A Comprehensive Intro to Comics

The first exciting week of Block 5 has drawn to a close, and I am thrilled to be back on campus for a new semester. Right now I am in EN280, Jewish Comics and Graphic Narrative, taught by Professor Jared Richman. This English department course explores the influence of Jewish artists on the comic industry in America, the history of the Jewish people, and the implications of comics as a medium of storytelling. I have been fascinated by the subject matter so far and am excited to be able to share my experiences!

We began the first day of class by approaching the question: “What is comics?” (Of note here is the plural form of the word “comic” used to refer to the artistic medium, comics). At its core, comics is a combination of pictures and words (images and text), to create a hybrid medium used for storytelling. Comics is often inappropriately characterized as a genre of literature, and we are often reminded in class that it stands as its own art form. This first discussion opened the door to our study of comic theory, for which we read comics artist Scott McCloud’s work, Understanding Comics. As our “textbook” for the course, Understanding Comics has provided a glimpse into the components and concepts that govern the medium. While very theoretical and abstract, this text has made me appreciate sequential art as more than just something fun to read; I’m beginning to understand the specific niches comics can access to reveal literary and human experiences in ways no other medium can.

Throughout the rest of Week One, we read landmark works by Jewish authors that reflect the Jewish experience of the early twentieth century. Will Eisner’s A Contract With God (1978) follows a Hasidic Jewish man who comes to reject his faith after his god betrays him by taking the life of his adopted daughter. James Sturm’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing (2001) explores race relations and religious differences in the interwar period and follows an all-Jewish baseball team, the Stars of David, as they travel across America. Finally, to end the week, we read Book I of Art Spiegelman’s landmark work, Maus, which is at once a biography, memoir, and history of Spiegelman’s family and the experiences of his parents, especially his father, in World War II and the Holocaust. These rich texts promoted extensive class discussions that will continue throughout the rest of the block.

That’s all to report from Week One. I am very excited to continue studying Jewish comics and history in Week Two. Thanks for reading!

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