Graphic Novels Seminar Syllabus


IWP Creative Writing:  Graphic Novels Seminar 




Luis H Crosthwaite,Writer and Visiting Assistant Professor



Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Office:428 Phillips Hall.

Phone: 335-2822


Office Hours Fall 2011:

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 2:30-3:30.



Jose Manuel Trabado, Professor, University of León, Spain




Course Description


This course will link a group of readers, in Iowa and Leon, who are interested in exploring works by contemporary comic artist. Instructor writer and professor Luis Humberto Crosthwaite (Iowa) with Jose Manuel Trabado (Spain) will offer guidance and discussion points for the reading group.  From August 22 to December 9, participants in the class will read four books.  Students will contribute to a series of on-line discussions that will take place via the ICON website and be responsible for writing one or two creative writing pieces of their own. Two video conferences will take place over the duration of the course via Skype or other web-based technology. At the end of the semester, the products of the creative writing activities will be collected into an electronic anthology or e-book. All course activities will be conducted in English. 


This course does not meet in a regular classroom setting; rather, participants will communicate via email, ICON, and video conference calls. Grading for undergraduates is on a letter-grade basis.


Please note: It is your responsibility to read and follow this syllabus, which outlines all of the requirements for this course.  You must also provide a valid email address and familiarize yourself with ICON.  Email and ICON are the primary ways that you will learn about assignments and course deadlines. Students in this class are responsible for reviewing the material transmitted to them electronically.  Likewise, students will be responsible for uploading all of their written assignments via ICON for grading/evaluation.   


Required Texts & Deadlines


We’ll be reading one graphic novel each month.  At the end of the month, there will be various (at least five) discussion topics for participants to engage with. Participants are encouraged to respond to each other’s commentary and opinion.  These are our online “group meetings”.  In addition we will have two face-to-face video conferences during the semester. These will be live reading group discussions.


September Book: Joe Sacco, Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia.1992-1995, Fantagraphics Books, 2002.


October Book: Phoebe Gloeckner, A Child’s Life and Other Stories, Frog Ltd, Berkeley, 2000.


November Book: Max, Bardín the Superrealist, Fantagraphics Books. 2006.


December Book: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home, Mariner Books, 2006.


*Attending numerous activities at Obermann Humanities Symposium: Comics, Creativity, and Culture: Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives Fall 2011 (between 6-8 October) will be strongly recommended. Artists Joe Sacco and Phoebe Gloeckner will be during that dates in Iowa.


* For students in Iowa City area it will be a visit to the Iowa City Museum with co-curator Ana Merino to see the exhibit on original comic art, including works of the 4 artists on the reading list. Dates to be determinate.


Course Requirements


This course is an independent study opportunity, and so it will be conducted on a flexible schedule.  Participants will be asked to read and discuss the writing material posted online, to contribute to discussion threads on ICON (, and to produce a small portfolio of original pieces of creative writing that engage the themes and questions raised in the reading. 


Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, with Jose Manuel Trabado, will confer via e-mail to formulate discussion topics and writing activities to enrich and enhance the ongoing conversation. We have not orchestrated the writing activities in advance, because we would like these activities to arise organically from our discussions of the reading.  You are encouraged to communicate your needs and interests, as this course is designed to provide opportunities for individualized guidance and mentorship. 


Posting to the ICON discussion board


Instructors will post a topic or writing prompt to this discussion board. Students are expected to read these topics and comment on how their work may be influenced by this posted information.


At the final deadline, November 12, 2011, all discussions must be completed on ICON Your participation in the online discussion forums will be assessed as each discussion takes place.


Grading and Feedback


Grading for undergraduates is given on a letter-grade basis.  You will be evaluated on the strength of your participation in the ICON discussions, your level of engagement with the other students in the U.S. group and Spain, and your participation in at least ONE of the face to face video conferences.

Students with Disabilities


Instructors will make reasonable accommodations for students with physical, mental or learning disabilities. Students with disabilities that may require some modification of seating, testing, or other class requirements should visit their instructor during his or her office hours so that appropriate arrangements may be made. It is the student's responsibility to contact Student Disability Services, 3100 Burge Hall (335-1462), and obtain a Student Academic Accommodation Request form (SAAR). This form specifies what course accommodations are judged reasonable for a given student. An instructor who cannot provide the accommodations specified, or has concerns about the accommodations, must contact the Student Disability Services counselor who signed the request form within 48 hours of receiving the form from the student.


Academic Fraud


You are expected to be honest and honorable in your fulfillment of assignments and in test-taking situations. Academic fraud is a serious form of misconduct. A full explanation is given in the Student Academic Handbook:


An instructor who suspects a student of academic fraud must inform the student (in writing) as soon as possible after the incident has been observed or discovered. Instructors who detect cheating or plagiarism may decide, in consultation with the departmental executive officer, to reduce the student's grade on the assignment or the course, even to assign an F. In either case, the instructor will write an account of the chronology of the plagiarism or cheating incident for the departmental chair, who will send an endorsement of the written report of the case to University. A copy of the report will be sent to the student, who has the right to request a hearing within the Department and/or within the College.






Discussion Topics for Bardin the Superrrealist: November


Can all of you imagine a Bardín using American cultural references? Which ones would it be?


Compare the use of fiction on the creation of the Bardín character by Max versus the journalistic/autobiographical experience of the other artists (Sacco, Gloeckner)


Max is a full time comic artist that dedicates himself to the creative dimension of comics. Go through the website he has and try to define the type of creator he represents.


Share with us your thoughts and feelings after the reading of Bardín. Were you able to connect some stories with previous things that you already know?


Speak about the use of humor in Bardín stories.


Discussion Topics for Safe Area Goražde: September


Sacco’s book has been mentioned as a work of journalism. But taking into account that the author himself appears as a character, could this book be taken more as a form of autobiography or a travel book?


News stories require immediacy, but creating a comic book takes a lot of time. News tend to be ephemeral, but comics is an art form that aspires at permanency. Taking into account these ideas, what do you think is the function of Sacco’s book?


Are comic books  an adequate language to tell “reality stories” in this age when photography and television prevail?


Does the author draw himself with the same detail as he does with other characters?


In page 16 Sacco states that he uses the character “Edin” to help him put the pieces of the story together. What relation does this have with the fragmented structure of the book?


In a vignette on page 13, a girl asks Sacco “why did you come to Gorazde?” Given Sacco’s experiences in the book, what should be the response to this question?


Which are your favorite and least favorite characters? Please explain why.


Do you think the chapters dedicated to “silly girls” are relevant to the story?


Why do you think NATO and the Unites States were hesitant to intervene in the conflict?


Please write your general impressions on the book. View lectures of Joe Sacco.


Please comment Joe Sacco's views expressed in the video we posted of his presentation.


Discussion Topics for A Child's life: October


Please note: Your questions will be sent to Phoebe Gloeckner. She will respond to them.


As can be seen in stories like “Magda meets the little men in the woods”, the use of fairy tales has a substantial importance in structure. What do you think are their function in an autobiographical narration?


Many of Phoebe Gloeckner´s stories have deep traumatic content. It is a form of Loss of Innocence. Could you explain Beth´s change of attitude with respect to her daughter in the story “Honni soit qui mal y pense”, taking into account the contrast between the first and last vignettes.


There are many images with sexually explicit content. In one scene of “Hommage à Duchamp” there is a very clear intertextual reference. What differences can you observe in how the man (Duchamp) and the woman (Gloeckner) interpret the same theme?


“Minnie´s 3rd love” has been censored many times. Taking into account that Gloeckner has a strong influence in style from Robert Crumb, why do you think a story written by a women is censured while the underground transgressions of a man are celebrated?


“En famille” represents a change in narrative tone in regards to other stories in the book. Does it have any repercussion in the graphic style that Gloeckner uses?


Please provide a comment about page 32, where a women approaches Minnie to kiss her.


What do you think is the role of Phoebe Gloeckner´s background as a medical illustrator in her artistic language?



Discussion Topics for Fun Home: December (final paper)


Explain the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, and how it is used in Fun Home.


Throughout the book, Bruce Bechdel is compared to several characters, real and fictitious. Mention the way the author uses these comparisons.


On panel 22, why do you think the narrator says that the bar is lower for fathers than it is for mothers? Do you find this to be true in Fun Home?


On page 53, Alison throws a flag into the cornfield. Why does she call this action a "fleeting consolation"?


On page 98 the narrator states, "We were inversions of one another". Taking this into account, list the differences between Alison and her father, and explain the ones you think are more thought provoking.


Try to interpret Bruce's feelings when he says, "I'm bad. Not good like you" on page 153

By using more panels on pages 220 and 221, the author changes the rhythm in her narrative. Why do you think she does this? Couldn't she say the same thing using her usual method of paneling?


Using Fun Home as your main source, please define the following concepts:

  • Death
  • Family


  • Father


  • Love


  • Mother


  • Obsession


  • Sacrifice


  • Sexuality

And finally: State your general impressions about the book.

Upcoming Events

    Please check back for future events

Happening Now

Find Us Online