Why comics? And why these comics?

I’m going to go out on a limb here: some of you signed up for this class because you love comic books or just think they’re kind of cool and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this class. Am I right? I’ll go out on another limb: some of you signed up for this class because it fit your schedule (don’t tell me if this is you). Am I right about that too? Regardless of which category you find yourself in, it’s possible that you’re wondering what comic books have to offer a college level composition class.

The answer is A LOT.

One thing they have to offer is multimodality. Today in class I talked some about multimodal composition, which is the term that people in biz (meaning composition experts) use to talk about texts to use more than one mode to communicate ideas. So, for example, if I type out a paper on Word and print it out, I’ve used one mode–written words–to communicate my ideas. On the other hand, if I take the same ideas and deliver a presentation accompanied by a Power Point or a Prezi, I’ve used more than one mode–words, sound, image–to communicate my thoughts. That’s mulitmodal composition.

Multimodal Spider Man

Also, incorporating this comic (which I made on Marvel’s website) makes this blog post multimodal.

Many composition experts argue that using comic books in the classroom can help students develop skills both for understanding multimodal texts on a deeper level and for creating their own multimodal texts. That’s what comics are doing for us in this course–they are a tool that we’ll use to develop composition and analytical skills.

Of course, there are a number of other multimodal texts we could study in place of comics that would have a similar function. Magazines, for example, also rely on multiple modes, as do advertisements. But let’s face it–comics are way more fun and life is short. That’s another thing comics offers to us–a way to study composition that can be fun.

Additionally, in spite of the common perception that comic books are simplistic, one-dimensional stories for children, they are often complex and sophisticated texts. The form has grown up over the years, and there’s no greater evidence of that than the graphic novel Maus winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Even superhero comics feature significant character and plot development, engaging political and social issues in interesting ways. In fact, it’s generally accepted that the average readers of mainstream comics are adults (here’s one source that supports this). This is the demographic publishers cater to, so they create texts that adults can appreciate and enjoy. I think you’ll find the comics we read to be entertaining, but also compelling and relevant.

That’s why comics. But why are we studying these particular comics? Well, there are a few reasons. First, we’re reading Marvel comics because that’s the superhero universe I like best. It really just comes down to personal preference–I generally prefer the characters and narratives Marvel produces. Second, because Marvel has an awesome online database, their comics are highly accessible for a low price. DC doesn’t have a comparable platform, and I don’t think there’s anything else like it. Simply put, Marvel provides the least expensive option for accessing the number of comics we’re going to read, and I always try to save my students money when I can.

I selected comics for the course to give us a range of styles to explore and consider. These selections are also rhetorically significant. They aren’t just narrative; they make arguments, persuade, appeal, provoke. Because of that, they exemplify some of the skills you’ll be developing for your own writing. We’re starting next Tuesday with some Captain America comics, partially because Cap’s my favorite and partially (more importantly) because Captain America comics have always tended to be more directly political than many other comics due to the nature of the character. We’ll then hit up a few more oldies before making our way to Civil War, an event that is widely considered to be one of the most significant comics narratives in the modern era. It’s a story arc in which argument is as important as (maybe more than) action, and it will serve our purposes well.


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