Illustration Student Emily McLaughlin Reflects on Greg Niedt's Graphic Novel Course

The (Near) Infinite World of the Graphic Novel: Greg Niedt Breaks Down the Medium in the Liberal Arts Course "Deconstructing the Graphic Novel"

In his book Understanding Comics, comics theorist Scott McCloud defines comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence.” Are all words pictures? If not, at what point does a word become a picture? Do comics need to have words to be considered a comic? Does the sequence of comics need to tell a coherent story, or can it be a series of unrelated images? What is the difference between a comic and a graphic novel? In Greg Niedt’s course Deconstructing the Graphic Novel, we consider McCould’s definition and these questions in great detail. There are some definite answers, and some questions are left ambiguous to be decided by the students.

The comic is a newly recognized artform compared to other art media that are considered to be timeless, such as painting and sculpting. However, when boiled down to its essential definition, comics can be found among the art of ancient civilizations.

It’s as old and essential as any other medium, but because of its perception of being new, and its association with limited genres, age groups, and ethnicities, it is often treated as a lesser form of art. 

This course aims to challenge that notion. We read comics and graphic novels from a variety of sources, styles, and genres, with a focus on how the medium as a whole functions relative to the text or image alone. Each week we contextualize the readings in an open discussion of the history of the form, and the impact it has had on the media landscape.
Through this exploration, we are exposed to just how diverse the world of comics really is, and the range of possibilities the medium can offer. Comics are so much more than white male superheroes conquering bad guys!

For the final projects, students create either a short visual narrative of our own or an essay summarizing our experience. 

It would be nearly impossible to come away from this course without a deep understanding and love for graphic novels, and an excitement for the open possibilities of the medium. As this course reveals, comics represent an ever-expanding world to be explored.

-Emily McLaughlin, Communications Work Study Student

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.