By Ariana Perez
In the world of academia, the texts we often analyze are literary works of classic nature, renowned for their significance to a person, movement, or era of past and noteworthy history. In our Seminar curriculum at Saint Mary’s, everyone has read and discussed Homer’s The Odyssey or excerpts from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Meanwhile, little thought is given to the value of modern narrative formats like comics and their ability to invoke discussions of similar depth. An exception is the graphic novel Maus, but even then, it is one modern comic book in a sea of literary texts.
One Jan Term course emphasizes the educational value of comic books and graphic novels by pairing them with philosophical discussion. Led by Professor Anne M. Carpenter, Jan-100 (Comics Books and Existenz) takes the philosophical ideas of Bernard Lonergan and pairs them with assigned comics that reflect Longergan’s concepts of human existence, particularly, of how one becomes oneself in the world.
Besides reading well-known DC and Marvel comics about well-known superheroes and teams like Superman and the Teen Titans, the class analyzes indie comics as well, providing a wide range of genres and archetypes to analyze in relation to how they connect with philosophical ideas of the self. Various aspects regarding the composition of the comics are talked about in seminar-style discussions along with the philosophical text that accompanies it. The result is long and engaging talks about details, and how themes of the accompanying philosophical text appear in the narrative, whether in themes or character arcs.
When I first saw this Jan Term course during registration, I jumped at the opportunity to analyze a form of media outside of the typical literary format. Although I’ve never considered myself a fan of philosophy, in this class I have found myself enjoying the connections I have been making between the complex philosophical excerpts and the diverse variety of comics.
I personally believe there is great value in using graphic narratives as conduits for critical thinking. In a format where every detail from dialogue to coloring and composition is carefully considered, how can comics not be considered as valid to analyze and discuss as the written hero epics of old? All in all, I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in philosophy, or who loves analyzing media and wants to try something new, familiar, or outside of their comfort zone.
Madison Sciba '24,