In the past decade scholars and teachers have expressed an interest in graphic novels as both cultural artifacts and as resources for use in literacy education. Like their older sibling, the comic book, graphic novels combine two sign systems—word and image—to construct a narrative. As such, the ability to read and interpret them might be said to involve multiple literacies—one verbal, the other visual. How do readers experience and interpret graphic novels? What design patterns do authors and readers draw on to make meaning when they produce (write) and consume (read) works written in the medium of comics? What does engaging in “close readings” of graphic novels entail? What do literacy teachers need to know to engage students in critical conversations about graphic novels? These are some of the questions we’ll explore as we examine the affordances and constraints of a form of storytelling that has historically been popular with adolescents, and which is capturing the attention of some classroom teachers.

Essential Questions:

Throughout the semester, we’ll work together to answer the following questions:

  • What shifts have occurred in critical debates about comic books and graphic novels as a form of reading material, and what has motivated those shifts?
  • By definition, what are comics, and what (if anything) is distinct about the form?
  • What is the “language” of comics, and how does it influence the meanings that readers construct as they transact with graphic novels?
  • How can the concept of “design” serve as a framework for understanding how readers make meaning in their transactions with graphic novels?
  • How do readers construct meaning as they transact with multimodal texts? What metaphor best captures the processes readers engage in to construct meaning in their transactions with graphic novels?
  • What does reading comics closely entail, and what are the implications for comics criticism?
  • In the case of graphic storytelling, what constitutes “excellence,” and how can it be measured?

Course Syllabus (pdf)