The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

The student news site of El Camino College

El Camino College The Union

English professors strive for comics, graphic novels in curricula

It was just two years ago when he taught his first-ever graphic novel in an English class. The only problem was that he had no idea where to start.

“While I had been a lifelong fan of the genre [graphic novels], I had never used a graphic narrative before in the classroom.” Matthew Cheung, a full-time English professor at El Camino College said. “There was much I didn’t know.”

Not long after teaching that English class, Cheung quickly realized he needed help. He began researching guides and crash courses to help him understand the basics of comics.

“I found Scott McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics,’ which became my crash course in comics theory,” Cheung said. “From there, I found other resources like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund whose wide array of resources showed me there was an entire community of people integrating comics into their curricula.”

Two years have passed since these events unfolded. Now, Cheung believes it’s time for ECC to join the college community of comics and graphic novels.


Cheung took some time away from teaching in fall 2019 to find new ways to change up the reading material for English and Literature classes.

“There isn’t an actual comics course, yet, like a graphic novels course, but that’s sort of in development,” Cheung said.

Cheung said several English professors and faculty have been working for several years on getting ECC to institute a class revolving around graphic novels and comics. His role was to help gather the comics and graphic novels that could be taught.

“My project over my sabbatical was to create a reading list of books that we could use in our classes, or use in a class that’s specifically for graphic novels or comics,” Cheung said.

In his reading list, Cheung had carefully picked a variety of titles, each with a summary and review. This list includes “V for Vendetta,” “They Called Us Enemy,” “My Friend Dahmer,” and even the widely popular “Watchmen” series.

However, the one “spearheading” the project, is ECC English professor, Kevin Degnan, Cheung said.

“He’s having people help him with course outlines and stuff like that, but most of it’s being done by him,” Cheung said.

Degnan, who has been employed at ECC for almost seven years, has been the one in charge of the course’s development, Cheung mentioned. And much like his fellow professor, Degnan believes that ECC should also have a graphic novel course like many other colleges.

“I’ve been personally interested in graphic novels for a very long time. I even began using them in my composition classes,” Degnan said. “Then around 2008, there were mumblings of different schools that were maybe going to have comic literature classes, and I thought it was a great idea.”

Cheung agreed with Degnan’s position on comic literature classes. He also thinks very highly of the professors who are already using graphic novels for educational purposes, along with the idea of an official class on graphic novels being made.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Cheung said. “I think that comics are multidisciplinary. So that there’s a lot of angles to explore when it comes to teaching.”

Mickey Harrison Jr., a part-time English professor at ECC who teaches a graphic fiction class at Los Angeles Pierce College, said that the use of comic books give students a bigger opportunity to contribute to the classroom.

“We all learn in different ways, and I think that once teachers start using graphic novels, they’ll see that [students will] participate more,” Harrison said. “Because there’s going be certain individuals that are going to be able to tap into different learning styles and methods.”

Harrison also believes that comics and graphic novels are a great way to discuss real-world issues including government corruption or abuse as they can be found within the pages of comics.

When it comes to how comics and graphic novels can be used and taught, Cheung said that they can be used for lectures relating to subjects like art, art history, animation, and literature.

“[There are] some great stories and great work that comes out of that genre,” Cheung said. “And it’s a really cool way to explore [the] written text.”

Cheung also added that students can read comics for the story, and then examine the art; forming an interesting genre that’s not quite a novel, and not quite a movie.

“Comics are a medium that’s kinda halfway in between, like, animation and film and literature,” Cheung said. “So I think the students will be able to appreciate it for being its own genre and how it can blend those two media forms together.”

Cheung also thinks that it will be a popular change in education for students, should the developing course become a reality.

“In most situations when a student is reading a graphic novel in an English class, their immediate thought tends to be ‘Oh cool!’ or ‘What the heck? [There are] pictures in here!’” Cheung said.

Early on in the semester, Cheung discovered that students have become interested in having comics and graphic novels being used in class, as a result of movies like “Avengers” and “The Joker,” which thrust comics into mainstream, pop culture.

It is also where students may have a misconception of what the class will cover.

“I think students might expect to read stuff from like ‘Avengers’ or ‘Captain America,’” Cheung said. “But there’s a lot of other things they can read too.”

ECC currently has no class focused on teaching about graphic novels or comic books, a rarity when compared to other colleges and universities. Colleges like California State University, Long Beach, and the University of California, Los Angeles have already implemented graphic novels into their curricula.

“Portland State even has [its] own program,” Cheung said. “So it’s just not like a class on graphic novels, you can major in comics and sequential art.”

In the meantime, the plan for a graphic novel class is closely coming to an end, Kevin Degnan said. All it needs now is the approval of the curriculum committee before the course can be taught.

“Right now, some of the members of the committee are taking a look at it,” Degnan said. “I believe that if we can get everything done this semester, the course will be potentially be offered in the spring of 2021.”

Degnan also believes that now is a better time than any for students to begin getting into reading comics and graphic novels for themselves.

“[With the quarantine happening,] it’s an excellent time to read,” Degnan said. “There are a lot of excellent comics out there. Read comics. Read books. Read whatever you want.”

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