Hello students—and curious others?. Listed below are the textbooks for my M/W section of English 333 this semester, Spring 2014. (For information on my other section of 333, which has an identity and reading list of its own, see The Graphic Self.) Of course there will be other required readings in class as well, in the form of online PDFs, handouts, and a couple of “floppy” comic books (i.e. comics magazines) that I’ll be providing free of charge. But the list below covers the bulk of our readings. I have listed them in what I think is likely to be their order of use, though that could change.
Most of the titles below will be available at CSUN’s Matador Bookstore. The two notable exceptions are Jed McGowan’s books, Lone Pine and Take Care, which we’ll be able to order directly from the author for a discount, using Paypal. Personally, I recommend shopping at a local comic book store, such as Earth-2 Comics here in Northridge.
Earth-2 is just one block south of the Reseda/Nordhoff intersection, at 8967 Reseda Blvd. (across the street from the 99-cent store and a few doors down from the IHOP). It’s about five minutes’ walk from campus, and I urge you to check it out.
Students, note that Earth-2 is offering a special discount to everyone in our class: 15 percent off all the books on our syllabus, and, in addition, 15 percent off your total first purchase at the shop, which may include other books not on our syllabus. Just be sure to bring your student ID and a copy of this page (or the handout I’ll be giving on the first day of class) to qualify for the discount. Bear in mind that Earth-2 may have to special order many of the books for you; odds are that they won’t have all of them in stock on a single day. But don’t worry—they’re fast. You can order your books there with confidence!
I should say something about costs. Of course comics do cost money (ouch!). It isn’t easy to keep down the costs of a class like 333, because comics don’t come in bargain-priced textbook editions. They are art books. That’s why a paperback graphic novel tends to cost more than a paperback novel in prose. Of course used copies will cost less than new, if you can find them, but bear in mind that some of the books listed below are too recent or too unusual to be widely available used.
My advice: shop carefully, both in person and online. Consider brick-and-mortar shops such as The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood as well as virtual shops such as Alibris.com, AbeBooks.com, Half.com, and of course the inescapable Amazon (do take shipping delays into account when ordering online).
Some 333 students have cut down on expenses by making book-sharing arrangements with classmates. Consider visiting Earth-2 or other shops with a trusted classmate and dividing the costs (the key word here, of course, is trusted). Bear in mind, though, that whenever we are discussing a text in class, you will be expected to have a copy to refer to. There will be times in class when you need to look at a text very closely and analytically, so sharing may become a challenge.
Again, I recommend Earth-2. They love comics, and what they don’t have in stock they can often order and get to the shop within a week or less. You could do worse than getting to know Carr, Darren, Robert, and everyone who works there! If, however, Earth-2 isn’t convenient for you, then consider some of the other comic shops in the L.A. area. While comic shops are usually unable to offer deep discounts (few will be able to match Earth-2’s offer of 15 percent), the best of them make up for it with expertise, enthusiasm, and service. They are almost always independently-owned small businesses, unlike the big chain bookstores, and they thrive on local support. Los Angeles boasts some highly acclaimed comic book shops, in fact among the very best in America (there may be more good comic shops in greater L.A. than in any other metroplex in the US). Getting to know such a store could be to your advantage! Bear in mind that, in addition to getting the texts below, you will be expected to review at least one recent book-length comic of your own choosing.
So, following are the books for 333. They are listed in likely order of use. All of them are required, except for one which is recommended only: Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, which I will be using as inspiration and springboard for many of our in-class cartooning exercises and which I believe can help you work on your minicomic project. Clicking on a picture below will take you, FYI, to the relevant page on Amazon or to the publisher’s website.
PS. A note about things we’re not covering this time:
This semester 333 will not be focusing on any particular market genre, such as the superhero, fantasy, memoir, romance, crime, war, children’s comics, or humor (etc. etc.). That doesn’t mean that I dislike or dismiss comics in these genres—far from it. Genres and genre fandom have been crucial to the history of the comics medium, and, speaking personally, they were vital to my experience as a comics reader too. It’s just that studying these genres is not a main goal of 333 as I’ve designed it—not this semester, anyway (heh).
Mind you, our readings this time do include memoir, historical fiction, SF, art comics, and shōjo manga, all distinct genres. They may also include brief examples of superhero comics, children’s humor, and other popular genres. I believe all kinds of comics deserve study. Charting the changing fortunes of comics genres, though, is not one of our purposes in 333 this time. Instead I want to steer our course toward, broadly, the whole world of English-language comics, and especially toward the careful study of comics form. I’m particularly interested this semester in moving 333 toward individual, highly personal work by authors determined to chart their own course, however quirky it may be—a focus consistent with our work at the L.A. Zine Fest in February.
Next school year I hope to teach, once again, my course on superhero comics. I’ve read thousands of superhero comics, and I like some of them quite a bit. That’s a very interesting genre. In fact my most recent book, The Superhero Reader (co-edited with Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester), includes critical writings about the genre from the 1930s all the way up to 2011, and basically tries to give the genre’s whole history in a nutshell. Whew! The book I did before that, Hand of Fire, released at the end of 2011, is devoted to the artist I consider the most interesting in superhero comics, the great and dizzying Jack Kirby. When I teach my superheroes course, I cover not only comics but also other media such as cinema, TV, and videogames—and as a result that course ends up being quite different from what 333 is doing this semester!
At the drop of a hat, I could name at least a dozen different comics courses I’d like to teach. Give me time.
This page is maintained by Charles Hatfield. Last updated on 21 Jan. 2014.