Comix and the Graphic Novel Course

Excerpt from the Reflection's article Spirit of Academic Innovation Continues at Siena Heights by Doug Goodnough.


Comix and the Graphic Novel: Art, Creative Writing Join Forces

What happens when a Mad Scientist and a zerbeTRON get together? One interesting course that combines creative writing with graphic and visual design. This fall, Assistant Professor of English Alexander Weinstein and Assistant Professor of Art are joining forces to teach Comix and the Graphic Novel course.

“Alexander actually approached me about teaching the course,” said Zerbe, aka “zerbeTRON.” “We’ve talked extensively about the similarities between the creative writing process and the visual arts process, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to help our students bridge the gap and explore creativity in new and challenging ways.”

“While originally the idea was for it to be a literature course, I thought making it a creative writing and art workshop would be really exciting for students,” Weinstein said. “Students would not merely be reading the works of great artists and writers, but learning to make their own comics!”

Both share a love of comic books, and decided to co-teach the class, which filled quickly last spring. The course provides critical analysis of comics as a medium, as well as an intensive exploration of the many aspects of writing, drawing, editing and publishing comics and graphic narratives. Students will create their own comic book in a “workshop environment.”

“It’s totally a democratic space,” Zerbe said of the classroom dynamic. “We split the class time and share in leading lectures, demos and discussions. This allows us to learn from each other, while also pushing the students to explore their ideas.”

Zerbe, who has extensive experience in animation, film and gaming, complements Weinstein, who is an award-winning creative writer who founded and directs the prestigious Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.

“During class I always participate in the writing prompts, and I feel that having Alex’s expertise to guide me in something I’m not good at (writing) shows a vulnerability to the students,” Zerbe said.

“I teach topics including character development, heroes and villains, setting, dialogue, perspective and language play,” Weinstein said. “My main goals are to help students tap into the power of their own personal stories, and to teach them the skills to put these stories into words.”

They said creative problem-solving is one of the primary objectives of the course, as well as collaboration.

“It’s hard to be creative in a vacuum,” Zerbe said. “So a big component of this course will be sharing and critiquing work, learning to take and offer criticism and working collaboratively. These are tremendously important life skills. Learning to do it through comics makes it a fun process – but a valuable one – all the same.”

To emphasis the “fun,” both dressed up as their alter egos on the first day of class, and Zerbe even designed a course poster displaying them as the Mad Scientist and zerbeTRON.

So, who are Zerbe’s and Weinstein’s favorite comic book characters?

“Probably Professor Xavier (from the X-Men),” Weinstein said. “I just plain love his psychic abilities and general zen. That said, I think the humorist in me may like Plastic Man better. There's something amazing about this guy. He has this really lame superpower, and he's more or less a nobody in the superhero world – but he thinks he's incredible.”

“One of the only characters that sticks with me is Kabuki, from David Mack’s series titled ‘Kabuki,’ ” Zerbe said. “To this day, Kabuki is one of my all-time favorites. It’s truly why I love the medium.”