This semester, I am teaching a literature and composition course. It has been a few years since I have taught a course like this, and this semester, I am approaching it a little bit differently. I have taught graphic nrratives in my courses before, but I have not used them exclusively. After hearing from a colleague who has done something similar, I thought I would do it this semester. So, I am framing the course around graphic memoirs, specifically ones that explore themes of memory and identity. Below, you will find the syllabus for the course. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.

Scott McCloud Understanding Comics

Course Description and Objectives:

Building on skills developed in English 1101, students will interpret and analyze thematically linked literary works and other texts. A grade of “C” is required to pass. Prerequisite: ENGL 1101 with a grade of “C” or better.

Graphic memoirs, essentially, are “autobiographical” texts that use the medium of comics “to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” Typically, you may not think about comics or graphic texts as “literature,” but in this class we will look at them as literary texts. As a result, we will interrogate how exactly we define terms such as “literature” and “autobiography.” What do these terms mean? Who decides what they mean? This will be part of our exploration this semester.

In this course, we will look at graphic memoirs and secondary texts to think about a myriad of questions. Some of these will include the following: What does home mean? What effect does memory have on our lives? How do we create our own stories? How do we construct our own identity? These are not all of the questions we will think about this semester, but they are some of the broader ones we will explore. 

Throughout the course, we will read graphic memoirs by George Takei, Lucy Knisley, and more. While we will work with the questions presented earlier, the course will help you increase your critical thinking and critical reading skills as we examine both form and theme of literary texts. You will work on various projects over the course of the semester that will increase your knowledge of literary terms and your ability to apply them to a literary research assignment which will help you enhance your writing skills.

Primary Texts:

Secondary Texts:**

*—I will provide text **—I will provide secondary readings via Canvas

Lucy Knisley An Age of License


As you can see from the tentative schedule, we will begin defining graphic memoir and learning terminology to read graphic narratives. Following this, we will look at different graphic memoirs and discuss them both thematically and stylistically. Along with this, you will be required to write three papers: two short responses and a final paper. The final paper will be written in conjunction with the “Graphic Memoir Presentation,” a project where you will create a section of your own graphic memoir.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading:

  • Attendance and Participation                                              5%
  • Assignments and Conferences                                           15%
  • Essay #1                                                                                  15%
  • Essay #2                                                                                  15%
  • Final Paper                                                                            30%
  • Graphic Memoir Presentation                                           20%
Kristen Radtke Imagine Wanting Only This

Attendance and In-Class Participation Although I believe that as adults you should have control over your own education, attendance is vital to your success in this course. Much of your learning and work will take place in class, and you will be involved in discussing the readings in class. To fully comprehend and hopefully appreciate the texts, you should come to class fully prepared. This means you should have read the homework and completed any assignments for class.

You will be held accountable to the following attendance policy: 4 or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of FA (failure due to absences). If you have an excused absence—e.g., university-sponsored trip, doctor’s visit—you must provide verification to the course instructor, in writing, no later than one week after the absence occurs. Tardiness is disruptive and disrespectful to your peers and to the teacher. Every two instances of tardiness (defined as 5 minutes late or more) will be counted as one absence.

Daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities. There will be small group discussions during classes and other activities that will be part of this grade.

Assignments and Conferences—Throughout the semester, we will have both in-class and online assignments. These will include posting topics online, answering questions, or other such activities. As well, we will have conferences for each paper. These will be mandatory because they allow us to discuss your essays in a smaller setting, giving us more time to work through your questions.

EssaysThe essays will each be between 750-1000 words. They will highlight your engagement with the course material through your use of argument, sources, and critical thinking. For each, you must have a succinct argument and support the argument with examples from both primary and secondary texts.   

Final Paper—The final paper will be an extension of the essays. Yet, it will be a little different. For the final paper, you need to think about how you would construct a graphic memoir based on what we have read and learned throughout the course of the semester. You will use primary and secondary sources to discuss how you would construct a few pages of your own graphic memoir.

Graphic Memoir Presentation—At the end of the semester, you will create a few pages of your very own graphic memoir. This can be done without any ability to draw. For example, you can use page layouts from online and incorporate pictures. We will walk through how to do this, and I will do one right alongside you as part of the final presentation. 

George Takei They Called Us Enemy

Classroom Conduct

Students should conduct themselves in a manner respectful of themselves, their classmates, and me. While we may discuss controversial or potentially offensive issues, and class discussions may well involve differences of opinion, students are to conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Discussion will be a key part of our class. As an open classroom, we will listen to the ideas of all students with thoughtfulness. You are encouraged to challenge ideas, but not each other. In this classroom, we are equal. We will adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination of any kind.

Craig Thompson Blankets

Tentative Readings for English 1102

January 6Intro to Course and Syllabus
January 8McCloud “The Vocabulary of Comics”
January 10McCloud “Blood in the Gutter”
January 13McCloud “Show and Tell”
January 15“Judgement Day,” “The Slave Ship,” and “The Teacher from Mars”* Introduce Essay #1
January 17Whitted “‘Battling in the sea of comics’: EC’s Invisible Man and the Jim Crow Future of ‘Judgement Day’”*
January 20Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
January 22MLA Day: research and plagiarism
January 24Finish MLA: Locating secondary sources, discussion of essay #1, work on finding sources
January 27Chute “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative”
January 29Jones My Life in Movies Jones “Commentary on the Graphic Memoir”
January 31Selections from Smith’s The Journey Essay #1 Topic Due
February 3In Class Writing Day (Bring essays to class so you can ask questions)
February 5Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
February 7Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
February 10Knisley An Age of License Essay #1 Due
February 12Knisley An Age of License
February 14Knisley An Age of License Whitman “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”*
February 17Radtke Imagine Wanting Only This Introduce Essay #2
February 19Radtke Imagine Wanting Only This Wordsworth “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”
February 21Radtke Imagine Wanting Only This Krug “‘It’s Sad, but Not Crazy’—Memory as Construction/Performance in Graphic Memoirs”
February 24In Class Writing and Research Day (Bring essays to class so you can ask questions) Essay #2 Topic Due
February 26In Class Writing Day (Bring essays to class so you can ask questions)
February 28Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
March 2Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
March 4Dres We Won’t See Auschwitz Essay #2 Due
March 6Dres We Won’t See Auschwitz
March 9Spring Break!
March 11Spring Break!
March 13Spring Break!
March 16Dres We Won’t See Auschwitz Introduce Final Essay
March 18Watch Karen K. video on Youtube*
March 20Takei They Called Us Enemy
March 23Takei They Called Us Enemy
March 25Takei They Called Us Enemy Railton“Everything Japanese Internment Got Wrong”
March 27In Class Writing Day Graphic Memoir/Final Essay Topic Due
March 30Thompson Blankets
April 1Thompson Blankets
April 3Thompson Blankets
April 6Thompson Blankets
April 8Stevens “The Beautiful Ambiguities of Blankets: Comics Representation and Religious Art”  
April 10Good Friday!
April 13TBD
April 15TBD
April 17TBD
April 20In Class Writing Day (Bring essays to class so you can ask questions)
April 22Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
April 24Conference Day (Bring drafts of essay to class)
April 27Final Essay Due Graphic Memoir Presentations
April 29Graphic Memoir Presentations

7 Comments on “Literature and Composition Graphic Memoirs Syllabus

  1. I love this idea. Graphic memoirs present a new way for people to understand and express their lives, as well as for the reader to understand others’ lives. They make history, both personal and societal, more accessible to the average person who might not otherwise pick up a book on such a topic and, as such, they provoke feelings of empathy and sympathy that may lie unknowingly dormant in those uneducated on the topics these memoirs cover. I’ve read Blankets and I have They Called Us Enemy on my reading list for this year, but I’m excited to check out the other reads you’ve assigned. This sounds like an excellent class!


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