Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Comics in the Classroom: Professor Hetal Thaker

The novel, upon its conception sometime in the mid to late 1700's (critics argue endlessly over the exact date), received disdain and rejection and accusations as a worthless and socially damaging collection of amorous dalliances and irresponsible wild adventures. The Fredric Werthams of the day denigrated the medium and chastised readers for wasting their time. And yet the novel endured and prospered and became an integral part of reading and education. Comics too have made it into the classroom for educated analysis. Comics in the Classroom will post intermittently and showcase a comic and the way the teacher uses the work in her or his classroom. The first guest is Professor Hetal Thaker who teaches at a Pennsylvania community college and uses Lynda Barry's "Two Questions" for her English composition one course. Enjoy.

Professor Hetal Thaker: Using Lynda Barry’s “Two Questions” for English Composition 1

The Low-frequency Listener: Why did you choose “Two Questions” over other comics?  What unique traits does “Two Questions” have to have offer readers?

Professor Hetal Thaker: “Two Questions” was the work anthologized in the text assigned for the class. Lynda Barry is awesome! This work is all about writing and the creative process and it is very process oriented, which makes it apt to use for a composition course. Barry is a well respected graphic artist.

L-fL: What other comics did you consider teaching?

PHT: I’ve definitely considered using other comics; it’s just a matter of the class situation and when the comic would be appropriate to the course.  I’ve considered using Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, Goodbye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson along with his other work Blankets, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

L-fL: What do students gain from reading “Two Questions”?

PHT: Most of these works that I’m drawn to are memoirs, and they use the same techniques as plain prose to convey the story, plus graphic elements are included.  Also comics have a unique  handling of the point of view that regular prose does not. It helps bring consideration of the point of view to the students’ attention.

L-fL: What activities and or assignments do you use for “Two Questions”

PHT: The students read it and we discuss it as a class. I use it as a preparation for the narrative essay where students are assigned to write about something influential in their lives. I usually use this assignment as a mini assignment. We discuss whether graphic literature should be considered literature. Students compose a short writing on graphic literature as a credible literary form. Sometimes I use “The Sanctuary of School” by Lynda Barry with “Two Questions” and these two texts work together well.

L-fL: What are some common reactions/responses do students have towards looking at a comic in a critical way?

PHT: Some students really get into it, while others are put off by how much is going on upon the page. This usually leads to a discussion of how to read the comic. Is it read left to right? Top to bottom? Through these questions it becomes a lot easier to consider and investigate the process of writing. 

Lf-L: Did you receive any resistance from students, other professors, or administration in using a comic book in the class room?

PHT: No.
Graphic literature is not something that needs to be justified; my assumption is that graphic literature is worthwhile. Initially I had no idea about graphic literature. I was doing research for my mentor in graduate school on experimental web-based prose and experimental literature. My professor recommended Fun Home, Persepolis and I was intrigued at how Persepolis was required reading at West Point. All of this was so brand new and exciting.


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