About English 333

An introduction by Prof. Charles Hatfield

English 333 is a course at California State University, Northridge about comics—

Whoa! (courtesy dreamstime.com)Okay, stop right there! Note that the name “comics” is just a convenient tag. Comics don’t necessarily have to be comical, in the sense of funny. In fact across the world the art form has many other names, for example manga, manhwa, bande dessinée, fumetti, quadrinhos, and historietas. It has fancier names in English too: academic names such as graphic narrative and sequential art. For the sake of convenience, I call it comics (though at times you may hear/see me say something else).

—anyway, this course, 333, is part of the current explosion in comics studies, which is resulting in comics courses at many colleges and universities both in the U.S. and internationally. I developed this course between 2002 and 2004, then taught it in an experimental capacity annually from 2005 to 2008—after which it became a permanent part of the CSUN catalog. It was then, 2008, that the course got its lasting, official name, English 333: Comics and Graphic Novels.

The latest go-round for 333 is about to begin–i.e. this semester, Spring 2014. I’ll be teaching the course for the fifteenth time. In addition, I’ll be teaching a special Honors section of the course for the very first time—and Prof. Nikki Eschen will be teaching a section also, making her the first CSUN prof besides me to do the course! I’ve always wanted 333 to be a course that not only I but many faculty could teach—looks as if that’s starting to happen. 🙂

Here is the official catalog description I wrote for 333:

Preparatory: Completion of the lower division writing requirement. Study of comics, including comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels, from literary and cultural studies perspectives. Emphasis on both history and form, including image-text relationships. Topics may also include fan culture, particular genres of comics, and connections between comics and other forms of visual text. Critical writing required. (Available for General Education, Arts and Humanities)

This description is meant to be as wide-open as possible for an English course about comics, so that instructors can have the freedom to design and redesign the course as they think fit.

The thing to remember is that no single course can “cover” comics. The comics field is too wide and diverse to sum up in one semester’s worth, or even in several years’ worth, of study. We could build an entire minor or major around comics (ah, someday, someday, I hope) and still we would be forced to exclude some aspects. Out of necessity, then, courses like 333 have to focus down on particular aspects, i.e., specific issues, genres, styles, cultures, scenes, traditions, or research questions within comics. I tried to make sure that the catalog description of 333 would allow that kind of flexibility.

So, English 333 may have a different focus each time out. At times it may concentrate on classic comic strips, at other times contemporary graphic novels. At times it may stress specific market genres, at other times comics in a more general way. The precise focus and requirements for 333 are continually open to revision, within the broad parameters laid out in the catalog copy above. To get an idea of what my 333 is going to be like this semester, Spring 2014, visit the page Spring 2014 Focus.

Feel free to leave questions and comments here! I’ll be checking this blog regularly throughout Spring 2014 (i.e., between now, Jan. 22nd, and May 15th or so).


Lone Pine, by Jed McGowan

Credit where credit is due: The background and header images on this blog are from Jed McGowan‘s hypnotic and challenging 2010 comic, Lone Pine, which we’ll be reading in 333 this semester—and Jed will be visiting our class as well!

This page is maintained by Charles Hatfield. Last updated on 22 Jan. 2014.

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