There are some many ways to learn more about the impact of comic books in our social paradigm. There are many books, podcast, and websites which delve into the way comics impact reading, how characters are used to symbolize ideals (both good and bad), and why creators create what they do.
I listen to podcasts and have read many books about comics, but when the opportunity arose to try a new learning approach, I jumped on board.
For the last 6 months, I participated in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through the Canvas Network, titled “Social Issues Through Comics” taught by Christina Blanch. Blanch’s background is in Anthropology and she has a doctorate degree in Higher Education from Ball State University.
We covered 5 topics in 5 months; addiction, environment, social inequity, immigration, and media, government intervention, and information privacy. The term “social issues” casts a huge net, but the nice aspect of the topics selected is that they focus on people, the environment, and the interactions and power struggles among people.
Each topic had four trades or original graphic novels to read along with a smattering of webcomics, a few academic papers, several websites and YouTube videos to take in along with the occasional “quiz” from a website. A lot of what I got out of the class was derived from the order in which I tackled these tasks. I usually read all the academic stuff, then the online lectures/videos, and finally read the comics themselves, and finally participate in the online discussions.
This lead to a few issues. I got the sense that many people decided to read the comics first, start the discussion, then read the more academic literature. As someone who participated in the reverse order, by the time I got around to discussing the comics, most people had already put in their two cents and moved on. This did not lead to healthy discussions among the group and I even recall one participant who even stated, hopefully, this is an ACTUAL discussion.
By far the best part of this course was the interviews with comic creators. On average there were four interviews per topic. It was amazing to hear the authors discuss what lead up to them writing stories focused on social issues, where their writing has gone from there, and what stories they are looking to tell in the future. As a Thor fan, I was extremely excited for the Jason Aaron interview. He has written many comics which deal with social and racial inequity (Southern Bastards and Scalped). Aaron made it apparent that his upbringing in the south had a huge impact on the content of his writing. At times the video quality was a bit poor and the live viewings tended to be mid-morning times, so I was only able to attend one recording live, which only enhanced the experience even more.
Overall, I would say if you have an extra few hours a week and are interested in discussing comics with other people who are interested in comics, a MOOC like this is right up your alley. Personally, I learned not only how many comics out there feature social issues, but also what life changing events lead to the creation of those comics. If you are looking for something more academic, I would not recommend a MOOC like this; however, several universities offer in depth online course for undergraduate or graduate credit.