Thursday, January 12, 2023

Social Justice and the Teaching of Comics at San Diego State University: A Case History Focused on "I/Eyegasm 21st Century Comics, Photography, Cinema, and Cultural Studies"

Written by Dr. William Anthony Nericcio, Director, MALAS, the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor, English and Comparative Literature, SDSU -- Nericcio is also the publisher of Amatl Comix, the comix studies imprint at SDSU Press.

s I faced the prospect of teaching an English 157 Comics and History course for the third time at SDSU, I was hit with a wave of trepidation: how could I teach the course differently this term? After all, I did not want to fall into a rut. The first iteration of the class had been entitled
The Virus Eye/I and had debuted to around 150 students in the fall of 2020. The next iteration of the class, also to some 140 plus students was a little out there--it was called Psychedelic Mirrors: Sex, Drugs, and Rocknroll in the Age of the Televisual. Now I had gotten word, Fall 2022, that the class registrations had been growing and that I would be teaching 270 students in the class--I had to redouble my efforts and hit it out of the park and I had to do so in way that was true to the mission of the class, part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, “Building a Comics and Social Justice Curriculum,” co-directed by Elizabeth Pollard and Pamela Jackson, both of whom also lead our university’s Center for Comics Studies.

I called this third try "I/Eyegasm 21st Century Comics, Photography,  Cinema, and Cultural Studies."

And though the focus of the course was going to be keyed to social justice issues: racism, discrimination, systemic violence and the like, I did not stress this in the course description, nor did I heavy-hand it to them in the opening days of the class. This was the premise of the class according to the syllabus:

Buckle your seatbelts and order up some eye-protection -- this is NOT your grandfather's "Comics and History" class! Our Fall 2022 experimental comix extravaganza will emerge out of the twisted corridors of something called I/Eyegasm as we explore the deliciously and outrageously twisted psyches, minds, and visions of outrageous women and men in some of the most exotic and eye-opening comix, film, sequential art, photography, and cultural analysis this side of the planet. Our focus (pardon the pun) will be both the "I" and the "Eye"-"I," the name we give to our complex consciousness and "Eye," the name of the organ that dominates us in the digital age. Between Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and more, our eyes have never been more saturated, never more filled with stimulus.  ¶Our class will both study and (even possibly) reinforce our shared 21st century electro existential experiences where the mesh of our minds with computer screens, smartphones, and television screens comes to saturate our consciousness. The books and movies and pictures and videos we will experience this term will open our eyes to brave new worlds. But these works are not without their tricks, not without their surprises, and the fractured souls they flaunt before our eyes will test our intellect, imagination, and, most deeply, our emotions--they may even tattoo our psyche! Works to include artist/authors like Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Hernandez, Emil Ferris, Robert Crumb, Marjane Satrapi and more. Open to all majors and minors with no prior expertise with comics or literature anticipated or expected.

But the class featured writers who were transgender, Jewish American, Mexican American etc and it was through the diversity of representative artists--including Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Emil Ferris--that I was able to gently inculcate the arcane and troubling histories of social justice and attacks on justice that are part of our legacies as Americans, as denizens of this planet My great colleague, Dr. Gregory Daddis, has written of his class for this same NEH/SDSU initiative something that also guided me in my course-crafting; Daddis writes about "how comics, as cultural products, influenced Americans’ understanding of social justice issues helped shape the fundamental objectives that I hoped my students and I would achieve by course end." They did for me as well--but as I have taught large lecture classes for 30 years here at SDSU, and to largely non-English major, General-Education-unit-seeking undergraduates, I had learned that you have to let the works do the major lifting when it comes to issues of Social Justice -- telling them they had to be thoughtful never works, showing them the benefits of thoughtfulness and empathy always works.

For instance, the class opened with FREUD FOR BEGINNERS by Oscar Zarate and Richard Appignanesi--the titillating enchantments of Freud were used as a kind of sleight of hand to lure students for whom comics are new and alienating into the web of our efforts; here's a snapshot from my actual day to day course calendar:

I also wanted the students to start thinking about themselves and their own relationship to visual representation, so I had them do an assignment in class where they did their own self portraits. First, using our class Facebook page, I would introduce them to new artists incorporating new approaches to self-representation like Titus Kaphar's "Shifting the Gaze."

Then, I would highlight their own incipient graphic efforts--expertise in art was not a requirement!

During the semester I also used social media to underscore connections between the works we were experiencing as in this Tumblr share--it was also a way to introduce them to more artists:

We also ran into challenges during the semester -- this was a group of 200-plus freshmen many of whom had not been in a classroom for two years owing to Covid. So we had to come up with ways to test the students without alienating them, and we were largely successful. Here is an example of their first quiz that had little value but that let them know exactly how they would be tested on the mid-term:

By the end of the semester, our hope was that the course, a disguised macro-meditation on the value of empathy would translate months later, after the course was over, into a successful meditation on the value of social justice in a world that, at times, looks down its nose at "woke" or "progressive" values. The secret of social justice focused pedagogy is that it makes better people of us all -- one of the reasons that literature and comics play a special role in higher education.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Friday, February 19, 2021

Juan Downey

thanks to my friend and writer Susan Daitch for turning me on to the visual auto ethnography magic of the late great Chilean experimental artist Juan Downey...

Posted by William Nericcio on Friday, February 19, 2021

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Between Francesca Woodman and Anna Malina: An Evolving Photographic Dialogue #eyegiene

There's definitely a conversation ongoing between the late Francesca Woodman and Anna Malina ... more here: and here: #eyegiene

Posted by Eyegiene: The Televisual Age of Sex and Race on Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Nostalgia Laced Ruminations with Dinosaurs, Sleestak's, and More: Hilobrow Re-Posting on Land of the Lost, the Original Series

Land of the Lost: Nostalgia-Laced Ruminations with Dinosaurs, Sleestak's, and More:

Hilobrow Re-Posting on Land of the Lost, the Original Series

William "Memo" Nericcio

Original posting on Josh Glenn's | Grok My Enthusiasm (30) By: William Nericcio  August 3, 2016.

Is it still 1974? Can I get out of here? 

Or am I, like Will, Holly, and Rick (Alice? Gilligan? Neo?) trapped in a world beyond time, space, and knowledge? 

I am, of course, sitting in front of a TV set, at the fine age of 13, and I am watching mesmerized — really, I can’t move — watching Sid and Marty Krofft’s epic Land of the Lost.  

The Krofft brothers are responsible for H.R. Pufnstuf (fame), Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (ignominy), and The Bugaloos (infamy). But it is Land of the Lost that paralyzes me and my sister Josie, out in the borderlands of Laredo, Texas.  

Cute as a button (but grrl-feisty) Holly, young stud Will, and their strapping dad Rick Marshall (who will be unceremoniously dropped from the show Season 3 for asking for too much residual filthy lucre), are trapped in a bizarre world with three moons, populated with dinosaurs, furry pre-humans, sentient lizard spacemen and mucho más. Who needed marijuana or peyote in South Texas, when Krofft-fare filled the airwaves (this one ghost-penned by David “Trouble with Tribbles” Gerrold, Ben Bova, Theodore Sturgeon, Larry Niven, and Norman Spinrad)? 

The premise of the show was genius. Trapped in another world, the Marshall family must learn the secrets of this bizarre space; think Stranger in a Strange Land, but with YA-savvy. Time and again the bizarre family unit, sans Mom (who would ruin all the fun?), would be thrust into impossible situations: flying pylons in the sky spouting semaphores, hairy man boys aping Caliban (Cha-Ka with Holly) with Rick left to play a tepid Prospero. 

No doubt my urgent hetero pinings fueled the uncanny draw the show had for me, but I think many in my generation were equally touched by this ambitious show that somehow (especially the first season) found a way to transcend all the Saturday morning rancid schlock it was up against. 

No, this was not Ibsen for minors, but like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it found a way to convey notions of the cosmic to kids who had no idea they were waiting for Godot, with groovy stop-action dinosaurs and sets that look like castoffs from Star Trek.  Ah, to be 13 again. But in a way, I never left. Unlike lucky Rick, kicked off the show and replaced by his brother, I am somehow still there.  

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Logistics Posting for English 157 Comics and History: The Virus Eye/I

Greetings denizens of English 157 Comics and History, Fall 2020, @SDSU ....

Such an awful word: "homework" ... it makes the hair stand up on the back of your head, makes the toes cringe, ... and worse!

Here's the Oxford English Dictionary's take on the term:
(By the way you get the OED for free as part of your SDSU registration--that's a $90-$100 savings off of the regular cost of the best dictionary on the planet--kicks Webster's ass and makes look like a playground for nincompoops!

more below this picture ...

click to enlarge

In any event,  you have homework for next Tuesday's class--and the book we are doing after that is Richard Appignanesi & Oscar Zarate's FREUD FOR BEGINNERS.  Your homework for a given class will always appear here first here on the Daily Lineup Virus Eye page.

But in addition to that, I want you to be familiar with all the main pages associated with this class:
Just a gateway page, not that important
The main webpage for the class that has all the information you would usually find on your syllabus--in particular, there are a couple of Nerdwriter videos on this page that I want you to screen, from beginning to end, before we meet up on Tuesday morning!
Maybe the page to visit the most this term as it has your daily assignments that are updated on the fly--you will have already noticed that this page, which should be filled with day to day details, is sadly unpopulated with information. That's for a reason--I need to meet and hang out with you in class on Tuesday (sadly via Zoom and not in person) to get a feel for the kind of class we're going to have this term. Once I get that feel, I will decide in which direction we will go. In the short term, if you want to know which books to pick up, I would say the Crumb/Mairowitz KAFKA and Berger et al's WAYS OF SEEING, in addition to the aforementioned FREUD FOR BEGINNERS, should soon be in your possession. media channels for #viruseye2020 are alive and ticking--I very much look forward to scrolling to your contributions to this growing web of semiotic amazingness.
Worried that you missed an important email about the class--always go here to our online archive; all official communiques/telegrams/messages/ridiculous cartoons are archived here in reverse chronological order from newest to oldest.  Great to check this regularly as messages sometimes end up in gmail's spam folder.

That's it--tell your friends and accomplices about this class! It's the first time it has ever been offered at SDSU and we want it to be one for the ages!

See you Tuesday at 11am SHARP!

English 157 History and Comics--Entering the Virus EYE/I
Tuesday, August 2511:00am – 12:15pm
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Dr. William A. Nericcio
Professor of English and Comparative Literature