Teaching in the Cartoon Library: Comics and American Culture

On April 26th, the Cartoon Library had the pleasure of hosting Ben Owen’s English 367.01: Language, Identity and Culture in the U.S. Experience, a second-year composition class that Owen structured around the study of comics. Throughout the course, students look at a wide variety of comics (from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival to selected pieces from the What Things Do website) to learn how to think and write about the medium analytically, as well as gaining an understanding of visual rhetoric.

The specific assignment that brought Ben Owen’s class into the Cartoon Library was on comics and social diversity in the United States- using the comics medium to understand the pluralistic nature of race, gender, class, ethnicity and religion, and how their own attitudes are shaped by these aspects of American society. To do so, students were instructed to use our multiple Cartoon Library search tools to find cartoon and comics work related to a topic that interests them within the American experience, with a chance to study them in person. They then had to do a 5-minute presentation in pecha kucha style to make a compelling argument about why their topic is important and how it can be understood through comics.

The results were fascinating, and students presented on everything from medicine to religion, World War II, Hurricane Katrina, and more. Curator Jenny Robb and I were lucky enough to be able to view some of the final presentations on May 24th, pictures of which can be seen below:

One student presented on Religion and Comics, opening his presentation with the religious themes in Jack Kirby's Captain America, and Siegel and Shuster's Superman

Student Nelson Ballard gave a 5 minute history of his life, and his experiences throughout America that led him to study medicine at OSU. Supported by the illustrations of Charles Bragg.

An excellent closing slide from a student presentation on Comics and World War II

We love having classes of any discipline visit the Cartoon Library, both from OSU and beyond! Professors, if you’re interested in doing a session with us, please contact cartoons@osu.edu with your schedule and subject matter.

Teaching in the Cartoon Library

During the winter quarter this year at OSU, we had the pleasure of hosting 9 classes from a variety of disciplines at the Cartoon Library. Each class was interested in exploring the significance and potential of comics and cartoons within the scope of their subject.

Curator Jenny Robb talking about editorial cartoons to Professor Soland's History 398: Introduction to Historical Thoughts & Methods

Among these classes were Prof. Ben Owen’s English 110: First Year English Composition; Prof. Suzanne Silver’s Art 470: Intermediate Drawing and Art 670: Advanced Drawing; Prof. Barry Shank’s Pop Culture Studies; Prof. Caitlin Stokes’ Art 205; Prof. Soland’s History 398: Introduction to Historical Thought and Methods;  Prof. Christine Ballengee Morris’ Art Education 367.01: Ethnic Arts, and Nicholas Hetrick’s World Literature class from Wellington High School.  Several of these classes also used our materials for specific assignments.

English 110.02: First-Year English Composition - Comics and Culture 

As a first-level composition course, the focus of Professor Owen’s class is on academic writing and revision. An introduction class that many of us are very familiar with from undergraduate studies, but with a unique spin on it: the focus is entirely on comics. The class explored everything from newspaper strips to web comics, graphic novels to avant-garde anthologies.

In Prof. Owen’s syllabus, he explains: “The medium of comics is one of clarity and compression—conveying the largest amount of information in the smallest space possible. When done well, a comic can convey a world of ideas without the reader even noticing.” … “The principle of analysis is that you can find out the most about an object by looking carefully at its individual parts and examining how those parts work together. Comics make for a particularly rewarding subject in this regard, because behind their deceptively simple, apparently kid-friendly surfaces, we can find out a great deal about the secrets of space, time, life, art, the universe, and everything. Moreover, at a time when culture is increasingly visual, and the basis of literacy has more and more to do with understanding how to present information spatially, comics offer sophisticated models for thinking and writing in space.”

During English 110′s trip to the Cartoon Library, they took a look at materials ranging from Kramer’s Ergot 7 to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. Having read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in class, their goal was to analyze one of the pieces pulled for them in the Cartoon Library in the context of one of McCloud’s theories about the medium, such as how the gutter is the defining feature of comics, how time works on a page, identification through simplification of ideas, etc. The end result is a two-page paper that looks at how the cartoonist uses the tools of the comics format to convey his or her message, and whether or not McCloud’s claims apply.  Students can either agree with McCloud and use the comic they selected as a primary source and Understanding Comics as their evidence, or disagree with McCloud, using Understanding Comics as their primary source and the comic as their evidence.  The purpose of Prof. Owen’s field trip and assignment is to get his students to look at a unique medium and position themselves in an academic debate on the subject.

 

Art 470 & 670: Intermediate & Advanced Drawing – Narrative, Art & Language

Professor Suzzane Silver brought both her Intermediate Drawing and Advanced Drawing classes to the Cartoon Library to take a look at language and narrative in comics. Most of the students were brand new to the medium, and became exposed to originals of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, Andrei Molotiu’s Abstract Comics anthology, Lynd Ward’s woodcut novels, the work of Kevin Huizenga, originals from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and much more.

In the syllabus for Prof. Silver’s class trip to the Cartoon Library, she asks the students to ”Create a series of drawings involving a form of narrative or anti-narrative. What is the relationship of narrative to the structure of the page? Is the structure sustained or subverted?”  The students took a particular interest in the Abstract Comics anthology, and the concept of using nonrepresentational shapes on a page in a way that presents a story arc, without any formal narrative in play. Their assignment included researching and presenting about an artist from a list provided by Prof. Silver including Henry Darger, Raymond Pettibon, Duchamp, Art Spiegelman.

If you are a professor and would like to bring your class into the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, we would love to have you–no matter the discipline! We are constantly finding new and exciting ways to connect comics and cartoon art to nearly every subject matter. We ask that you give us a minimum of one month advance notice to arrange a class visit or library tour, in order to make it the best possible experience for you and your students.  Contact us at cartoons@osu.edu and include the course name and number, your goals or objectives for the visit, the number of students and your preferred date or dates.  If you are interested in viewing specific materials, use our Search Tools to locate the object title, creator, and finding number or consult with a library staff member.