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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Ronald Thomas Foster
ENGL 207
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Cultural Studies

Introduces cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field and practice. Explores multiple histories of the field with an emphasis on current issues and developments. Focuses on culture as a site of political and social debate and struggle. Offered: AWSp.

Class description

This course will provide an introduction to cultural studies within the field of English and literary studies, by focusing on the topic of comics. The course is intended to provide a historical introduction to the generic diversity of the American comic book as a hybrid medium of visual art and print fiction, as well as to discuss in detail specific examples of the medium and its potential, using Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, an essay on the nature of the comics medium written as a graphic novel. The course will use this topic to raise questions about the methodological implications for literary studies of analyzing non-literary objects of study. How do comics challenge our assumptions about literature and literary analysis? To what extent are literary methods of textual analysis applicable to comics? We will also use our discussions of comics to consider key concepts or questions within cultural studies, such as ideology, the status of authorship in the production of meaning, and the role of the reader and processes of reception or consumption in constructing meaning. Comics, moreover, are a privileged site for considering the relation of literary culture to visual culture in contemporary American society.

We will begin by reading McCloud’s book in relation to some examples of early newspaper comic strips, probably including Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, with particular attention to the relation between newspaper comics as a mass medium and formal experimentation in modernist art, to exemplify the ways in which the value hierarchy of high art and mass culture has been challenged in the comics medium. We will then consider the origins of the comic book in the superhero genre, with particular attention to early Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, and Spirit comics, along with the history of later superhero revisionism. We will do some reading in non-superhero genres in the later 40s and 50s, possibly including romance, war, western, science fiction, horror, and true crime comics, along with some example of the contemporary resurgence of one or more of these genres. We will end the course with some readings in the development of what are called alternative comics, which are generally less commercial, more experimental, more literary, and more aimed at an adult audience than either superhero or genre comics. Readings for the course will include some works available through library reserve, as well as works chosen from the following list (we will not read all of these books): Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics; Grant Geissman, Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics; Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen or Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns; Alan Moore and Gene Ha, Top 10, vol. 1, or Warren Ellis and John Casaday, Planetary or David Mack, Kabuki: Metamorphosis or Paul Chadwick, Concrete or Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr., Who Is the Black Panther; Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben, The Saga of the Swamp Thing (vol. 1) or Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life (vol. 2); Jaime Hernandez, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.; Roberta Gregory, Life’s a Bitch; Kyle Baker, Nat Turner or Gene Yuen Lang, American Born Chinese.

Assignments for the course will probably include two formal essays, and some shorter informal writing.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Ronald Thomas Foster
Date: 04/21/2009