This term I’m really lucky and really busy: I can teach two very interesting courses at two universities here at Budapest. I have been responsible for the content of both courses, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do, what to teach, and how. Though preparing one’s own syllabus is complicated, enjoying the confidence of my employers is an amazing thing. I totally LOVE what my students are going to read/learn/do.
In this post I write about the two courses that I am teaching this semester, namely Comics Studies: An Introduction (which is one of the first courses fully devoted to the study of comics in Hungary) at the American Studies Department of ELTE, and Word and Image Relations at the Institute for Theoretical Studies of Moholy Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME for short).
If you click on the course titles above you can download the syllabi. The one for MOME is in Hungarian, as the course is in Hungarian, too.
1) Word and Image Relations at the Moholy Nagy University of Arts and Design.
In general, this is a university for artists, we might as well say that theory is secondary here. I have a pretty mixed group of students there, textile designers, design managers, and a photographer. The aim of the course is to explore some ways in which words and images work together in contemporary bookish contexts. When I found out that I’m going to have some many students working with textile, I wanted to reflect on that medium as well, but I had to realize, that I am not trained for that, and I am not ready to teach word and image in textile yet. So, we start with some theory (W. J. T. Mitchell), move on to literature, photography, the questions of memory, and to comics. We meet 2×80 a week, so preparing for this course is pretty intense (it has already started). I have to somehow reduce the time I spend on preparing for the classes.
Evaluation at MOME: each week there are assignments, eg. watch a lecture or documentary on youtube (in general I think they are a lot more fun than reading studies, plus you can do them during ironing!). As the course progresses, there will be more comics reading involved. Furthermore, students are asked to submit two assignments, one roughly in the middle of the course, one at the end. They are asked to reflect on any of the topics raised in class in paper-based forms that contain word and image. I specifically asked that the second assignment should be a comic. I think thinking of theoretical questions visually is new for them, or at least they asked a lot about the assignment, so each class we have a look at some examples of sketchnoting, academic comics, photomontages, whatever.
I hope that the assignments will be creative and fun, so my plan is to create a zine out of them and print a limited number of copies for the International Comics Festival at Budapest. A literary journal (one of the very few who are open to comics) also agreed to publish a selection of these works. I am really happy about this already!
2) Comics Studies: An Introduction at ELTE. This is the Faculty of Humanities, so I am more familiar with what the interests of students might be like. It seems that there is considerable interest in the course, which is a good thing, of course. 🙂 I am proud because this might be the first actual course on comics studies, I am not sure. Even if it is not the first, it is in the top 5 I think.
Deciding what to teach here has been complicated because of the extremely limited resources we have here. By here I mean Eastern Europe. I can only teach comics that I can give to the students, there are hardly any comics in the university or public libraries, and definitely no comics in English. I have comics that I used for my PhD dissertation, I have some Image titles that I enjoy reading, and I have a selection of other stuff. I do not have comic books, collections of comic books, or superheroes.
I was thinking about a lot on whether or not I should provide a historical overview and present an evolutionary attitude in the way I organize what we read. I decided to restrict comics history to one class (90 mins), and focus instead on form, drawing (my favourite topic), and some hot issues, like graphic medicine and autobiography. As a result, this course basically flashes some ideas present in contemporary book format comics.
Evaluation at ELTE: when I teach, I usually ask students to write two shorter papers on topics assigned by me. This time, I though it is important for students to see what academic discourse on comics is like. I suppose they registered for the course because they already have an interest in comics (I will ask them for sure, but the course hasn’t started yet), so they are familiar with fan culture to some extent. (Ah yes, it would have been sooooo interesting to speak about fan culture and reception! But I chose the path more familiar to me, and keep on close reading actual comics. I HEART close reading!) So, students are asked to read an academic paper and sum it up / present the most important points in ten minutes. The rest of the class does not have to read these papers — they can, of course. My intention is to really restrict these presentations to 10-12 minutes, and this way to encourage keeping to the point. Furthermore, my aim is to give students a scope of articles they can reach back to when they write their papers at the end of the term.
I remember that when I was a student, we frequently had to give short presentations, but we were just given a name or a title, and we could talk about basically anything. This was easy to do during my studies of Hungarian literature, the libraries were useful and the librarians helpful. But comics studies is so new in Hungary that my suspicion is that providing a set of articles to present on will be helpful. We will see.
Wish me good luck!