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Online Course

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

University of Colorado Boulder via Coursera


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The comic book pamphlet developed as an independent literary form in the 1930s and early 1940s and has been a favorite of adolescent enthusiasts and cult devotees ever since. Recently, it has entered into a process of transformation, moving from a species of pulp fiction on the margins of children’s literature to an autonomous genre, one Will Eisner labeled the graphic novel. This transformation has been noted in such literary venues as the New York Times and the New Yorker, as well as in an increasing number of university classrooms and bookstore shelves.

“Comic Books and Graphic Novels” presents a survey of the history of American comics and a review of major graphic novels circulating in the U. S. today. It is focused on three main points. First, it argues that as comics develop in concert with, and participate in literary culture, they should be considered literature. Second, it reasons that such a designation forces us to redefine our concept of literature itself. Finally, it explores this transformative literary world by arguing that comics have much to teach us about ourselves.

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Comic Books and Graphic Novels
Professor William Kuskin

University of Colorado Boulder

This is the final schedule. A final syllabus will be available when the course opens.



Video 1: Welcome to the Course

Video 2: The Syllabus (Overview)

Video 3: The Syllabus (Logistics)

Video 4: What is a Comic?

Video 5: Teaching Comics (w/Barry Barrows) 

Video 6: Collecting (w/Jim Vacca)


Lecture 1a: Reading the Grid
Lecture 1b: Two Comics Masters

Lecture 2a: The Golden Age
Lecture 2b: Golden Age Master
Lecture 2c: Gender in the Golden Age

Lecture 3a: The Virulent Art   
Lecture 3b: The Possibilities of Change


Lecture 4a: Big Brother Steps In
Lecture 4b: The Comics Code Authority

Video 7: Fredric Wertham and the Atomic Age (w/Jim Vacca)

Lecture 5a: The Silver Ages Rises
Lecture 5b: Silver Age Master

Lecture 6a: Underground Comix
Lecture 6b: Black and White

Video 8: Comics Economics (w/Wayne Winsett)


Lecture 7a: The Death of the Father
Lecture 7b: The Birth of the Children

Lecture 8: Art Spiegelman’s Maus
a: An American Artist
b: How to Read a

Book 9: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
a: Finding Yourself in a Book
b: What Defines Art

Lecture 10: Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns
a: Innovation and Originality
b: The Rules of Genre
c: Who is The Batman?

Lecture 11: Warren Ellis and John Cassady's Planetary
a: The Possibilities of Genre
b: The Limits of the Page

Lecture 12: Neil Gaiman, Bill Willingham, Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Stables, and the Vernacular Canon of Fantasy

WEEK SIX: MEDIA Lecture 13: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen
a: The Media
b: The Poetics of the Page
c: Graphia

Lecture 14: Joe Sacco’s Palestine
a: Faces Tell Stories
b: Dead Ends

Lecture 15: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates
a: War Machine
b: Star Power


Lecture 16: Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories
a: The Aesthetics of Loneliness
b: The Book of Honesty

Lecture 17: Comics Energy

Video 8: The Community of Comics (w/Chris Angel)

Taught by

William Kuskin


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