Christina Blanch, an adjunct professor at Ball State University, will be teaching a course entitled “Gender Through Comics” later this spring. That’s not necessarily anything new or exciting. Comics have been slowly gaining traction in universities for year. But there’s a twist. Christina’s course will be online, entirely free and feature some of the most talented creators in the industry.
If you’re not excited yet, let me try this again: Between April 2nd and May 10th, for only the price of the books you will read, you can join in a classroom setting with thousands of other students to study comics while engaging with guest lecturers including Brian K. Vaughan, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, Terry Moore, Matt Fraction and Mark Waid. If you need to change your pants, go ahead, I sure did.
The first purpose of this post is to inform and encourage readers who would be interested in taking advantage of this kind of opportunity. I’m really excited about going back to school in April and hope some of you will join me. If you’d like to sign up, follow this link: https://www.canvas.net/courses/gender-through-comic-books
The second purpose is to look at what this course and the public response to it means both for comics and education. I am by no means an expert in the world of education. As an undergrad, I studied economics and English. The expansion of college courses to the internet is an exiciting development, no matter what your background may be though. Massive open online courses (MOOC’s) have been increasing in popularity for the last several years. Universities like Yale and MIT offer classes ranging from formal logic to the works of Ernest Hemingway. The Economist wrote an excellent article about the possibilities offered by the development of MOOC’s: http://goo.gl/kWGbh Suffice it to say, that it allows for ordinary folks to seek quality education without massive costs or unwieldly schedules. Anyone working full time can appreciate how difficult it is to pursue higher education on top of a full-time job and MOOC’s change that at a fundamental level.
So for those of us that love comics, reading or gender studies, a course like this represents a chance to expand our knowledge and engage with experts and similarly interested individuals from across the world. The attendance of this course may help to reshape higher education as well. There has been a great deal of interest shown online about a course that is the first of its kind (besides the section Miss Blanch taught last year). It turns out that educated people really like comics. The success of this course not only encourages the growth of MOOC’s, it encourages other universities to offer courses covering comics.
As tuitition costs continue to grow, colleges will be forced to compete more aggressively with one another over students. One way this will be done is by offering new courses to attract students, instead of easily dismissing new fields of interest. Academics who refuse to embrace change are bound to fail in attracting new students, while those who are prepared to learn will gain more interest in their programs. Comics isn’t the only example of a subject deserving more attention, but it’s one of the best.
Comics has slowly gained momentum in its academic regard, but is still far from being treated as a peer to literature, poetry, painting, etc… Art Spiegelman receiving the Pulitzer prize for “Maus” in 1992 is a noteworthy watershed moment, but it seems the world of academia generally accepted “Maus” as a literary achievement, rather than accepting comics as their own unique medium deserving of recognition and study. There’s nothing wrong with “Maus” or “Watchmen” or “Footnotes in Gaza” being taught alongside novels. Comics deserve to be treated as something larger than a sub-section of an English department though.
Two years back, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offered a variant of their 20th Century Literature course which only used comics for course material. The section size was limited to 30 students and I was lucky enough to get a seat, as it filled very quickly. It is one of the courses I remember most fondly from my time at UNL. The classroom discussions were great and it was clear that the material challenged and engaged the class. The tools and knowledge developed by studying literature had to be applied alongside new concepts from books like Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”. I was left with the last impression that it should have been named “Introduction to Comics”. This material should not have been limited to one section of ENG 201. There should have been a 202, a 301, a 302, a 401, and so on. The works of Alan Moore could fill a semester as easily as the works of Hemingway (a bold claim and one I’m prepared to defend).
The only way we’ll ever see those courses or even the creations of an “Introduction to Comics” is by showing there is a call, a need for them to be taught. Christina Blanch with the help of so many great artists may be creating a new watershed moment for comics appreciation, one which clearly states there is a call and a need for comics education. The best part is that we can all be part of it.