I Am Professor William Kuskin teaching an open class titled "Comic Books and Graphic Novels" for 28,000+ students starting Monday. Let's talk comic books and the possible collapse of higher education. AMA!
I Am Professor William Kuskin, Chair of the English Department at the University of Colorado Boulder. I'm sitting in Boulder, Colorado, in my secret office just north of campus and putting the final touches on my Comic Book MOOC right now. I’ll answer anything people ask about the class or comics or Higher Education, or whatever.
EDIT: Heroes! This has been a lot of fun for me. It is four o'clock Boulder time, and so I am signing off. I will open the course as soon as possible, and I look forward to typing with you in the discussion forums:
Sign up here: https://www.coursera.org/course/comics Join us here: https://www.facebook.com/UCBComics
Proof: https://www.coursera.org/course/comics (username “Kuskin” is now in the course description)
Do check out the link below!
EDIT: DEAR LEGION OF HEROES!
I've been typing as fast as I can. I need to take "a little walk." As a teaser, here is the opening cover to the course! Follow the link--Image link: http://imgur.com/HCdM4rZ
EDIT: "soggy" Boulder. It's not really soggy at all. It's a beautiful day, as 99% of them really are!
Hi, rdentato! Thanks for writing. I've been looking forward to this course for a while. That's a good idea. We're going to do a bit more proofing today. If it looks sharp, I'll open it up and let people look around!
please please do... several course put materials in advance or one or two weeks and this makes a big difference. For example, I travel a lot and my work schedule is irregular, so having the chance of having the lecture before helps me when I have a busy week!
I see this is getting a lot of points. Will definitely get with my tech staff to open the course ASAP. When we do, I will send out an email.
Why do you think comic books and graphic novels are such a successful storytelling medium?
Great question, tyesterday. You know, my own feeling is that comics are like medieval manuscripts from the fifteenth century. They are best, best, best artform for the book. They are something to have and collect and sort of worship.
As the internet has made books only one medium of many for communication, the comic book has seized the format and exploded.
That said, a lot of the energy has to do with community. People need a community of the imagination. Comics provide the platform for that community.
I love this Medieval aspect and perspective...it ties to the one-page assignment you have stated. Like the old monks illustrating the letters of their manuscripts with story-driven art-work!!!
I'll tell you why I like them: I can learn new things. Example: Persepolis (Yes, I did read it in French). I learned a lot about the U.S. involvement in Iran and I got to practice my French. Another example: "Fagin the Jew" (Will Eisner). Never knew a thing about who Fagin really was in Dickens' "Oliver Twist". Never knew that sordid part of history. So, I get to learn and look at really good artwork at the same time.
Yes, that's great. You can learn things. And you can learn things about yourself as well. It goes in two directions. But very nicely said. Two great comics mentioned.
Do you think there's any chance we, as a class, could request a Google hangout with Neil Gaiman when Sandman: Overture is released at the end of the month? :-) When the series started 25+ years ago, it was the first comic I had ever read (I was 19 at the time) and to this say it still remains a favorite.
Brilliant idea. He's a very generous person. I will work on that.
Looking forward to the course. My question is about the collapse of higher education. I was in the phd program at UPenn's English Department (had to drop out because of severe depression unrelated to that). Anyway, I spent what free time I had trying to organize grad employees (we had already suffered the fatal(?) blow of the NLRB's decision deeming grad employees at private unis not actually employees, so our election results had been impounded and never counted). Anyway, I did a study of the school of arts and sciences, and more than 70% of the courses were taught by adjuncts. Any thoughts on the "casualization of academic labor"? Also, the year most of my cohort went on the job market, there were 3 tenure-track jobs in the entire country...
This is a major question. A major one, and a difficult one. You are not alone in your experience and your # of 70% is sad, but not inaccurate. I have to put my "chair of the department" hat on now to answer this.
I would say three things: 1. Higher Education has been in a process of change to adjunct labor for some time. This is a painful and unplanned process. 2. Nevertheless the mission of higher education--to educate, to ennoble, and to foster new research--remains the same. I do not believe that mission will go away. Ever.
- In terms of graduate education, the only wise thing is to try, but also set a time limit to how long you can afford to stay in. There is much to be gained from going to graduate school, taking lessons, and moving on.
Wowsa, this just got heavy.
Professor, in your study of comic book history, do you think that comics in general have been ahead of the curve when it comes to social, race, and gender issues? Or have they mostly lagged behind the times? Has comics really been a force for good or just entertainment for the masses?
Excellent, Jlgill. Complex question. I think, like all art, comics tend to throw a lot out there, so it's hard to generalize. Certainly race and gender have lagged, and continue to lag. There is a lot of racism and sexism in comics, no doubt.
But, one of the first comics, the first of the species, is William Hogarth's Four Stages of Cruelty (ca. 1750 or so, so pretty early in the scheme of things), and he's drawing and writing about animal rights, and gender abuse. So there it is—can't generalize.
Hey Prof. Kuskin! My brother and I are both taking your course and we're really looking forward to it. 28,000+ people is an incredible number. How do you feel about having an audience that large? Do you anticipate that students will suffer to some degree from the lack of intimacy you might expect from a classroom or lecture hall?
Hi, Joompah. Thanks for writing in. Yes, I agree, it's got to suffer that, a loss of intimacy. I signed on to this for two reasons: first, I think comics are anti-authoritarian and MOOCs are anti-authoritarian. It's a match I like, and I am so proud and humbled that the University of Colorado Boulder got behind this project.
Second, I really believe in the Humanities. I feel that even with the loss of intimacy, if some people can be exposed to thinking about BIG IDEAS AND BIG QUESTIONS through comics, they will have a better life. I believe that.
So, the cost is the intimacy. I like to learn all my studnets' names, and sweat their writing out with them. Obviously, I can't quite do that here.
Hear, Hear! to getting the word out to the masses. I am a 50 yr old optometrist and do not have time to return to college. Ive taken an astronomy course from Duke, a micro-economics course from U of Illinois and now will start a Humanities course from U of Boulder. Go Go MOOCs!!!
That's not as big a concern as one might think. I've heard professors say that MOOCs are more intimate than an audience of >50 people, since by that point they become an indistinguishable mass, whereas in a MOOC, a student listens to the professor and is unburdened by presence of others until he elects to be.
Secondly, there will be quite a few people whose names you'll learn, Professor. The active ones on the forums, the ones that will submit good comics of their own. Intimacy doesn't always require diminutive scale.
Yes! I'm really looking forward to meeting people.
I have taught an online version of the course for a few years. Not a MOOC, but a 20-25 person online class. I have found that class to be very, well—"intimate" implies the wrong thing—"personal."
I am hoping that I can use the discussion groups to do a little more personal teaching in this class. Set up some times, like this one, for personal interaction and critique.
Hello Professor - greetings from New Jersey. I got into comics as a way to teach my dyslexic 3rd grade son how to read. He is now a honor roll 7th grader! Hoping to gain further understanding and insight into the medium as I am still much the novice. Thank you for the opportunity.
Great. Bravo on the Honor Roll! You should be proud.
I think you'll see many ways of working on focus in this course.
Hi Prof. Kuskin, what is your favorite comic book series of all time?
Dark Knight Returns
It's maybe not the best comic book, and I disagree with almost everything Frank Miller has said of late, but boy, what a comic! I remember my first time reading it. It blew me away, and still does. (that said, I do have an enormous batman tattoo, so maybe I'm biased.)
So let,s talk. How will the writing assignment look like?
Hey, Posnikr! The writing assignments are very focused. They concentrate on one page from a comic, which you will be supplied with. The whole assignment is to focus in on that page and read it like a brilliant visual-textual poem.
To be honest with you (and whoever else is out there!), I developed the assignment--stole part of it--from my Chaucer mentor. It's my first attempt at making it work in a massive format.
We shall see!
Would the page in question be from a work that we would, at that point, have been expected to have read, or will it be taken out of the context of the comic itself? I think both assignments would be interesting, but am curious about what you have in mind.
So, I assign two essays in the course. The first one pulls some pages from comics I have discussed in my lectures. The second one, later in the semester, adds a few we don't discuss.
.... the point of the assignment is entirely to focus on the page. Each page is a little beautiful poem for you to tease apart. (I learned this from my doctoral director on Chaucer, back in the 1890s). So, really you don't need any more than a page.
It's hard to focus. I'll teach to you to focus.
So You can not give wilder approach to the topic just the materials which will be provided ?
Hi, posnikr. See above. It is a very narrow focus. But I promise, it will teach you to read depth in every page.
I really want you to stick to the materials. My goal is to teach depth, focus, and clarity in structure.
Hello Prof. Kuskin. Do you often read comics? Which comics recently published you would recommend for somebody?
I do read comics a lot.
I am really grooving on the work of Matt Kindt, Paul Pope, and Jeff Lemire. I stayed up and read all of Lemire's Sweet Tooth in trade paperback in one night recently.
I would recommend his Underwater Welder.
But you can't go wrong with Paul Pope's One Trick Rip Off. Really can't.
I am total newbie when it comes to comics. I haven't read many but I do want to start reading them and learn to appreciate them. Is this a good course to achieve that?
This is course for you. I've taught it many times, and my students always feel that it renews them. Welcome aboard!
Hi Prof. Kuskin. I'm also enrolled in the course, and can't wait for it to start.
- How many people are currently enrolled on the course?
- What are the assignments going to be like?
- What Comic Book/Graphic Novel would you recommend to someone who's looking to start reading them?
Good questions! 1. 28K 2. Two writing assignments, two multiple choice tests (easy), and making your own comic book! 3. Maus, Watchmen, and Dark Knight Returns. Plenty in those three to keep you very busy.
looking at the texts for this course I see a lot of old favorites. In fact I have read and reread them all many times, and even studied a couple of them in other courses I have taken. Given that I imagine that may be the case for many comic fans taking the course, have you considered creating a list of secondary readings/sources (including comics, regular books, or even cinema/tv) for each of the main books being studied that may expand on the theme/message/soul or the work? I'm seeking something new that could further my learning
So, this is an interesting question for me and hits at some of things I've had to rethink in moving the class into this format. As a bricks and mortar course aimed at 18-22 yearolds, I've taught it as a text-based course. All your old favs are quiet new to this generation of readers.
Redesigning the course for the MOOC, and especially with the focus of not requiring anyone to buy books, has forced me to spend time contextualizing and focusing my readings.
So, I do hope that in providing context, I provide some new favorites. That said, I cannot claim to know everything at all. You may know many texts and much history I do not.
My fall back, is that I also hope to introduce a way of reading and asking questions that shows these old favs to a new light.
How big will the comic book have to be? I have some ideas of varying lengths, but would need to work out some details ahead of time.
So, four pages + cover is the basic assignment. More pages will be rewarded with extra credit.
What got you into comics?
Hey, easterislandstatue (great username, by the way): my mom read them to me in Central Park in NYC as a kid. Then I would go home and cut them into little playsets at home.... thousands of silver age playsets.
I stopped reading when I was in grad school. Became a bit of snob.
Then, about ten years ago, I went through a rough patch, and wandered into a comic shop in New Orleans. Couldn't believe how it all developed.
From there, I was hooked again.
How will this class prepare students for their future careers and lives?
This is a brilliant, question, Salacious!
I have a lot to say on this topic. And first, I'll say this: a few of my students have gone on to try to make comics their careers, so that's a direct application.
But! I really want to say this: the study of art--and I mean comics as art--is critical, and I mean critical to a good life. Comics are great this way, because they are an easily accessible art form. Why? Because art gives us life to study. Each comic book page is a problem set, and writing about the page is way of analyzing a problem set.
I'm enrolled in the class. At the time I enrolled, comics were just an interest of mine. Within the past couple months, I've actually been hired as an editor for comics. Looking at comics through an academic lens will only better my understanding of them, which will help me as an editor!
Professor, I enjoyed and was very much in agreement with your assessment of sequential arts and its place in literature/culture. Would you suggest your course to any prospective graphic novel creators?
Yes, actually. My course is chiefly analytic and historical, but my main contention is that no one writes (or draws) alone—that is, no one can drop into a living artform without recognizing the history of that artform, it's experience through time.
So, I can only hope that my lectures expand that history a little bit. I know that I have learned a lot putting them together.
What program/tool will we use to make our own comic? Will we need special software or computer platform?
No, you will not. You'll need to figure out how to scan your documents and upload them. That's it. In fact, there is nothing better than a comic made with pencil, ink, and paper, and then scanned in.
Since you are located in Boulder, Colorado how have the floods effected you? I know CU was closed for a while.
Well, Boulder did take a hit. The surrounding towns as well--Lyons, Longmont, Estes Park, Nederland, and so forth. Very, very sad.
The university reacted tremendously. We were closed for two days, but got back going quickly, and are running like a top now. It was a very impressive reaction.
I was fine. A bit wet, but fine. Thank you for asking.
Hi prof, I know the course covers the history of American comics and reviews graphic novels circulating in the U. S. but are you going to talk about the differences/similarities with and the cross-influences between other cultures comics, as the European or the Japanese and how those interactions help to provide a global-worldwide culture.
Hi, luisbalaguer! This is something that I've struggled with, for many a night. This course is really focused on US comics. There is so much to cover that it really takes me seven weeks. In a different course.... there are many possible topics!
Hi, luisbalaguer! This is something that I've struggled with, for many a night. This course is really focused on US comics. There is so much to cover that it really takes me seven weeks. In a different course.... there are many possible topics!
Hello, Professor Kuskin! I'm very excited for this course. Two questions: 1) How exactly did you come to decide on what materials to use for the class? 2) What comic books/graphic novels didn't make the cut for the course that you would suggest people read?
Whew! There are a lot of questions here, and I read yours and meant to answer it earlier because it is a very good one.
So, here is what I think, and I have to say this with some humility because the comics world is a huge one with a great knowledge base.
- I believe there has emerged over the past ten years a clear literary history and canon of American comics. I think my syllabus reflects this canon, and I think it is fair to say that it would be a shame for a student of comics not to know the comics I list off.
That said, nobody--NOBODY--is going to be happy with my selections because comics are very emotional and because, well, any list is going to be partial.
- I am sad that I've left out Persepolis--it didn't make my final cut--I am sad too that Grant Morrison's work is not really going to be represented. I would have liked to spend even more time on the underground scene, and on alternative comics, particularly Los Bros Hernandez (wikipedia them if you are not familiar). You will see that that lecture is a long one.
Ultimately, I think you can see from all the enthusiasm on this reddit that there is much passionate in comics.
No one will be particularly happy with my list, but I hope everybody is generally happy that the course is being taught!
Why do comics gravitate towards "capes?"
What, you don't wear one when you're relaxing...
I am an academic librarian looking forward to this class - a departure from my usual routine...borrowed most of the books from my daughter and ready to go!
Excellent! I hope that you get a kick from the course and that it filters into your librarian ship.
why are american comics serialized such that what you buy at the store is just a single series? why are american comics not sold in anthologies, as japanese comics are? were american comics once sold in anthologies, and if so, what happened to them?
Hi, Choubugioxkel. This is a fascinating question, that I think comes down to the way comics have always been distributed. American comics began as a throw-away literature reprinting newspaper "funnies" and so they have always been seen as ephemeral.
My sense is that the so-called Graphic Novel revolution has made a lot of change here, and that a lot of readers now wait for the anthologies. I know I do.
How does the industry feel about the current trend in Hollywood movies based on comics?
Hey, dontjudgemefood. I think the industry--the mainstream industry--owned as they are by movie companies, and plenty happy. Mainstream comics are always tilting to bankruptcy. Ouch.
I haven't taken any literature courses since I was an undergrad 35 years ago. Now as a biology professor, I want to expand my horizons on an enjoyable course and this looks like it!
Great! Welcome aboard!
Hi, Prof. Kuskin. I'm a huge graphic novel fan (especially Alan Moore's work). I already have a good background in graphic novels and I'm very excited about your course. I just wish to know the level of detail we will adopt to read texts like Maus and Watchmen - will it be a basic analysis or in-depth, taking into account historical events (Maus) or other pop-culture and historical references (as in Watchmen)?
Hey, Oneiros. (gulp).
Okay, in this course, I try to split the difference. Set up the text with one large scale question, and then really focus on as tightly as I can on a single page.
I ask the same of you in the papers (which I describe in one of the threads below).
I much favor in-depth close reading of the page. That's my into each comic.
where is the medium going? what is your prediction for the next big thing in comics?
Very good question, Bambi_stars. What does Adama say in Battlestar Glactica? "I don't do hypotheticals?" It's a wise statement.
I've been mulling over where I think the energy is, though, and I think that there is a lot of energy in creators, like Pope, Lemire, and Kindt, who are moving in and out of the superhero and "alternative comics" genre. What I mean to say is that I think so-called mainstream superhero comics have tremendous force and importance to the comics community, but it's not necessarily where the best or most adventurous work is being done. So I look to people who did not start that way bringing a new perspective in.
Hello Mr. Kuskin. I'm new in coursera. This is going to be my first course. If we miss a lesson will there be any material in order to close the gap?
i believe all the lectures will be on coursera as long as the class is. not sure if that answers your question.
Well answered, almightypoodle! Yes, I believe that is true. You can enter into the course late, drop out for a bit, and come back and learn at your own pace.
How on earth will you be able to respond to 28,000 students. Do you have powers you've not yet revealed?
Galactus is my TA.
Have you thought of mentioning independent lengthy comics in the course such as Jeff Smith's Bone and Dave Sim's Cerebus?
Just mentioned Cerebus in recording my lectures last sunday. It's a brief mention, but the independent comics movement is powerful.
Hello Prof. Kuskin,
Do you think text — dialogues, captions etc. — are mandatory for comics to qualify as comics? People have argued that storyboards or wordless novels, picture books, or even, back in time, scrolls, are all forms of comics. Would you agree to that, will your course propose a definition for comics; or do you think that definitions are beside the point? Thank you.
There are so many great questions here! It's hard to type fast enough.
So, there are many wordless books that qualify as comics and are wonderful stories.
You know, HoaSi, I really do think definitions are besides the point. Arguing about definitions is a lot of fun, but ultimately it slows down the imaginative investigation. Comics are part of a larger combination of literature and artwork, of storytelling through books--and I mean books here really broadly, for an ipad is a book—that has been going on for thousands of years.
That said, I sort of do think the page—combining the cartoon, the strip, and the multiple strips stacked up—is the minimum requirement. Less than a page suggests a cartoon strip, which I think is somewhat different.
Will you be touching on any non-capes-&-cowls graphic novels, such as Essex County by Jeff Lemire?
Boy, Dollinha, I haven't read "Essex County." I just read my way through Sweet Tooth, and you can bet that I'll be buying this soon!
Thanks for the tip. (and there, just for the record, I sure haven't read everything).
But, looking over the reading list, superheroes only get part time in this course. There is so much out there that doesn't involve them....
Hi, Prof. Kushin!
I am a non-graphic novel reader but my 15 year old has piles everywhere. He is very curious about your lectures. I figured that after I watched them (and approved), he could watch too. A little mom and son bonding. Maybe I can figure out what he is talking about. :) Then I won't embarrass him at RI Comic Con. Nope, still that will happen.
I am a bit worried about the 'make your own comic book' bit. Not much creativity or art skills here.
I was editing some lectures last Wednesday, and I thought, "boy, I hope some people watch these together, in the evening, chatting their way threw them... like watching TV together." So, I do hope that you and your son get into them a bit.
Week three gets a little heavy, sexually. I certainly wouldn't have been embarrassed when I was 15, but I would have been a bit embarrassed if I was watching with my Mom!
This is my first approach to comic books and graphic novels. I am very excited to start but also I feel a little intimidated. Do you have any advice for your "non-background" students?
Please do not feel intimidated. First, comics are for everybody. They are not about rites of passage or about warehouses of knowledge. They are about the imagination.
Second, the MOOC should be challenging and engaging, but it is also for everyone. It is not about being the brightest or about being perfect in any way. (Lord knows, you will discover that I am imperfect!).
In a nutshell, this course is about thinking about some great stories and taking some personal risks.
Hi Prof. Kuskin. I'm enrolled in the course and I'm really looking forward for it to begin. Question: will you put some material in advance (some coursera courses do) so that we can take advantage of the weekend?
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