Class: ENG 230: Introduction to Comics and Graphic Novels

Course Description: An introduction to comics and print culture, including historical development from the 19th-century comic strip to the freestanding graphic novel. Interpretation of visual form, narrative structure, and cultural impact. 

Professor of English Tracey Sedinger, Ph.D., developed a new course called Introduction to Comics and Graphic Novels and included input from UNC alumnus Colin McGuire ’20. 

Throughout the course, students explore many comic books and graphic novels old and new.

“The students have really latched onto it. They’re talking and making really cool observations that I never would have come up with,” says McGuire.

“Our students have such interesting things to say, so we just want to give them a vocabulary to be able to talk more about that — to think about why artists make certain choices,” Sedinger says.    

Sedinger and McGuire hope to illustrate the academic value of comic books and graphic novels. They believe the popularity of comics in the modern day makes them an especially important and relevant medium to study.   

“People read less and less but comics and graphic novels remain hugely popular. They’re incredibly influential and it just seemed like a logical thing to include in the English department’s offerings,” Sedinger says.   

McGuire explains that readership for print media in 2020 was down — except for comics, which were up. “I think it emphasizes that comics are not just something that’s happening over on the side. It’s an important medium that a lot of people are paying attention to.”   

Sedinger says “The Department of Truth” is a good example of comics addressing current topics. “It’s this really dark fantasy exploration of the fake news pandemic that we have going on and the danger that that poses to our democracy,”   

They also see comics as a valuable medium for giving a voice to groups who are often marginalized in the mainstream media.   

“I think comics and graphic novels have provided opportunities for people who are continuously underrepresented to be able to express and articulate their hopes, their dreams, what’s going wrong — their tragedies,” Sedinger says.   

McGuire explains that exploring and studying various mediums allows students to ask what sort of things are overrepresented or underrepresented in a particular medium, or a story and what things get glossed over. “It’s always important to be critical of the media you consume,” says McGuire. “You get messages from any sort of show or movie you watch, about what is right and what is wrong, and it’s important to think about what it’s saying and what it’s trying to tell you.” 

—Alani Casiano

Interested in reading more?
Here are  a few of the reading assignments from ENG 230:  

  • “Superman” (first issue)
  • “Wonder Woman”
  • “Invincible” (issue #12)
  • “Watchmen”
  • Neil Gaiman, “Sandman,” MND issue
  • Stjepan Sejic, “Sunstone,” Vol. 1
  • Lois Lowry and P. Craig Russell, “The Giver”
  • Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla, “Afterlife with  Archie: Escape from Riverdale”
  • Kat Leyh, “Thirsty Mermaids”
  • James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds, “Department of Truth,” Vol. 1: The End of the World