A common topic of discussion among my fellow English majors and creative writing students here at NAU is the limited classes offered that both appeal to them and focus on their creative writing emphasizes. If you’re not an English major and don’t understand this struggle, let me break it down for you. Many English classes are focused on teaching English, knocking out many available class options for those of us that want to be writers, publishers, or go into another area involving English and writing that does not involve teaching. This already limits us greatly, fueling my fellow English majors’ protests for more English classes that vary in both topic and appeal.
As Spring enrollment fast approaches, I am perplexed with the same challenge of picking English classes as I have faced every semester since transferring to NAU. Many of the available classes, as I mentioned before, are aimed towards those who want to teach English. Since I prefer writing rather than teaching, those options are already off the table. Eliminating the ones I’ve already taken and cannot repeat, leaves me with only a few classes, all of which don’t necessarily thrill me. Scrolling through the literature classes, I noticed the repeated topics that I’ve seen semester after semester. American Literature, British Literature, Popular Literature (which I’ve already taken), and so on. These are, in a sense, the cookie cutter literature classes, since I’ve seen similar subjects for literature classes offered time and time again at both NAU and my previous community college, Central Arizona College. However, one memorable literature class remains unique in that CAC offered it while NAU did not: A comic book literature class. (NOTE: According to CAC’s course catalog for 2017-2018, they continue to offer this course as an LIT266 class.) Not only would NAU offering a comic book literature class solve many English major’s qualms over limited class options, it would also appeal to many students, both current readers of comics and those who have never read a comic book in their lives.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NAU currently offers an honors class, HON 291 titled “Comic Books and Other Intermedia”. I am arguing for a comic book literature class offered to the general student body, one where you don’t need to be in the honors program to attend.
Comic books walk the fine line between being a piece of literature and simply being a form of entertainment. Ever since the first graphic novel was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 (Maus by Art Spiegelman), comic books and graphic novels have been beginning to be recognized as a form of literature due to their colorful commentary on a wide range of topics, from racial and sexual inequality to 9/11. This has even resulted in some colleges and universities creating comic book literature classes. But should NAU expand their English Literature classes to follow suit?
Comic books share similar traits as novels and films, since comics can be analyzed just like any other novel or film would. Comics and graphic novels have literary aspects, from subtexts to character development, though they also exhibit these aspects through illustration, hinting towards similar attributes as film shows. But, can they work well in your average literature class? Well, my previous comic book literature class, formally titled “Cultural Narratives in Comics and Graphic Novels”, taught me it could. From papers analyzing the texts to deep discussions reading the subtexts within the comics, the class ran similar to how a normal literature class would. We discussed topics such as how the X-Men’s mutants could be a metaphor for minorities, as well as how Marvel’s Civil War could be seen alluding to 9/11. The discussions and papers could be seen in any other literature class, specifically how they are required to analyze particular dialogues, themes, and sections of a novel, so why couldn’t those same methods of teaching a literature class be used for teaching comic books?
Another concern about offering a comic book literature class could possibly be a limited range of students that would actually want to take this class. Believe it or not, there were a wide assortment of students that attended CAC’s comic book literature class. From fans that have only seen Marvel and DC’s films to advent comic book readers, the class’s student base was diverse, even ranging in ages, genders, and majors. When I attended the class, I, myself, never read a comic book up until that point but was a fan of the superhero animated television shows, such as X-Men Evolution and Static Shock. If the class at CAC had a large turnout such as it did, why can’t NAU’s comic book literature class have a similar result?
Who would teach the class? The biggest obstacle in possibly getting this class green lighted would be finding an “expert” in comics to teach it. The easiest answer to that question is to bring in the professor teaching the honors course variation, Professor Rob Wallace. Another good option is reaching out to current English professors in the hopes that one might leap at the offer. NAU could even look outside of the school for such an expert. At that, I would gladly recommend my old professor, Stephen Puklin.
Even though the chances of an NAU administer with enough leverage actually reading this and being persuaded to enact this change is very low, students shouldn’t forget that we, too, have a voice that can enact change. Whether it be adding a comic book literature class to the list of offered classes or even simply adding more diverse English classes for English majors to take, action needs to be taken to cause some sort of change.
Picture - © Marvel.