Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Art Spiegelman once said “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.” While there is no doubt Collin College’s honors students can read, one professor hopes that drawing on the comic book world will help them become better writers as well.
J.D. Isip, professor of English and director of the Spring Creek Campus Honors Institute, plans to use comic books as a basis for an honors level English composition class this fall – CRN 17828 ENGL 1301.SH1. Isip said that modern comic books are a good fit because they are both fun to read and can be intellectually and emotionally complex enough to convey core concepts necessary for understanding ourselves as individuals and as writers.
College writing courses often focus on introspection and the students understanding themselves as people with unique perspectives. Students learn that their perspectives don’t always resonate with the reader and therefore they must use their words carefully to get their point across.
“Comic books offer a really great medium to translate that into, because they have introspective characters like Batman or Spider-Man, who are constantly thinking about how they are seen by the rest of the world,” Isip said. “The focus on comic books allows us to take a look at things like ideologies, racism, agency and literacy practices in a unique way.”
Far from the “funny books” that some people remember from their youth, modern comic books often delve into subject matter as timeless as the evils of discrimination, the struggle between individual need and the greater good, and the debate between national security and civil liberties.
That last theme underlies the main storyline of Mark Millar’s “Civil War,” one of the books Isip’s class will discuss. In the book, massive destruction in an American town turns the public’s opinion against superheroes, who are then forced to reveal their secret identities and work for the federal government or be jailed. While some join the government willingly, others refuse because, among other reasons, they see the new registration law as a power grab infringing on their rights as citizens.
Other readings Isip has planned are Frank Miller’s “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” and Brian Michael Bendis’ “Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1.” All of the comics are collected in bound full-run editions; together they cost far less than a standard textbook.
“Plus, students can enjoy these later on, unlike their regular textbooks, which they are trying to get rid of at the end of the semester,” Isip said.
The class will also feature some more traditional works seen in composition courses, pieces by Claudia Rankine, James Baldwin, and Junot Diaz, compared and contrasted to the themes being studied in the comic books.
“I have learned that students are more willing to write when you can spark their interest in a unique subject,” he said. “This is really no different from what composition professors have always done by finding more exciting texts in newspapers, magazines and online. A composition course is not so much about what we read as it is about how that reading makes us react and write.”
Isip said that if this class is a success, then he would like to expand it in a follow-up course. While this course focuses on Marvel Comics properties, others might look at those of DC Comics, independent comics, multicultural comics, or possibly of classic comic strips such as “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes.”
“The great thing is there is so much material and it is virtually untapped in the composition classroom,” he said. “It’s a really good way to get at a composition course because students are often challenged with things to write about.
“It’s my job to glean the deeper messages (in these books) and get my students to write smart things about deceptively ‘simple’ texts.”
Fall registration is now open. Learn more at www.collin.edu .