Nothing new to report about textbooks, so let's look at my first few steps in planning this class.
Step One! After I got the email confirming that I would be teaching a class about comics I got excited and started pulling books off the shelf. “They need to read Jim Woodring!” I said. “And I’ll need some examples of early comic strip art. And it wouldn't be a comics class without Jack Kirby. And Will Eisner. And . . ." And in a few minutes I had a huge pile of books sitting on my floor.
More books than I could realistically work with. Also, I had a tower that would make an extremely tempting target, and a toddler who would be home any minute. So after I took a picture, to document my progress, I put the books back on the shelf. Step One: Not a huge success.
Step Two! Choose a textbook. Step Two was easy--if you need a textbook for a comics class, you turn to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. I got a copy of Understanding Comics back when it first came out in 1993, and it opened my young mind to the infinite potential of the comics medium. Until last week I hadn’t read it in years. When I cracked it open again, I was pleased to learn that it actually is as good as I remember. McCloud takes full advantage of the comics medium to explain his ideas visually--the sequence with the pitcher, for instance, explains the relationship between form and content in a clear and intuitive way.
Now we're getting to some actual lesson planning. Assuming I can get the students copies of Understanding Comics, we can start at the beginning. Chapter 1 is all about finding a definition of comics. McCloud arrives at “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” McCloud explains some of those words, but he never defines "aesthetic." I don’t think many of my students will know that one, so I'll need to create a list of vocabulary words. From Chapter 1 I'm thinking aesthetic, form, content, medium, genre, juxtaposed, static, and deliberate.
Chapter 1 also goes into the history of comics. McCloud goes very big picture, focusing on ancient stuff like Egyptian art and the Bayeaux Tapestry. I get what he’s doing—he’s reclaiming comics’ forgotten history, showing that the artform has been around for a long time. But when he gets to the beginning of conventional comics history, the dawn of the newspaper comic strip, he glosses over it. I want to show students some classic newspaper comics, though, so I’ll need to supplement McCloud with other resources. It's time to pull the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics off the shelf. And some Little Nemo, and Krazy Kat, and, what do you know, we're back at Step One.