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Comic Books, Geek Stuff, Interview

Graphic Novels 101: Undergraduate Courses in Geek Culture

We are seeing a growing trend of the mainstream looking to Geek and Gamer culture for ideas, inspiration, and the next big thing. Hollywood studios are churning out movies based on comic books because there is a solid business case to do so. There is already a solid fan base numbering close to the millions and historically they have been doing very well. This success has definitely garnered some prestige and accolades from professional groups such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. What is truly exciting is that the influence of Geek and Gamer culture does not stop there.

The academic community also takes notice of what our culture produces. This interest is growing beyond the studies within majors directly dealing with the motion pictures and art we create such as Communications, Radio/TV/Film, and Theatre. While there are entire colleges and universities devoted to majors like Sequential Art (comic books), Video Game animation, and Computer animation, the acceptance of Geek culture into traditional universities as curriculum is also on the rise.

Professor David Pryor

The University of the Incarnate Word recently joined the growing ranks of universities that are delving into Geek culture for content. The English Department offered for the first time in this year’s summer session a course surveying Graphic Novels. We sat down with Professor David Pryor, the instructor for the course, to learn a little bit more about this development.

What brought you to this particular subject?

Our department was looking for fresh subjects and saw that many other universities were having success with the Graphic novel, particularly since it’s interdisciplinary.

Interdisciplinary? So did you have a pretty good turn out?

I have about a dozen students and only 4 of them are English Majors … the others are from History, Psychology, Comm[unication] Arts.

So were there any hurdles to clear to get it approved?

The class had no problems getting approved.

Was Sequential Art (Graphic Novels and Comic Books) a subject/medium that you’ve always been interested in?

While I have never been a comic book junkie, I loved satirical comics, like Mad Magazine.  I loved the complexity of the panels, the symbols, the allusions.  Also, my dad had anthologies of Charles Addams’ cartoons [Addams Family] and I loved those, too.

How about the super-hero genre that people most often associate with sequential art?

I thought my least favorite material would be the superhero works, but I really liked 300, which I consider within the superhero genre. I appreciate Watchmen, but could have put it down.

So which books will the course cover?

We are covering Maus, Watchmen, Jimmy Corrigan, 300, Fun Home.  [I] haven’t read Jimmy Corrigan, but I really liked it when I skimmed it in preparation for the class.

Which of those books did you enjoy least?

I was underwhelmed by Maus, perhaps because of the image style. As for Watchmen, I love the art, but find the narration substandard when compared to literary texts.

How about the best?

I ADORED Fun Home, [which] is an engrossing autobiography about a lesbian with a bisexual father.

What about this book stood out from the rest?

It’s literary allusions make the work incredibly multilayered and Alison Bechdel’s prose narration is the most beautifully written of any of our works.

So what kind of assignments did you come up with?

My class is doing oral reports on the required texts and oral reports to introduce the class to other graphic novels.

That’s sounds really engaging.

Yes, each student is doing a research paper on a significant work or author and they are all doing their own graphic novel.

What does ‘Geek’ mean to you?

When I think of geeks, I think of technology. I have many geek friends and a geek son.

So you don’t consider yourself a Geek?

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a geek.  I’m a “tweener.”

Do you feel that the academic world takes Geek Culture seriously?

I believe the academic world realizes that technologies are exerting indisputable influences on the world of letters, so the Geek World is embraced. [One might be able to say] the university faculty is 95% geek.

[end interview]

I think that we can find many ways for Geek culture to influence other corners of higher education. Imagine reviewing the decisions of the Punisher in an Ethics class, evaluating the philosophies of Sandman, and even looking to Science Fiction for a discussion in Political Science. We are on the periphery of a world heavily influenced by our voices. The inception of classes like this in traditional universities is just the first step.

Do you think that more universities should offer courses like this? Do you think that Geek Culture only benefits the arts?



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