Asking the question “Why Comics Studies?” is like asking the question “Why Cinema, Television, Game, or Media Studies?”
Promoting the Spring 2011 Edition of Cinema Journal, which featured An article by Angela Ndalianis on reasons for Comic Studies, Project Muse noted:
As a medium, comics are older than film, television, and video games, and yet there has been resistance from within the academy to the serious study and analysis of this medium. While there are many proto-comic examples, as a phenomenon of mass culture the comic form is believed to have originated in 1894. ‘Hogan’s Alley’, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, began as a single-panel comic first published in Truth magazine in 1894, and one of its characters, the Yellow Kid, would soon become the main character in what were the first comic strips. 1 Others followed in the Yellow Kid’s wake, including ‘The Katzenjammer Kids’ (1897), created by Rudolph Dirks and drawn by Harold H. Knerr, and the astounding work of Winsor McCay, whose early comic strips included ‘Tales of the Jungle Imps’ by Felix Fiddle (1903), ‘Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ (1904-1913), ‘Little Sammy Sneeze’ (1904-1906), and ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland'(1905-1914).
Perhaps the negative attitude toward comics has historical roots tied specifically to the comic book form. In Western culture, the comic book’s early association with the superhero genre (with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics in 1938) brought with it a large, youth-oriented audience. Despite its immense popularity, the public perception for a long time was that comics were a kid’s medium-or, more specifically, a young boy’s medium. As such, it was generally perceived (in higher circles, of course) as the lowliest of popular culture media.
While the article focuses on US comics, the sentiments justifying the study of the medium can are applicable to comics globally.
There is no formal apprenticeship scheme for comics writers, artists or editors in the UK but there are several British colleges offering courses and studies in the comics form. Here are some useful links.
If you’re a comics professional or educator, you may want to check out the Cartoon Classroom, which aims to provide a means of centralising all information available on the study of cartooning and sequential art in the UK and Ireland, and to facilitate easy access to tutors in these subjects for all recognised educational institutions.
The Cartoon Classroom notes that there are very few specialised courses entirely devoted to the study of cartoons or sequential art, but lessons in creating storyboards – the preparatory drawings used in TV and film-making – are common to many, and can help in learning how to create sequential art for other purposes.
Generally, illustration courses are the best option for any art college student wishing to pursue a future in comics or cartoons. If you study how to draw well, you can use that skill in any way you want to – to show the funny or the fantastic, the serious or the silly.
The Graphic Novel
The Arvon Foundation, Shropshire
Web Link: www.arvonfoundation.org/pc346.html
Sequential Design and Illustration MA (PGCert PGDip)
University of Brighton
Web Link: http://courses.brighton.ac.uk/course.php?cnum=216
Illustration: BA (Hons) and Illustration MA Authorial Practice
University College, Falmouth
Web Link: www.falmouth.ac.uk/302/courses-7/undergraduate-courses-42/illustration-bahons-174.html
Web Link: www.falmouth.ac.uk/201/courses-7/postgraduate-courses-43/illustration-authorial-practice-ma-77.html
BA (Hons) Professional Writing
University Centre Grimsby
A three-year, full-time Degree validated by Teesside University that gives the nationally unique opportunity for students to study – and practice – writing for comic books at Degree level, taught by experienced industry professionals. Year 1 features ‘Introduction to Sequential Art’ which covers the basics of the industry, how to deconstruct comic books and produce basic scripts. Year 2 includes an optional ‘Sequential Art Portfolio Development’ module, where students progress to the production of Licensed and Creator-Owned texts to a specific brief. Year 3’s ‘Final Major Project’ modules take this one step further, culminating in an 80-page Graphic Novel to industry standards.
For full details of the programme, please visit www.grimsby.ac.uk/highereducation/courseinformation.php?id=186000194801849 or contact Dr Chris Dows at firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing For The Graphic Novel and Drawing For The Graphic Novel
Short courses at Birkbeck College, London.
Web Link: www.bbk.ac.uk/study/ce/modules/FFME094H4.html
Comic Strip And Cartoon Art
Short courses at City University, London
Web Link: www.city.ac.uk/cae/cfa/writing_journalism/journalism_media/comic_cartoon_art.html
Comic Book Art For Beginners
Camberwell College of Arts, London
Web Link: www.camberwell.arts.ac.uk/shortcourses/sc_comic_book_art_for_beginners.htm
Three year degree in Sequential Illustration validated by the University of Bath
Web Link: www.swindon-college.ac.uk
Winchester School of Art
Web Link: www.wsa.soton.ac.uk
Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen
Web Link: www.graysdigitalmedia.co.uk
Starting September 2011: MLitt in Comic Studies
University of Dundee
Visit the Comics studies webpage or email the course runner Dr Chris Murray on c.murrayATdundee.ac.uk
The MLitt in Comic Studies programme, delivered on a one-year full time or two-year part time basis, is expected to appeal to local, national and international graduates with an interest in pursuing academic careers, or working in the media, the creative industries or publishing.
From September, graduates will have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the comics medium and the comics industry, and their relation to different genres, cultures, and media.
Dr Chris Murray says students will be required to think critically about these ideas, and develop an understanding of comics in the context of theory, politics and history.
“This is a very exciting time for comics scholarship, and I am delighted to be able to offer this postgraduate course on comics. This is a unique opportunity to give this important medium the attention it deserves, and to allow those with an interest in comics to study it in detail.
“I hope that this course will help forge the next generation of comics scholars, and may even help some students with creative ambitions to find their way into the highly competitive comics industry.”
One of the modules on offer will look at autobiographical comics, one of the fastest growing and critically acclaimed fields of comics production in the last 20 years, whilst another will look at the relationship between various international comics cultures, from Scottish publications, and the wider British context, to French, Russian, American, Japanese and Chinese comics.
An undergraduate module focusing on contemporary British comic writers and graphic novelists is already taught at Dundee, and the Masters programme will allow graduates with an interest in the comics to pursue this at postgraduate level. Those who want to progress further may even study for a PhD in comics once the MLItt is completed.
Those with an interest in the creative side of comics, either as a writer, artist, or both, will find the course very useful in terms of expanding their knowledge of the history of comics, and the artistic and literary potential of the medium. There will also be the opportunity to enhance practical skills related to the creation of comics.
The creative elements of the course will be delivered by Phillip Vaughan, a lecturer in Graphic Design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, part of the University. Mr Vaughan has a great deal of experience in animation, computer game design and comic art.
“As well as studying different genres, styles and uses of comics, there will be a focus on writing for comics,” says Dr. Murray, “with classes and workshops on scriptwriting skills as well as on artwork and the creative process.”
“A range of activities of interest to students, such as conferences, talks and workshops featuring some of the most influential figures from the comics industry, and worldwide experts on comics and graphic novels will support the academic work. These will be of great interest to students and will allow them to make contact with influential figures from within the industry.”
Dr. Murray also outlined how the degree could help anyone taking it up in terms of future employment.
“Employability is an important consideration for any postgraduate programme, and it lies at the heart of what we aim to do with this course. There will be practical advice on publishing and developing a career as a comics scholar, writer or artist, and we hope to arrange work placements for students.
“Comics and graphic novels are becoming an increasingly important form of literature, art and field of study, and it is our intention that our graduates are at the forefront either as researchers, writers, artists or filling other roles within the industry.”
Creative Writing Course
Edinburgh Napier University
This course includes writing for the graphic novel
Web Link: www.courses.napier.ac.uk/W54719.htm
BA (Hons) in Visual Communication
Glasgow School of Art
Web Link: www.gsa.ac.uk/gsa.cfm?pid=172
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD)
University of Dundee BA/BA Hons programmes in the School of Media Arts & Imaging – Animation, Illustration and Time Based Art & Digital Film
Web Link: www.imaging.dundee.ac.uk
BA in Illustration for Graphic Novels
Web Link: www.glyndwr.ac.uk
BA (Hons) Illustration for Graphic Novel
North Wales School of Art and Design, Wrexham
Web Link: www.newi.ac.uk/nwsad
AIH: Higher National Diploma in Illustration
Ballyfermot College Of Further Education, Dublin
Web Link: http://applications.bcfe.ie/courseinfo.php?course=48
Includes study of sequential art. Animation Courses also available