This post is about teaching. As I said when I started KinderComics, one of my goals in doing this blog is to brainstorm publicly about a course I'll be teaching this coming Fall 2018 semester at CSU Northridge: an English Honors seminar titled Comics, Childhood, and Children's Comics (English 392). Despite having taught at the intersection of comics and children's culture for years (including bringing comics into my entry-level Children's Literature class and designing courses on picture books that also explore comics), this upcoming Honors seminar marks the first time I've actually pitched a course devoted to children's comics per se. I'm excited about the prospect, and honestly a bit daunted by it too.
Why daunted? Comics and childhood, together, make for a sprawling, complex area—and perhaps you can tell from my course's title that I haven't yet committed to a particular focus. Which is to say that I haven't decided how to delimit the course or what objectives to put front and center. I've been thinking about those things for a while. Thing is, the students and I will have fifteen weeks together, which in practice, experience tells me, means about twelve weeks tops for introducing new readings. What's more, part of the brief for an Honors seminar with, say, between a dozen and twenty students is that the students take turns presenting to and teaching one another, sharing the results of deep, self-directed research (fitting challenges for an advanced course). So it seems clear that I'll have to make some severe choices when it comes to focusing down. Yow!
I've thought of at least four potential foci that are important to me:
All these areas seem important. Child characters are central to the satirical and sentimental uses of comics and to the form's popular spread; the history of moral panic is crucial to understanding comics' reputation, even now; the depiction of childhood in adult texts is key to the burgeoning alternative comics and graphic memoir canon, from Binky Brown to My Favorite Thing Is Monsters; and the sheer popularity of graphic novels for young readers today is a trend so dramatic as to throw all the other areas into a new light. So, the question for me is, what objectives do I want students to achieve as they work at the crossroads of comics and childhood?
With all this in mind, I'm inviting several of my close colleagues in children's comics studies to join me here in an intermittent series of posts that I'll call a Teaching Roundtable. This roundtable will amount to, again, brainstorming, and perhaps debating the importance of our different teaching objectives. First up, TOMORROW, will be Dr. Joe Sutliff Sanders, author of, among other things, the new book A Literature of Questions: Nonfiction for the Critical Child (U of Minnesota Press, 2018), editor of The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines are Not So Clear (UP of Mississippi, 2016), and faculty member at the Children's Literature Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Joe will be following up on this initial post -- readers, please come back tomorrow to follow and chime in on the discussion! Add your voices! Thanks.
WELCOME to KinderComics, a blog at the intersection of comics studies, childhood studies, and children's publishing.
Essentially, KinderComics will offer comics criticism and children's culture criticism. It will feature reviews and commentary centered on children's and young adult comics and picture books, children and young adults as readers, fans, and makers of comics, and depictions of childhood, adolescence, and coming of age in comics. Its content will consist mostly of brief reviews of recent graphic books, comic magazines, picture books, and other visual texts aimed at or depicting young people—but we will also include other things, such as longer essays, commentary, interviews, and link posts.
This blog is mainly the work of comics scholar Charles Hatfield, or See Hatfield—that's me.* It's a sequel of sorts to a column of mine that never quite jelled at The Comics Journal between 2011 and 2013 (if you're curious, see reviews here, here, here, and here). At the heart of KinderComics is my enthusiasm for comics and picture books as art forms, and my critical interest in the ongoing reception, or cultural construction, of comics as a medium "for" children. You may notice that I'm somewhat skeptical about certain topics that come up often in discussions of children's comics, including reading levels, developmental theory, and formal educational uses of comics. I don't mean to reject these topics outright—they are important—but I do tend to view them critically. I will be glad to learn from readers when I make mistakes about, or too quickly dismiss, these topics (or any topics!). At bottom, I'm less concerned about work that is prescribed to children because it is supposed to be "good for them," more concerned with work that I think is actually good.
Overall, I'm drawn to comics as a form of art and of text with its own traditions and aesthetics. I enjoy practicing the art of reviewing, and KinderComics is the place where I can share my thoughts about the part of my comics reading life that most directly concerns children and childhood. I hope I'll be able to post here once or twice monthly—and I plan to run a series of posts over the summer that will help me brainstorm and prep for my fall course "Comics, Childhood, and Children’s Comics."
If you love comics and take children's texts seriously, I hope KinderComics will be right up your alley. Again, welcome!
BTW, you can find (pretty much) this same introduction on our About page.
*Charles Hatfield is Professor of English at California State University, Northridge, the author or co-editor of four books in Comics Studies, curator of Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby (CSUN Art Galleries, 2015), and founding President of the Comics Studies Society. He has published essays on children's comics in the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, The Lion and the Unicorn, and ImageTexT and chapters in Keywords for Children's Literature (ed. Nel and Paul, NYU, 2011) and The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature (ed. Mickenberg and Vallone, Oxford, 2011). He currently serves on the Children's Literature Association Book Award committee.
See Hatfield, comics and children's culture scholar