


Fredric Wertham

Prominent child psychologist, author of

Seduction of the Innocent


He asserted that “Comic books are definitely harmful to impressionable people, and most young people are impressionable” He also noted that he thought “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic books”

Thought they promoted homosexuality (Batman and Robin), deviance (Wonder Woman), and fascism (Superman)


Comic Book Code

Founded in 1954 after attacks of Wertham

and Senate Subcommittee Hearings into Juvenile Delinquency of 1954.

The code was a self-regulated attempt to save the medium

Required approval for strips, limited content, and basically acted as a form of censorship that ended up putting companies out of business and turning comic books into the equivalent of porn



Eventually coming into the light

The code simply forced publishers and writers to go underground a bit.

Eventually they bounced back and pushed back against the code

Many companies abandoned the code and it was declared dead in 2011.


Modern Explosion

The cultural zeitgeist of the early 21


century, the economic depression of 2007-present could be argued as pushing comics into the mainstream.

Superman certainly emerged at the tail end of the Great Depression.

Cultural and Economic Crisis = Need for heroes?


Part 2: Comic Books and Academia


Oxford University

I have had the pleasure of TWICE attending a Global Conference of the Graphic Novel at Mansfield College of Oxford University in the UK.

While there I have witnessed many presentations and applications of people who are doing research, looking for applications, and analyzing the value of graphic narratives such as comic books and their larger cousins, graphic novels

Here is just a few…



I have not only heard of imagery used to help prepare and train nurses…

Also, graphic novels have served as ways for nurses to build community among patients, help disabled find self-expression, and serve as an outlet for them to promote ideas

If you want a strong mode of communication that gets someone’s attention, this is one.



Who can recall their favorite part of History book?

For me it was the maps, the pictures that brought the narrative to life. Made me feel like I was there in the events.

I love history, but the idea of incorporating visuals along with text seems to serve the strong purpose of drawing in the audience and retention of what is there by making one feel as if they are there.


Philosophy and Theory



Fredric Wertham would spin in his grave…

Psychoanalysis and the exploration of the mind often relies on finding forms of expression that help communicate one’s inner thoughts and feelings.

The creation of a comic book can be used to help patients not only cope with issues but find constructive outlets that can lead them towards productive resolutions as well


Many classic texts from the Odyssey to Dante’s Divine Comedy to Shakespeare have been converted into graphic narratives



Three volumes out so far covering examples from all across literature.

The Graphic Canon


What it all boils down to…

There is far more to all of it than one might initially assume

I have only attempted to list but a few examples and fields but the ideas are near limitless.

The medium of comics is like TV, movies, books, etc…if you can think of it, there is a form to express it (in fact, probably several).


Part 3:Graduate Research


Sir Ken Robinson

In an RSA whiteboard video of his lecture “Changing Educational Paradigms,” Robinson notes (as it is illustrated) that “the arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience . . . one in which your senses are operating at their peak. When you are present in the moment, resonating with the excitement of this thing you are experiencing. When you are fully alive”



From the video


My Research…

I believe that comic books embody the power of Robinson’s “aesthetic experience” by engaging one in the visual process of both reading and experiencing images in a comic book.

Particularly, my current work is focusing on how Superman, via his presence and position as identifiable to America and American culture, operates as a model of behavior that one would wish to emulate. Not emulate with his powers, we can’t fly, but by his character and choices…

The following here is a sampling of some of what I am working on.


Narrative RetCon & Re-Accentuation




All-Star Superman


What is re-accentuation

For the word is, after all, not a dead material object in the hands of an artist equipped with it; it is a living word and is therefore in all things true to itself . . . but its meaning-once realized-can never he completely extinguished. And under changed conditions this meaning may emit bright new rays, burning away the reifying crust that had grown up around it and thus removing any real ground for a parodic accentuation, dimming or completely extinguishing such re-accentuation. (419)



According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term retro-continuity serves as both a noun and a verb.


a noun, it is commonly seen as “a piece of new information that


a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency”


Coming Together

One way to recapture or explore elements of Superman’s long 75-year history requires an understanding of how the narrative has been altered via R


and just how more contemporary devotes of Superman have allowed and made use of re-accentuation of lost and sometimes altered aspects of the heroes narrative to achieve recognizable and identifiable symbolic responses through this process.


Two Examples

Superman’s original origin found in

Action Comics

#1 (1938) and its re-accentuated version found in the opening of

All-Star Superman #


Depictions of Superman’s power to save lives (and social attitudes towards mental illness) found in

Action Comics

#9 (1939) and

All-Star Superman #









Works Cited


, Mikhail.

The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays

. Trans. Michael





. Austin: U of Texas P., 1982. Print


Eisner, Will.

Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary


. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.


, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed


. New York: Picador. 2008.



, Scott.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

. New York:


, 1994.










All-Star Superman

. New York: DC Comics, 2010. Print




: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from


Can Teach Us About Being Human

. New York: Spiegel &


, 2012. Print




and L.



The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation



. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print


Siegel, Jerry and Joe

Shuster. “Superman, Champion of the Oppressed .”

The Superman Chronicles, Vol. 1

. New York: DC Comics, 2006. Print



“Wanted: Superman.”

The Superman Chronicles, Vol. 1

. New


: DC Comics, 2006. Print.



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