Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting a Degree in Comics

Geeks of the world unite! Colleges are now analyzing comics in the classroom and even instituting programs for the study of them.

But only graduate student Kate McClancy came armed with an analysis of how an asylum in the Caped Crusader's world reflects the American debate over treatment of the mentally ill.

It's an obscure topic, to be sure. But Ms. McClancy's treatise was right at home at Comic-Con International, which was held here this past weekend.

Dozens of other scholars were tackling arcane subjects from "the geek as melodramatic hero" to "the problem of vigilante justice" in the famed graphic novel "Watchmen."

Just 15 years ago, many professors would have scoffed at the in-depth study of comics.

Now, comics are coming into their own in classrooms of all kinds, gaining an unprecedented level of respect and spawning serious debate over their greater meaning.

"Comics have changed. They're not the comics that we grew up with," says Peter Coogan, an organizer of the academic-oriented panels at Comic-Con.

"They can stand up to literary and critical analysis," he says.

Across the country, hundreds of professors and college students spend their days analyzing comics, and the University of Florida even allows postgraduate English students to specialize in comics studies.

I think this is great. Anyone who scoffs should read Watchmen, Sandman, Maus, and The Dark Knight Returns and then decide whether or not comics can convey just as serious a story as any other medium. Of course there will always be elitists, but most people eventually (hopefully) realize that the medium itself is not what's important, but what the author/artist does with it. I would hold Watchmen up as one of the best stories I have ever read and I've read a lot.

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