UN1001 Comic Books as Art, Literature, and Medium

Instructor: Michael Mullins

Time: 3:35-4:50 pm Tuesday, Thursday

E-mail: memullin@mtu.edu


Phone: 487-3132

Office Hours: Tuesday, Thursday 10:30-noon, Wednesday, 2:00-3:00pm

Office: Chemical Engineering, 203B


Course Description: What is the medium of comics capable of? How does it work? How do we define comics? What are the basic elements of comics? How does the mind process comics? Are the words and pictures in comics acting as a distinct partnership or an integral language all its own? How does the history of comic books shed light on the history of our culture? What are comic books like in other cultures? How are comics evolving currently as art, literature, and medium? How might comic books fit in this digital age? These questions and others will be discussed with opportunities to consider many works in the graphic novel format.

Course Goals: This course is designed to support the goals of the Perspectives of Inquiry class UN1001. Students will discuss and interact with the material and other students in the class through various ways. Another primary goal is to gain more experience in college level writing to improve writing skills where appropriate. A secondary goal is for students to become more comfortable with college level academic life.

Required Texts:
Scott McLoud: Understanding Comics
Robin Varnum & Christina T. Gibbons: The Language of Comics: Word and Image
Bradford W. Wright: Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America

Tentative Schedule

Week 1


Introductions, Class goals, Note taking. What are comics?                          Pictures and words exercise. Understanding Comics

Week 2


Paper and writing discussion, Understanding Comics

Week 3


Library Tour, Sept 14th, Understanding Comics First writing assignment due Sept. 16th.

Week 4


 Learn to draw cartoons with Bill Sproule, Sept. 21st !                       Superheroes Unmasked!

Week 5


 Superman and the origin of Comic Book Heroes. Wright: Preface, Ch.1, 2, and 3.

Week 6

Oct. 5

Wright Chapter 4,5, and 6. The image of Comic Book Heroes in other media.


Week 7


 Finish Wright: The modern Comic Heroes; Multi-culturalism, the role of gender in comics

Week 8


The origin of comics. Varnum/Gibbons: Pictures Speak in Comics without Words. Varnum/Gibbons: The Yellow Kid and the Comic Page

Week 9


Varnum/Gibbons: If He Catches You, You're Through, Comics vs. Cartoons Proposals for term paper due.

Week 10

Nov. 2

Alternative and Underground comics: Varnum/Gibbons: Disturbing Comics, Crumb and American Splendor. Annotated bibliography due.

Week 11


Cross medium application of comics - Road to Perdition. Spawn. Varnum/Gibbons: "And Suit the Action to the Word,"

Week 12


Norm Breyfogle: A career in Comics.


  K S G 


Week 13

Nov. 30

The Graphic Novel Age: Varnum/Gibbons: The Comics of Chris Ware, Varnum/Gibbons: Pictures Speak in Comics without words.

Week 14


Comics in the Age of Internet. Oral presentations begin

Week 15


Papers and oral presentations, schedule meeting for final self evaluation


Grading: The portion of the class grade will be assigned as below.


In-class Discussion: (30%)You will be evaluated on your preparedness and quality of participation during the discussions in class. You are expected to have completed the readings with notes, observations, and questions ready for discussion. You should contribute to the discussion and also take notes on what you learned through the discussion. You are also expected to take notes in your journal of each discussion. These notes are intended to be items from the seminar that you wouldn't have learned or known about without having attended seminar. Not just points of interest from the readings, but rather points of interest from the seminar itself.


Journal: (30%) The Journal entries should represent approximately 2-4 pages each week of writing. There are 3 items for each entry: reading notes, in-class discussion notes, reflections on the class. These also represent the informal writing portion of the course.

Reading Guides: These are questions to answer as you do the readings. Your answers are due at the beginning of the first class in the week when we discuss that reading. Some questions are very simple Yes/No or short answer. Others require more significant answers. I am more interested in these answers in your own words. Also including the verbatim quote from the book is helpful so I know you at least found the answer. For every reading guide you need to include at least one note about something from the reading not directly related to a reading guide question that you would bring up in class given the chance, including the page number where it can be found.




Self evaluation: (10%)This is your own numerical evaluation of your in-class and journal discussion according to the rubric provided.


Papers: (30%) There will be 4 (sets of) papers to be completed in this course. The first 2 are shorter papers of 3 to 5 pages. The final term paper should be at least 10 pages double spaced not including title and references. The University Policy for Plagiarism will be strictly followed. References can only be used for sources directly used. There must be at least two sources other than class readings. Both cannot be on-line sources. Submit copies of all pages of references, including webpages, with the quotes and sections that were used highlighted.

More details about the assignments will follow.

Disability Services: "Michigan Tech is dedicated to assuring and enhancing opportunities for students with disabilities. Students with documented disabilities may request appropriate modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids that will enable them to participate in and benefit from University educational programs and activities. . . . Students requesting accommodations are encouraged to present their documentation to the Office of Student Affairs, Administration/Student Services Room 170, 487-2212. It is the student's responsibility to inform the Office of Student Affairs of their class schedule for each semester in which accommodations are sought. In cooperation with Michigan Rehabilitation Services and other agencies, the University will assist in providing accommodations such as note takers, tutors, and cassette tapes for students who are visually or hearing impaired. Letters, when appropriate, may be sent to instructors informing them of a student's need for accommodation (for example, extra time to complete examinations; permitting examinations to be individually proctored or read orally; or permitting the use of tape recorders in the classroom). . . ." (http://www.admin.mtu.edu/dos/disability.htm)

Rubrics - Reading Guide, In-class, Journal Notes


In-class discussion rubric - a score will be given out of 100 points

A: (90-100) Always has readings done with thorough notes, questions and observations ready.
Consistent participation in discussion. All absences are communicated before class and makeup work is sought in a timely manner. Near perfect attendance or lots of participation to make up for any absences. Discussion notes in Journal are well done and insightful.

B: (80-89) Always has readings done but with gaps in prepared notes, questions and observations. Not always involved in discussion but usually participating. Any absences are communicated before class, but some makeup work is not promptly sought. A few absences and moderate increase in participation to make up for absences. Discussion notes in Journal are good and thorough.

C: (70-79) Readings usually done and notes sometimes prepared.
Regular participation but only sparingly. Some absences not communicated even after class, makeup work accomplished but not sought. A few absences and little increase in participation to make up for absences. Discussion notes in Journal
are good, but incomplete.

D: (62-69) Readings often not completed and notes rarely prepared.
Little participation. Absences rarely communicated, makeup work rarely accomplished.
Often absent with very little change in participation when present. Many discussion notes in Journal
not done or not of very good quality.

F: (0-61) Readings usually not completed and notes never prepared.
Very little participation. Absences rarely dealt with at all. Hardly attending and when attending not participating. Not many Discussion notes in Journal
done and those that are of poor quality.

Journal Notes - a score will be given out of 100 points

A: (90-100) Numerous notes, extrapolations, and questions. Good response to reading guides.
Quality of writing has been consistently good from the start or improved to consistently good quickly.

B: (80-89)Thorough notes without critical questions or extrapolations. Good response to reading guides. Quality of writing has been lacking once in a while, but overall generally good, with improvement shown throughout the semester.

C: (70-79) Not very thorough notes, those that are taken are little more than comments and short reactions. Not enough to encourage discussion much. Response to reading guides poor.
Quality of writing is often lacking, with some improvement but still needs to improve.

D: (62-69) Very poor notes, those that are done are just short comments that have little to do with discussion. Very poor response or only partial response to reading guides. Quality of writing is usually lacking, with not much improvement shown.

F: (0-49) No notes.

Formal Papers 

Details will be given with each assignment.