The Graphic Novel: Between the Panels

Course Description

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Single-semester course. This class aims to instill an understanding of graphic literature and how to read it. From the most basic elements of page and panel construction, to the psychological foundations of pictorial representation and image architecture, the student will emerge from the course equipped to analyze and assess all manner of graphic literature. Given its inherent ability to blur the boundaries separating text from image, silence from speech, sequential art—comics and graphic novels—is uniquely poised to pursue subjects that are equally resistant to categorization. In fact, it is this ability to distort and reconfigure expectations that makes thinking of the comic as simply a hybrid work of prose and graphics a wild underestimation. Because, when all is said and done, what happens between the panels, in the formal emptiness where both image and text end, is what allows the graphic novel to reveal so much about how and why we do what we do. In addition to expanding critical reading and thinking skills, enriching analytical and interpretative strategies, and instilling an understanding of the historical trajectory of sequential art, this class will rely on eight graphic novels to illustrate the field’s unique ability to illuminate complex subjects. These eight works will pursue four primary themes: home, loss, identity, and war.

Please note: This course is designed for high-school students. Several of these readings contain images, scenarios, subjects, and themes that younger and/or more sensitive readers may find upsetting or unsettling. While these texts are appropriate for mature high school students, students and parents should be aware of the complexities and intensities of these readings in advance. If you have any concerns we encourage you to check the texts out at the local library before enrolling your student.

Example Syllabus (Download the PDF)

Course texts:

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  • The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui
  • I’m Not Here, GG
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud
  • Here, Richard McGuire
  • The Great War: July 1, 1916. The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, Joe Sacco
  • The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Stitches, David Small
  • Gast, Carol Swain
  • Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

Class meets once per week for 50-55 minutes.

Class cap: 20 students.

Designed for grades 10-12.

Students in grades 9-12 may be awarded .5 Language Arts credit upon completion of this course.

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