Graphic Forms

Comics Poetics

Danny Snelson

ENGL 129 | Prof. Daniel Scott Snelson | dsnelson @ humnet
Tuesdays & Thursdays | 3:30 – 5:35pm
.•°¤*(¯`★´¯) @ THE INTERNET (¯´★`¯)*¤°•.
Office Hours: danny snelson













This fully-online synchronous course explores expanded forms of comics—from traditional graphic novels to the most recent experiments in text and image through games and other media. Alongside a study of foundational works in comics and graphic novels, we’ll also survey recent publications in manga, memes, webcomics, light novels, and other experiments in graphic forms. What distinguishes comics from a range of emerging formats and genres online? How do the “sequential arts” continue to develop in dynamic digital environments? In each instance, this course attends to issues of representation in comics, including questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability in new modes of graphic storytelling. Students will also experiment with making their own critical comics and visual poetry. Throughout, we will read many comics and related forms, including, potentially, the work of Lynda Barry, Cardboard Computer, Eleanor Davis, Michael Deforge, Anna Haifisch, Akiko Higashimuro, Satoshi Kon, Scott McCloud, Trung Le Nguyen, Ben Passmore, Alec Robbins, Dan Salvato, Walter Kaheró:Ton Scott, David Sim, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Disa Wallander, George Wylesol, and ZA/UM, among others—up to and including those we discover together in the course of our study.

All students should purchase at least a few books—as many as you can afford—because it’s more fun to read on the page and it’s great to support all the comics publishers, bookstores, creators behind the works we study in this course. 

*That said*—every effort will be made to make high quality facsimiles of all books for this course freely accessible online. Where this might prove impossible, digital access may be found through Comixology or Amazon or elsewhere for a modest price.

Beyond this, a few games may need to be purchased, TBD.

As a general outline for the course, take note that these are broad strokes subject to change. This seminar is fully interactive, growing and responding to its users. Each week will build on previous weeks, class conversations, and the directions that our study happens to follow. The content of the syllabus will be updated regularly as a result, though the requirements will remain fixed. The syllabus will only be completed after we finish the course, and all research (including your own) has been collected

This course requires synchronous play during course sessions. I will not be “lecturing” on “Zoom” in a way that could be usefully recorded and accessed asynchronously at some later time. I aim to produce live and meaningful interactions despite virtual distance and technological mediation. We will break into Mozilla Hubs, Gather Town, Discord, and many other platforms (Minecraft?) in the search of collective experiment and active conversation—and will produce collaborative content that could not be made otherwise. For this reason, your “attendance” online is essential for the short 6-week intensive session. Repeated absences will cut into your percentages. 

If you cannot attend a meeting for any reason, please make arrangements with me before and after the session!

This seminar will develop critical and creative tactics for writing through, with, and for comics. Through a series of reaction experiments and collaborative comics productions, a substantial body of creative scholarship on comics, graphic novels, and other sequential arts will be generated. Alongside creative/critical production, students will learn new trends in comics studies and digital platforms. Particular attention will be paid to gender, race, class, and ability in comics studies. Technical and poetic proficiency will work hand-in-hand to develop new perspectives on the creative potential inherent to today’s innovative comics practices. 

Throughout this course, our central meeting place will be Discord. To the uninitiated, it’s a chat server that we’ll be using as our Course Management System (sorry, not sorry, CCLE). All news and information about the course will be conducted over Discord. An invitation and signup to the dedicated (private) server will occur on our first meeting. This is a platform for informal conversation, bi-weekly reaction comics, and advance preparation for seminar meetings and course experiments. Responsive posts are required.

Before each class session, we will all produce a short “reaction” to the reading—this may take many different forms, and the rules will vary as we experiment together (and in response to the specific work we study). In short, we’ll produce reaction comics: some response in sequential or graphic format. We’ll discuss and develop this aspect of the course over the first week, and further revision to the process of posting and sharing may respond to course use patterns as they develop.

We will be *playing* in a variety of modes—part of the course will be to learn how to work in these platforms. How does one have meaningful conversation in VR? What does a collaboration in Online Town look like? What collective works might emerge via Etherpad? Throughout, we’ll interrogate form and function of our technology alongside the comics we discuss each week. 

As such, the course will require access to a computer (more than a phone or tablet, preferably with a mouse) and adequate internet access in order to fully participate in the range of activities we will explore. If you have any questions or concerns about your setup, please feel free to write or meet with me at any time. 

This course aims to facilitate access to research and exploration across a variety of platforms. Please don’t hesitate to draw attention to any point of access that might be improved: from the volume of the conversation, the size of text, the digital access to the texts, and so forth. All possible accommodations will be made. Additionally, or for more information, you may contact the CAE at (310) 825-1501, or access the CAE website at

Course Actions Due Date % of Grade
Seminar Synchronicity & Play. (See descriptions above.) This is a collaboration-based course. We only get to meet on a handful of occasions this summer—your input before, after, and during each session is paramount to the course's function & collective success.
Reaction Comics. Each session will be preceded by the posting of a reaction comic to the featured work to our group Discord. This can be in any format, and will respond to course interests. Your timely engagement with these bi-weekly experiments will enable the ongoing conversation of the course. Please note that these are *experiments* in the fullest sense—you are expected to play, fail, discover, and surprise yourself. Shitty comics encouraged!!! Grades will be fully non-qualitative given timely assignment fulfillment.
Ongoing, due Monday and Wednesday evenings (before the next morning!)
Discord Server Interactions. Playful, constructive, collaborative, civil, expanding, informal conversation should characterize the "seminar room" that is Discord. This includes: gathering & sharing resources; responding to peers' works & sharing your own creative process; idle chatter; pet pictures; etc.

Before each session, you should at minimum share:
  • Your reaction comic and reflections on what it means in context with the readings, and how it makes meaning.

  • At least two responses to peers' works.

  • Something Else.
Ongoing, due before class meetings
Mozilla Hubs Room. Working in groups, you will produce a room for a comic or a curated set of comics in Mozilla Hubs. We can hang out there. It should encourage exploration. You'll give a group presentation on what the room means and how it does it.
Final Project. Any sequential argument. Following expanded comics, this is very open to interpretation: but it must *not* be a standard essay. Open format, open platform, full creative license. Play with a system we haven't had a chance to explore or develop a previous experiment into a full-fledged work. Must synthesize and respond to course materials & conversations. Collaboration, invention, exploration all encouraged. Group finals are entirely encouraged. We will develop the scale & scope of final projects in conversation, but a rough guideline might be to imagine the equivalent to 10 pages of academic writing.



Nº1 — 8.8 — Introductions & Setup

Zoom, Avatars, Syllabus, Discord, Ready Player Me, Mozilla Hubs. 

Various critical texts & related creative works will be appended to “Works” discussed the course. This column will keep track of related works, in-class reading excerpts, &other expanded materials in relation to the primary syllabus materials. Some of which are included in this stack:


Nº2 — 8.10 — Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons! (2017) + Making Comics excerpt

Opening session. Figuring out reaction comics. Discovering alternate forms. 


Nº3 — 8.15 — Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1994)

Nº4 — 8.17 — Tille Walden, On a Sunbeam (2018) 

Nº5 — 8.22 — David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp (2009)

Nº6 — 8.24 — Disa Wallander, Becoming Horses (2020)

Nº7 — 8.29 — George Wylesol, 2120 (2022) 

Nº8 — 8.31 — Richard McGuire, Here (2014)

Nº9 — 9.5 — Cardboard Computer, Kentucky Route Zero (2020)

Nº10+ — 9.7 — ZA/UM, Disco Elysium (2019)

Nº11 & 12 — 9.12 & 9.14 — Disco + CYO + Hub Presentations + Final Projects!