POW! SOCK! CRACK! A Central Michigan University class paged through a course in comics this semester, which included flying to London without their superhero capes during spring break. The students will present at the second annual CMU ComiConference this month as a capstone experience.
“The class really appealed to me,” Parker Reitler, a biomedical sciences senior from Houston, said. “I have loved superheroes since I was a kid and was really interested in what the comics were like in foreign countries.”
The honors English course, titled “The Illustrated London: A Visual (and Literal) Tour of ‘The Smoke,’” focuses on the representation of London in comics and historically anchored graphic novels through a variety of periods of time and ideologies. Publications studied include “V for Vendetta,” “Miracleman,” “The Sandman,” “Britten and Brülightly,” and “FreakAngels.”
“These faculty-led study abroad trips are all about placing the students within the culture of the city, which I consider the real literature itself,” Associate Professor Joseph Michael Sommers said. “I wanted to let the students wander through the living, breathing pages of history in an effort to understand the textual artifacts they read.”
Clarkston junior Rachel Domagalski, a mathematics major, decided to take the class because of her appreciation for superheroes and the Sunday newspaper comics, as well as her desire to visit London.
“This class has taught me a lot about how the comic book medium is used to convey not only epic stories, but social and political commentary,” she said. “It was neat to see the places in person that our comics are centered around.”
Sophomore Kay Mick, a Clarkston art major, said the class taught her to look at comic books academically, and the trip abroad helped her put the comics in a real-world setting.
“Beforehand, it was hard to really conceptualize London because I'd never been there,” she said. “Now, I really have a feel for where they are and the context in which the characters exist.”
Honors scholars like Reitler, Domagalski and Mick comprise 4 percent of the CMU student body. Different special topics courses are offered each semester at CMU for approximately 800 honors scholars.
“Critical thought and global citizenship are key components of CMU's Honors Scholar Program core values,” Honors Program Director Phame Camarena said. “This unique course and conference advances both, as it helps our students to see the relationship between culture and graphic novels in new, more complex ways.”
The Honors Scholar students in Sommers’ class are diverse, including majors in biology, anthropology, family studies, art, sociology, social work, education and creative writing.
“Comics speak to everybody,” Sommers said. “We are at a high point in comics studies and public reception of the medium. It is a cultural phenomenon.”
The students will present their research at the second annual CMU ComiConference on Thursday, April 17.
“We’re going to have a live demonstration by a comic book writer and a comic book artist on the spot, showing how a writer and an artist collaborate on a panel,” Sommers said.
Notable comics scholar Matt Smith, an English professor from Wittenberg University, will present “Jack Kirby and the Technology of the Imagination.”
The conference is sponsored by CMU’s Honors Scholar Program, the CMU English department and Western Michigan University’s English department. There is no cost for students to attend. Learn more about the CMU ComiConference here. For additional information, email Sommers.