Visual Narrative: Manga to American Comics

Visual Narratives


Academic Team:
Ben Saunders (
First-Year Experience Seminar Instructor
Ella Gordon (
FIG Assistant

9 credits
UGST 109 First-Year Experience Seminar - 1 credit

CRN: 16288, W: 2:00pm-2:50pm, COL 45

ENG 280 Introduction to Comic Studies - 4 credits

CRN: 11905, TR: 10:00am-11:20am, LIB 101, +DIS: CRN: 11907, F: 10:00am-10:50am, ANS 191

JPN 250 Manga Millennium - 4 credits

CRN: 12990, MW: 4:00pm-5:20pm, WIL 110, +DIS: CRN: 12993, F: 1:00pm-1:50pm, PETR 102

About the FIG:

Students in this FIG will have the opportunity to study numerous examples of verbal-visual storytelling drawn from two nations — the United States and Japan — across a wide span of history.  Our discussions will consider the unique art of comics, its peculiar grammar, poetics, and appeal. We will develop and practice critical and intellectual tools for understanding and analyzing this rich and complex mode of storytelling. And we will even try our hand at creating our own visual narratives.

Students who participate in this FIG will acquire a transferrable toolkit of analytical methods and strategies leading to increased media literacy.  They will also acquire a deeper knowledge of both the origins and historical development of both American comics and Japanese Manga, and the specific achievements of some key creators within those traditions.  In addition, they will learn about the economic and material conditions of comic book production, and the range of comics forms (from picture scrolls to newspaper strips to the graphic novel and beyond).

ENG 280 Introduction to Comic Studies - CoreEd or major satisfying course

This course provides an introduction to the analysis of comics and graphic narratives in terms of their poetics, genres, forms, history, and the academic discipline of Comics Studies. Our multifaceted examination will balance close readings of primary texts with in-depth research and analysis of the development of the form in U.S. culture. By reading a range of comic-art forms (the newspaper strip, the comic book, the graphic novel, etc.), informed by several examples of contemporary comics scholarship, we will investigate the medium’s complex interplay of word and image as well as the role of cultural factors in the publication history of comics.

Fulfills A&L, English Major, Lower-Division Elective, English Minor, Comics Studies Minor

JPN 250 Manga Millennium - CoreEd or major satisfying course

This course looks at the thousand-year history of visual-verbal narratives – comics – in Japan. In particular we will concentrate on three forms of visual-verbal literature: the narrative picture scrolls of the classical and medieval period (ca. 11th-16th centuries), the “yellowback” comic books of the early modern period (18th-19th centuries), and the manga of the 20th-21st centuries.The course is organized around three major objectives. The first is to trace the development of visual-verbal literature from the earliest narrative picture scrolls to the most contemporary manga. Although we will be exploring the origins of manga (i.e., modern Japanese comics), equal weight will be given to premodern texts in order to illuminate the rich tradition of comics and comics-like narratives in Japan.

The second objective is to give students a one-term introduction to Japanese cultural history from the classical period to the present, with comics as the unifying thread. In the process this course will take in the popular culture elements that students may expect from a comics course. In addition, however, the history of visual-verbal narratives will lead students to encounters with some of the most important examples of high culture in Japan’s history. We will consider the relationship of comics to Japanese fiction, poetry, painting, printing, theater, and film.

The third objective is to locate a discussion of comics within larger discourses on humanities. Is comics studies closer to literary history or art history? How does it relate to theater and cinema? Are comics necessarily a form of popular culture, or can they be the products of an elite for an elite? What kinds of relationships can exist between text and image? Students will be asked to consider these and other disciplinary questions surrounding literary and comics studies.

All readings, lectures, and discussions will be conducted in English. No prior knowledge of Japan or Japanese is required. The course’s focus on defining comics as a medium, and relating it to other forms of cultural production, allow it to satisfy Group I – Arts and Letters – requirements. The course’s focus on visual-verbal narratives of Japan, a country whose cultural history is both widely divergent from and highly relevant to the experience of the modern West, allows it to satisfy the requirements for the International Cultures category of the multicultural category.

Meet your FIG Assistant and Instructor!