My graphic semester

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!).

Graphic Cultures syllabus sp18

Comics and Medicine syllabus sp18

Comics & Medicine freshman seminar

I’m teaching a freshman seminar on Comics & Medicine in the Science and Society undergraduate college at Stony Brook University this spring.

I’ve been working on the syllabus and here’s the almost-final draft:

Comics and Medicine syllabus

This is the description of the course from the syllabus:

In recent years, comics and graphic narratives have become a popular and innovative form for telling auto/biographical stories in a medium that artfully combines words and images. Our course will focus on one exciting sub-field of the form known as graphic medicine, which explores the conjuncture between comics and clinical medicine. We will discuss how comics and graphic narratives have become important resources for communicating a range of ethical and clinical issues related to the experience of illness, and how this hybrid verbal/visual form helps medical practitioners, patients, families, and caregivers creatively reimagine the boundaries of “health,” “illness,” “life,” and “death.” We will investigate the ways that graphic medicine/illness narratives can be read as symptomatic texts of our time in at least two respects: as texts that literally describe symptoms (and struggle with finding a form to describe the affective and physical experience of symptoms), and as texts that describe illness as an event that goes beyond any particular individual’s experience and account of it, reflecting wider cultural categories, including race, gender, class, and sexuality.

The image on the left is from David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger, and Marguerite van Cook’s 7 Miles a Second and the image on the right is from MK Czerwiec’s Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Both are portraits of the artists: in one, Czerwiec stands before and is dwarfed by one of the huge Keith Haring murals at Rush University where Czerwiec studied nursing; in the other, Romberger and van Cook portray Wojnarowicz at work spray-painting a canvas. Above the artist and his canvas, an image of Wojnarowicz’s lover Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS in 1987, looks down. After I initially mis-characterized this image as a Wojnarowicz self-portrait, Romberger kindly wrote to inform me that he and van Cook created it “informed by specifics that I knew well as his friend: the layout of his apartment and that he had that particular photo of Peter on the wall, that he is working on that particular hopeful painting he did of a cosmic scientist, and doing it wearing a protective mask, necessary for a person with AIDS working with aerosol paint and which also comments ironically on the text about him breathing the air his dead friends cannot.” The caption at the top is from Wojnarowicz’s writing and begins, “I’m acutely aware of myself alive and witnessing.”

These are two of the texts we will explore in Comics & Medicine. There is so much to say, as these two images of a page and panel suggest.