Primer for “Developments in Comics Pedagogy” (MLA, January 8, 2016): Introduction

Next week, Friday, January 8, Keith McCleary at UC San Diego and I will be leading the roundtable “Developments in Comics Pedagogy” at the Austin, Texas, meeting of the Modern Language Association.

For the next few days, in preparation for our discussion, I will be writing about what led to this roundtable, recent approaches in the teaching of comics and graphic novels, and my own contributions to this discussion about pedagogy and visual texts. Abstracts and bios for all roundtable participants are available here.

“Developments in Comics Pedagogy” is a continuation of discussions started in 2013 with other scholars and teachers, with a few goals in mind: to consider comics outside of only literature classes; to recognize comics studies as not necessarily a new field but now a firmly entrenched part of studies of art and language; and to discuss the implementation of comics programs and comics departments at major universities.

At the 2013 meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, I had co-organized two sessions, a paper session “Panels and Pedagogy: Teaching the Graphic Novel” and a roundtable “Show and Tell: A Roundtable of Comic Book and Graphic Novel Creators.” In the process, I got in contact with K. Wayne Yang, who co-organized “Show and Tell” and who, for both sessions, solicited submissions from his colleagues and students at UC San Diego.

“Show and Tell” developed into an enthusiastic discussion that addressed the value of comics as something to create and something to read. Topics included self-publishing, organizing galleries, and, as has been integral to much recent scholarship, what it is about comics that makes them speak more personally to readers than other forms of art. For “Show and Tell,” Wayne’s colleague, Keith McCleary, served as co-chair, and, along with some of Wayne and Keith’s students from UC San Diego, discussed how students’ creation of comics allows writers to find new approaches to communicate. This roundtable was in tandem with my other session at NeMLA, “Panels and Pedagogy,” which expanded on such considerations about various strategies for using comics in the classroom. This session included a presentation from Elizabeth Losh, who we are lucky to have participating on our MLA 2016 roundtable.

What I found in working on the creators’ roundtable and the pedagogy panel at NeMLA was that, actually, the roundtable format would be conducive to address topics about teaching with engaged audiences. Speaking with Keith after the convention, we decided to continue this discussion about the value of teaching comics by organizing such a roundtable at the MLA–and we are grateful that the organization has given us this opportunity.

One point Keith and I have emphasized throughout planning and building this roundtable is that we do not want it to serve as only an introduction to comic studies. While recent publications still act as if comics studies came into being only yesterday, and while both of us do recognize that it is still a nascent field, we also recognize that the value of comics in the classroom is well established. And we think this point is demonstrated by the inclusion of roundtable participants such as Elizabeth Losh and Susan Kirtley, who have created programs within their departments and universities that focus on the study and uses of comics.

For these reasons, Keith and I made sure to structure “Developments in Comics Pedagogy” as a discussion about the many ways that such visual texts are used in a variety of courses. Our roundtable considers comics as a pedagogical tool outside of only literature classes. Our roundtable includes scholars whose teaching focuses on studies of language, popular culture, and creative and multimodal writing, and additional studies outside of the humanities.

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