I integrate graphic narratives into most of my classes as one way to open up formal and methodological questions. For example, in my Documenting Mental Illness class, I had students read Ellen Forney’s graphic narrative about manic-depression, Marbles, as well as Una’s graphic narrative about sexual assault and trauma, Becoming Unbecoming. And in Cultures of Disability, students unpacked and read Chris Ware’s Building Stories. In all my classes, I encourage students to consider the form in which knowledge is presented and the methods used to gather and present evidence to back up an argument or tell a compelling story. I want students to think through the multiple ways that knowledge is produced, and I remind them that they too are knowledge producers. Because of their hybrid verbal and visual form, comics and graphic narratives thematize representation as a way of seeing, an active process rather than a reflection of reality, as John Berger described so well in another verbal/visual amalgamation, the television program and book Ways of Seeing.
[Image attribution and description. 1. on left: a still from Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis of Marji striking a Bruce Lee pose. 2. on right: A panel from Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening (p. 31). The drawing is a close-up of a pair of human eyes looking directly at the viewer. The caption describes the fact that because of the “distance separating our eyes…there is a difference between the view each produces.”]
This semester I am not just incorporating comics and graphic narratives into my classes, I am taking the form itself, and its related concepts, practices, histories, and methods as an object of study. I will do this in two classes—one a freshman seminar on Comics and Medicine for students in the Science and Society undergraduate college at Stony Brook and the other an upper-level topics seminar in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The freshman seminar will be a more focused study on the sub-genre/field near and dear to my heart, graphic medicine. The upper-level topics class, called Graphic Cultures, will be a more comprehensive approach that highlights how the hybrid form offers a way into practices of interdisciplinarity and intersectionality, which are so central to gender and sexuality studies.
Check out the syllabuses for these classes (and, yes, I did use comic sans font for both!).