Don't Stop Believing...in Learning
Remember that "distance run" I alluded to on the Home page? I call it an academic journey, and it's something we're all on the minute we engage in both in the classroom and out of it. It's not that we ever stop learning, but it's important to me to make an effort every day to continue to learn.
My greatest teachers are my students, who continue to impress, surprise, and challenge me. It's important in my classroom for them to feel empowered to disagree on a critical point with me on anything from a comic book to a film...but only if they can back it up. I also emphasize that we can and do experience media through our own personal identities, and that my classroom is a safe space to discuss those perspectives for students who feel comfortable enough.
The result is a classroom environment that is inclusive, empowered, spirited, open, and fun.
Comic book? Graphic Novels? Sequential Arts? MEDIA!
I've witnessed the gradual rise of the comic book to a somewhat respectable level over the past twenty years. The term "Graphic Novel" became a catch-all that was also used to dress a comic book in a more formal outfit of legitimacy.
As many spirited professors and writers about comics history I've encountered, there are always a couple who dress it up in so much academic jargon that it fails to celebrate the beauty and (in regards to the superhero genre) utter absurdity of comic books and their history.
Comic books are my favorite medium and every lesson--be it a critical one or a historical--embraces the good, bad, and goofy. Teaching at VCU, at first with a Comic Book History class, made me realize that comics should be taught as media, alongside film, radio, television, and video games. This Media approach also pushed me into other areas of interest, particularly Visual Communications, which led to my taking over and overhauling a requisite history class for the department. Vis Comm students trace the development of the comic book intertwined with film and video games, all as part of a grand narrative of narrative media.
I get to teach what I love for a living to an amazing group of students, who are going to move on and succeed me in doing even more greater things.
And now, for the classes!
The History of Visual Communication
In taking over this class from my predecessor, I was encouraged to "make it my own," and I gradually made it a class on media history and development, with a focus on critical thinking. I advocated for and made the successful leap to making this an online only class in Fall 2021, and also co-taught it with Joshua Tyree in the Cinema department for one year. The greatest lesson Vis Comm has taught me is how to remain adaptable in how to teach a class online, as well as the best ways to constantly empower the students to openly discuss the material per their personal experiences. More than any other class, I have found Vis Comm the most successful in building an empowered and intellectually curious student community.
The first semester focuses on the history of media development and technologies from the late 1800s through to the 1960s, with students watching select films that are historically and critically significant. The second semester has developed with a greater focus on various films, graphic novels, and animation.
Vis Comm is a requirement for the entire Communication Arts department and usually has around 150 students a semester, broken up into two sections.
Star Wars Decoded
Star Wars Decoded is secretly a class about George Lucas, his influences, and his work as an experimental director in the 1970s. Students watch the films that influenced Star Wars: Episode IV--A New Hope, as well as Lucas's earlier films THX-1138 and American Graffiti, to get a full picture of how Star Wars developed. Films also include 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Dam Busters, The Searchers, and The Hidden Fortress.
Star Wars Decoded: The Mandalorian (coming Spring 2023)
This course will address three streams related to the Disney+ streaming show The Mandalorian:
- The groundbreaking special effects and production techniques through the Star Wars films from Return of the Jedi (1983) to the prequel trilogy and up to The Mandalorian
- The narrative and filmic influences on The Mandalorian itself
- The burgeoning transmedia storytelling practices developed through The Mandalorian, the films, and other animated and live action shows and comic books
The Superhero Decoded
This online class was developed through a grant with the VCU Alt Lab, and uses original video lectures, paired with readings and class meetings, to explore the superhero as a unique figure cultivated across media. This class also really helped me develop the best standards and approaches for teaching online, which I made intensive use of during the pandemic.
Vampire in Film
Taught every summer in Art History, The Vampire in Film was my first online only class, developed for Google Classroom, with prerecorded audio lectures, streaming links for films, and regular online class meetings. Students learn the history of the vampire in cinema and how the figure has metamorphosed and adapted to the times and trends in popular film.
This class focuses on the work of revolutionary animator Hayao Miyazaki. It was developed at the request of my students in Vis Comm and, like many of my media classes, filled to capacity the first day. Students watch animation that informed and inspired Miyazaki in his earlier days, as well as having critical viewings of his major animated works.
Batman in Media
This class focuses on Batman media from his first comic book story in 1939's Detective Comics #27 to his movie serials in the 1940s, all the way to the current material being produced. Students also watch Taxi Driver and King of Comedy for their influence on both the Batman comics and the Joker film.