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Comics for the College Curriculum

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Keri Crist-Wagner

Staff Writer

Keri Crist-Wagner spends most of her time thinking about Harry Potter, comic books, and writing. She has a Master’s degree in English, specializing in viewing literature and pop culture through feminist, postmodern, and queer theory lenses, and her graduate thesis was a YA fantasy novella. Originally from Ohio, Keri has lived in Massachusetts, Iowa, and South Carolina, plying her trade at various institutions of higher education. When not contemplating the vast array of available reading options, she enjoys playing roller derby, cycling, and taking her dog Albus for walks. Twitter: @devil_longbtm

The practice of including comic books and graphic novels in college classes is not new. It’s also not the norm. Outside of the tried and true Persepolis and Maus, many college instructors have little familiarity with sequential art/storytelling, and figuring out where to start can be utterly intimidating. Below is a general offering of common subjects and some graphic novels that might fit nicely on their reading lists.


First Year Composition

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud is the single best primer for comics. It is an invaluable resource on the history, vocabulary, theory, and analysis of sequential art. Essentially, if you want to be able to talk about comics or do even the most cursory of close readings, you need this book.

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack by Tom Gauld serves up small bites of awesomeness. If you want to talk about a certain aspect of Literature, there’s probably at least one panel devoted to it within this book. Endless discussion opportunities.



March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of Congressman John Lewis. March is broken into three volumes, each marking a grouping of years in the fight for equality. The truth that shines through Lewis’s first hand account is both moving and heartbreaking.

Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura is loosely based on two Icelandic texts: The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Eric the Red, which detail what (some) historians believe were the first incidents of Viking exploration of North America. This is also a great first experience for those unfamiliar with manga.


Women’s Studies

InSexts by Margueritte Bennett and Ariela Kristantina is not for the squeamish. There is a great deal of gore and sex, sometimes at the same time. InSexts posits the question of what would happen if two women in Victorian England evolved into something monsteroulsy powerful and wreak powerful revenge upon those who oppressed them.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro is a what if story. What if women could be deemed “Non Compliant” for crimes such as aging, making choices, talking back, or being queer? Bitch Planet is the prison such women are sent to in this dystopian take on society run amok. Deconnick and De Landro draw on the exploitation films of the 1970s for style and punch up at the culture of thin, feminine, obedient women as the standard of perfection.



Good Tickle Brain by Mya Gosling is a website full of comics about Shakespeare. Highlights include several Death Clocks, which display the number of deaths that unfold within a given play (special props to Titus Andronicus), and the 3 Panel Plays.

Toil and Trouble by Mairghread Scott is a feminist retelling of Macbeth. Told from the perspective of Smertae, one of the three witches (or fates), the reader sees here-to-fore unknown scenes that play out before, during, and after the traditional timeline. Additionally there are discussion notes at the end.


Political Science

Prez by Mark Russell and Ben Caldwell imagines a world where POTUS is a teenage girl named Beth “Corndog Girl” Ross. Oh, and she was elected via Twitter. Filled with laughably absurd yet honest moments, this satire hits hard during the current election cycle.

Saga by Brian K. Vaugh and Fiona Staples is a lesson on power, corruption, and war disguised as a Space Opera. Saga follows an ever expanding family through the horrors of an unending war, made even more horrifying because of it’s “outsourced” nature, which pulls other planets into the conflict.



Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton, much like You’re Just Jealous of My Jetpack, is filled with cultural studies in bite size pieces. From Napoleon to the Straw Feminists, and chivalry to body image, Beaton sets societal norms on their ear in less than five pages.

Lady Killer by James S. Rich, Joelle Jones, and Laura Allred is terrifying. If Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch revealed that she was secretly an assassin for hire, and then violently murdered someone in front of you, that would just about explain the premise of this book. Within that complicated scenario however, is a critique of today’s society couched within the metaphor of the 1950s housewife.