Comics Scholars Survey Results, November 1995

compiled by Peter M. Coogan

I. Academia

My questions here focused on where comics can be studied, and what libraries exist. Departments and programs mentioned included English, American Studies, Communication Arts, Sociology, Journalism, and Popular Culture. Amy Nyberg forwarded a list of schools at which dissertations dealing with comics had been granted:

Adelphi University
Bowling Green State University
Columbia University Teacher's College
Fordham University
Loyola University
New York University
Ohio State University
Rensselear Polytechnic Institute
United States International University
University of California-David
University of Denver
University of Texas at Austin

Amy recently finished her dissertation so the University of Wisconsin at Madison can be added to the list, as can as can Vanderbilt (Joe Witek), and the University of Maryland (Judith O'Sullivan). In 1996 Michigan State University should be on the list when my dissertation is finished.

Michigan State University has an excellent American Studies program and comic art research collection; I'd like to see more graduate students taking advantage of the facilities here. Additionally, I'm working on a proposal for a Center for Comics Studies at MSU; details as this develops.

Several doctoral students are working on their dissertations at various universities around the country, including the University of Connecticut (Gene Kannenberg and Charles Hatfield), the University of Michigan (Mark Rogers), and Texas Tech. University (Jeff Williams ), as well as may other places.

I.1. Where specifically are comics being studied, taught, and archived?
I.2. How are comics being used in education (what is being taught, how, and what materials are being used)?

Martin Barker "runs a full year's course on comics, covering most aspect" at the Bristol Polytechnic in Britain. He mentioned Paul Dawson's course on graphic novels, and Dave Huxley's use of comics in a graphics course (all three in the United Kingdom). Joseph Witek, at Stetson Univ ersity in Florida, regularly teaches courses using comics, as does Donald Ault. Jon Suter has taught graduate and undergraduate courses which focus on or incorporate comics as a part of popular culture courses. Tom Roberts presented "A Serious Course in the Comics" at the 1993 Comic Arts Conference.

Materials used include the two Smithsonian books, Will Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art, current issues of comics, and graphic novels. Understanding Comics is certainly in use by now.

The MSU collection has some comics course materials, but more is always appreciated. I'd like to build a comprehensive collection of syllabi and course materials so that models would be available for teachers who are trying to design such courses. Charle s Hatfield is working on an article for The Comics Journal on college level courses in comics, and Jeff Williams has sent out a call for papers on the topic for the 1995 PCA (see Comic Art Studies #53).

Luca Somigli raised several interesting issues. First, he has not had the opportunity as a graduate student to teach comics as a part of his Comparative Literature courses the way he has had with film and the figurative arts. Second, despite their problematic nature, an anthology of comics, a "Norton," which is not a canon, but could serve as "a way of bringing together a number of approaches to the medium for undergraduate teaching (different genres, comics from different time periods and geographical areas, comics that allow us to discuss questions of the representation of sexual, racial, ethnic, and class 'otherness,'" and the aesthetics of comics. He asked who would publish such an anthology, how would it be marketed, and do such texts follow or precede the acceptance of comics as a suitable medium for undergraduate teaching?

The Savanna College of Art and Design split off a Sequential Art department from its Illustration department in 1993 and offers both a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. in Sequential Art.

Randy Scott's book provides a list of comics collections in libraries, Comics Librarianship: A Handbook (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990), and his "Comics Research Libraries" lists 52 libraries. George Hagenauer is working on a Handbook for Collecting Comic Art and has tracked down about 250 collections of art and cartoonist papers in museum and university libraries. The Library of Congress recently began cataloging their comics collection based on the work Randy Scott has been performing diligently all these years. Washington State University has collected underground, newave, and small press comix since 1984. At present (1995) they have around 4000-5000 volumes, according to Steve Willis.

I.3. How can libraries be encouraged to build comics collections?

The responses here focused on finding comics friendly libraries (and schools by extension) and then generating donations. The collections at MSU and Bowling Green were both built on donations, including steady streams of material from Eclipse Comics and other publishers to MSU. Currently I'm working on institutionalizing MSU's place on the companies' comp lists.

Back to the Introduction and Survey Outline