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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Introduction to the Graphic Novel

This course is an introduction to the graphic novel, including consideration of the history, narrative structure, aesthetics, and genres of the medium. From the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize to Art Spiegelman’s Maus in 1985 to today, graphic novels have grown in literary and academic recognition and become one of the fastest-growing areas of publishing in the United States.

Many films and television shows have been based on comics and graphic novels, and the diversity of creators and the stories they tell have expanded to include multiple genres including autobiography, science fiction and fantasy, and nonfiction works. Graphic novels increasingly explore issues of gender, race, class, and economic and political justice.

This course will explore how graphic novels are created, how to understand and analyze these complex works, and the many types of graphic novels being published today. Although students will gain a greater understanding of this medium, the course will not include instruction in creating comics.

Students will read, discuss and analyze four graphic novels and two works on the theory and practice of comics. Also included are field trips to local arts venues that feature collections and other resources related to comics and graphic novels.

Throughout the two weeks of the program, students can expect to:

  • Gain knowledge of the range and diversity of graphic novels, explore this contemporary literary and artistic form and discover different artistic styles and narrative strategies.
  • Develop a conceptual vocabulary for analyzing diverse graphic novels, enabling students to write narrative and stylistic analyses.
  • Develop critical skills in thinking, writing, and discussion about graphic novels and apply those skills to analysis of cultural, social and political questions treated in those works.
  • Explore cross-cultural relationships between graphic novels and works in other media including digital, film and television, and performance such as theater.

This course is offered at the UMass Amherst campus as a residential program. Local students may apply to attend as a commuter.

N. C. Christopher Couch holds a PhD in art history from Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Latin American art and on graphic novels and comic art, including The Will Eisner Companion: The Pioneering Spirit of the Father of the Graphic Novel (with Stephen Weiner), Will Eisner: A Retrospective (with Peter Myer), Faces of Eternity: Masks of the Pre-Columbian Americas, and The Festival Cycle of the Aztec Codex Borbonicus.

He curated exhibitions at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library American Museum of Natural History, the Americas Society, the Oklahoma Air and Space Museum and the Smith College Museum of Art. He was senior editor at Kitchen Sink Press (Northampton), editor in chief at CPM Manga (New York, and has taught at Amherst, Columbia, Hampshire, Haverford, Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges, and the School of Visual Arts. Publications he edited won or were nominated for 17 Eisner and Harvey Awards, and he has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study, Dumbarton Oaks of Harvard University, and the Newberry Library. Current publications include the edited volume Conversations with Harvey Kurtzman, and a book on Batman artist and editorial cartoonist Jerry Robinson.