Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the theme of my fall course. Initially, I wanted to do a course on “neo-slave” narratives, interrogating that term and looking at texts such as Robert Jones, Jr.’s The Prophets, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and more. While I still want to teach this course, my focus started to shift the more I thought about the upcoming semester. Now, I am teaching a course entitled “Monsters, Race, and Comics” looking at the ways that Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, and Jewish authors and artists use the gothic and horror to push back against the conservative inclinations of the gothic tradition. I’m still formulating this course, but in this post I want to share an early iteration that I am thinking about right now.

Course Overview

Writing about the Gothic, Robert K. Martin notes that is “most often a politically conservative form that gives expression to the anxieties of a class threatened with violent dissolution.” If we think about this framing within the context of nineteenth century authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, then the Gothic strands that arose during the ENlightenment and Romanticism fit this position. Poe’s stories, such as “Hop-Frog or the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs,” couch “politically conservative” fears underneath the veneer of horror. In “Hop-Frog,” the fear of insurrection by enslaved individuals lies underneath the surface. Even with this history, though, Black, Asian, Latinx, and Indigenous use the Gothic to push back against the tropes that present people of color as ghouls and monsters that threaten “violent dissolution” of the prevailing system.

Theodore Gross, in 1971, noted that African American texts “instinctively adopted the Gothic tradition of American literature and given its supernatural and surrealistic characteristics a realistic basis, founded on the actual lives often lived in the Gothic manner, that is indeed terrifying.” We see this in narratives by enslaved individuals such as Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, Mary Prince, and Harriett Jacobs. For Jacobs, the crawl space in the roof of her grandmother’s house feels like something out of Poe’s stories, confining her, both physically and psychologically. However, Jacobs’ experiences were not fiction. They were fact. They were, as Maisha Wester puts it, her “gothic existence.”

Tracing the Gothic thread to the nineteenth century in African American literature, Wester also notes, “As white authors metaphorise discourses of racial difference in the genre and politicians applied the genre’s tropes to actual (enslaved) minorities, defining minorities as monstorous and thus unfit for an equal place in society, black writers began to appropriate the genre to describe the real horrors of existence within racially oppressive and enslaving societies.” This resistance carries on today through texts such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved and films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us or in music videos such as Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire.”

One of the main spaces of resistance occurs in comics and graphic novels. As such, this course will look at the ways that authors and artists deploy the Gothic in sequential art to speak to the current moment, the past, and to resist the historical threads of the Gothic’s legacy. We will read various works in this course including Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander’s Killadelphia; Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan’s Deathlok; Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low, Woods; Pornask Picetshote and Aaron Campbell’s Infidel; and more.

Primary Texts:

  • Barnes, Rodney and Jason Shawn Alexander. Killadeplhia, Vol. 1 Sins of the Father
  • Barnes, Rodney and Jason Shawn Alexander. Killadeplhia, Vol. 2: Burn Baby Burn
  • Elysee, Greg Anderson, Walter Ostlie, Lee Milewski, and Joshua Cozine. Is’nana the Were-Spider, Vol. 1: Forgotten Stories.
  • Elysee, Greg Anderson, Walter Ostlie, Lee Milewski, and Joshua Cozine. Is’nana the Were-Spider, Vol. 2: The Hornet’s Web.
  • Lavalle, Victor and Dietrich Smith. Destroyer.
  • Machado, Carmen Maria. “The Husband Stitch.”
  • Machado, Carmen Maria and Dani. The Low, Low Woods.
  • McDuffie, Dwayne and Denys Cowan. Deathlok: The Souls of Cyberfolk.
  • Pornsak, Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell. Infidel.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat”
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. “Hop-Frog or the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs”
  • Taboo and Scott Eaton. Werewolf by Night: New Wolf Rising.

Secondary Texts:

  • Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Talented Tenth.”
  • Du Bois W.E.B. Selections from The Souls of Black Folk.
  • Morrison, Toni. Selections from Playing in the Dark.
  • Selections from Twenty-First-Century Gothic: an Edinburgh Companion edited by Maisha Wester and Xavier Aldana Reyes

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Online Assignments and Participation                                    10%
  • Quizzes                                                                                           10%
  • Annotated Bibliography                                 20%
  • Wiki                                                                                                 20%                            
  • Research Paper (6-8 pgs.)                                                            20%
  • Final Exam                                                                                     20%

Online Assignments and In-Class ParticipationThis class will use Moodle to post responses to readings and to informally discuss readings in small groups. Along with this, Moodle will also serve as a repository for terms that will be discussed in class. The online grade will come from the responses and discussions. Along with this portion of the grade, please be aware that 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.

Quizzes—Periodically we will have quizzes on the texts we read in class. These quizzes will occur at the beginning of class and they will consist of five questions. Quizzes cannot be made up if they are missed.

Annotated BibliographyAnnotated bibliographies are common in academic writing; in fact, entire books of nothing but annotated sources exist. For this bibliography, you must have five to six credible sources (journal articles, books, credible/academic Internet sources, or magazine articles) and annotations for each source. Each annotation must be between 150-300 words.  

Wiki—The wiki will be a collaborative project that the entire class can view. It will be constructed on Canvas, and there will be one for others texts that connect to our overall theme. Some possible texts will be Bitter Root, Curse, or Box of Bones. Each text will have a group of four students that will construct a wiki with a title page, notes, allusions or references, questions about the text, a review of the text, and a creative page. The wikis will be graded when we cover the text in class.

Research PaperFor this assignment, each student will select a text that we have covered in class and construct an analytical paper on some aspect of the text. The paper needs to be 6 to 8 pages in length, and it must contain 3 secondary sources along with the primary text. The secondary sources should be scholarly articles, essays, or book chapters published since 1990 on the text chosen. The essay can be an extension of a topic that a short response paper explores, but it does not have to be.

Final ExamThe final exam will consist of definition/identification questions, short answer questions, and long essay questions. Only the works we discuss in class or that I otherwise specify will be covered on the exam. Please bring a large blue book to each exam period.

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