Comic books are not solely about superheroes anymore. Nor are they reserved for children.
Rather, they have become a younger generation's vehicle for expressing social consciousness. A course offered by the Freshman Seminar Program housed in USC College delves into the world of comic books, strips and graphic novels, allowing students to tell stories through pictures and graphics as well as text.
Students create comic books, exploring subjects that go far beyond tales of caped crusaders fighting super villains. In the two-unit course taught by William Feuer, associate professor of writing in the College, students Christina Yen and Drew Moxon, for example, produced a comic book about child abuse. In it, a foster child named Aislin must come to terms with disturbing memories of life with his biological parents.
“He’s learning to get over the trauma of his past,” said Yen, now a senior. “I was sort of interested in more psychological comics because a lot of action comics aren’t very psychological. We wanted to see how we could put the two together.”
In his class, Feuer discusses with his students the well-known graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, which recounts in comic form a man’s struggle to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. Students also examine the 2007 Academy Award-nominated animated film, Persepolis, which follows the story of a young girl as she comes of age during the Iranian Revolution.
Feuer, who is also a painter, believes that images are powerful tools for communication. The course teaches students how to process and critique images, he said.
“We’re barraged by images all the time: film, television, advertising,” Feuer said. “We have to be good readers of images because they have a rhetorical force. Right now, we have a separation going on. We have departments that look at text mostly: English, history and departments like that. And we have departments that look at images: art history and film departments. We tend to not merge the two. This course merges images and text with comic books.”
Feuer has been impressed with his students’ works, adding, “I’ve been enthralled by their ingenuity.”