English R50

Freshman and Sophomore Studies: Grim Things That Must Be Told' -- The Graphic Novel in an Era of Human Rights

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2005 Hong, Christine
TTh 2-3:30 287 Dwinelle

Other Readings and Media

"(in chronological order, according to original date of publication): Okubo, Min�: Citizen 13660 (1946); Nakazawa, Keiji: Barefoot Gen (originally serialized under the title Hadashi no Gen, 1972-3); Spiegelman, Art: Complete Maus (1996); Satrapi, Mirjane: Persepolis (2003); Sacco, Joe: Safe Area Gorazde. (2000), Palestine (2003)

Secondary Texts: McCloud, Scott: Understanding Comics (1994); Gibaldi, Joseph: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, sixth edition (2003) "


"It performs the essential magic trick of all good narrative art: the characters come to living, breathing life. The drawing's greatest virtue is its straightforward, blunt sincerity. Its conviction and honesty allow you to believe in the unbelievable and impossible things that did, indeed happen. It is the inexorable art of the witness.'

--Art Spiegelman

In an essay on Keiji Nakazawa's early seventies' manga, Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, acclaimed 'commix' artist and teller of 'grim things that must be told,' Art Spiegelman, writes of his virtual encounter with the illustrated Hiroshima narrative: 'I've found myself remembering images and events from the Gen books with a clarity that made them seem like memories from my own life, rather than Nakazawa's.' By engaging the look of its reader/observer, the graphic novel fundamentally reconceives the usual role of the novelistic 'reader,' whose encounter with the 'commix' medium ('commix' as a co-mixture of word and image) cannot persuasively be defined solely along the lines of conventional textual reading strategies. Rather, the 'reader' of the graphic novel is placed in the performative role of an onlooker who is imaginatively present at the illustrated scene --'you are there with me' is the way a recent reviewer put it. A self-consciously hybrid genre, the graphic novel is a notably complex representational medium, powerfully combining telling and showing. Within this genre, the texts selected for this course may even be further distinguished by virtue of their investment in detailed --indeed, 'graphic' --exposure of mid-to-late twentieth-century human rights abuses, their at once personal and political content, and their solicitation of 'embedded' reading practices. These texts offer either an autobiographical or a firsthand observational portrait of human turmoil, suffering, and endurance, a portrait that is intensified by an urgent politics of witnessing --what Spiegelman calls the 'inexorable art of the witness.' Japanese American internment, the bombing of civilians in Hiroshima, the Nazi genocide of European Jews and its 'postmemorial' toll, the reactionary politics and social upheaval of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and the terror of life in a designated 'safe area' during the war in eastern Bosnia --all of these carefully observed, often deeply personal portraits of life in a time of crisis form the respective subject matter of the graphic novels that we will consider.

Requirements for the Course: This course is intended, above all, to give you the opportunity to hone your critical thinking skills as well as to strengthen and to refine the quality of your written expression. With graphic novels as the textual and visual interest of our course, we will focus on developing attentive 'reading' skills; staking interpretative, thoughtful claims based on foundational observations of each 'text'; and crafting written arguments (with, it should be added, a strong emphasis on substantial revisions of your original drafts). In addition to short responses, group journal-keeping, presentations, and participation (including one field-outing), you will write three papers (the first two with at least one revision). "

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