I recently had the chance to be able to talk about Art Spiegelman’s MAUS: A Survivor’s Tale in my English classes, using it as an example in different takes on critical writing, reading, and research-supported writing.
The point of this lesson was to highlight MAUS as an example of the different types of primary literature sources that can be encountered nowadays.
As an English teacher, I try not to let my cartooning side out too much, because while there are a lot of similarities between the two worlds, the introductory courses I’m teaching right now don’t necessarily have the openness to talk about the theory and composition aspect of reading comics.
However, doing my classes this year has allowed for a little bit of leeway, with some classes actually having comics as part of the readings lists. I talked about Scott McCloud and Lynda Barry and Frank Miller at one point in class (Barry’s actually come up several times in my recent classes both as a cartoonist as well as just a writer). It’s been interesting trying to explain the literary significance of these cartoonists and how their techniques can be interpreted just as much on a critical level as say, a nonfiction essay about politics or social media or environmentalism.
The MAUS lesson however, was a specific example of reading comics critically. I used it partially as a placeholder (as work was being done with midterm writing projects), but also as a bit of a segway into some of the more hardcore research-oriented writing that I’m going to have my students doing for the rest of the year. The lesson was applied in three ways;
- Comics as a serious form of literature
- Comic pages as a text that can be read critically (and how to do it)
- Comics as a medium that can be supported with research for critical analysis (just like “real” literature!”)
Interestingly, while I’ve used PowerPoint before even though I’m not a huge fan of it, the short slide collection I put together for this is is one of the first purely comics-related lesson plans & lectures I’ve done. I have to say, thinking back on how this lesson plan evolved, I’m quite proud of it.
The whole thing worked pretty well, I can tell that in using MAUS, some of the students were shocked at the subject material tackled here. I primarily used MAUS for a few reasons, the subject matter being one of them. However, the comic’s status in the canon (it’s Pulitzer status included) was another major factor in my using it instead of a text like say, Essex County, American Splendor, or Pluto (all of which are actually recommended by some of my textbooks as “serious” comics).
I’m hoping to get a chance to this this again in the future. However, at the same time I LOVE teaching English literature and writing focusing on nonfiction, fiction essays, plays, satire, and other works. I recently got to focus one lesson on Kurt Vonnegut, and another on “The Onion” as an example of critical reading.
I love that sort of stuff, I love it just as much as comics. It’s what I initially studied and I hope to be able to do it in the future. Maybe though, I can also get some comic teaching-related bones thrown my way as well.
SCAD/Kubert School/CCS, I’m looking at you!