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Superhero Comics: History and Theory

Superheroes and comic books are respectively a genre and a medium, but over the past 75 years they've become very closely linked. We'll look at how superhero comics have evolved from a fad that began with Superman's first appearance in 1938 into a set of fantastically intricate narratives that have assimilated every other genre, developed their own artistic conventions, and blossomed into other media.

Superhero Comics
History + Theory


February 4th - 23rd, 2015
Taught by Douglas Wolk; author of Judge Dredd: Mega City Two and Reading Comics

Superheroes and comic books are respectively a genre and a medium, but over the past 75 years they've become very closely linked. We'll look at how superhero comics have evolved from a fad that began with Superman's first appearance in 1938 into a set of fantastically intricate narratives that have assimilated every other genre, developed their own artistic conventions, and blossomed into other media. Space is limited to 25 students.


Week 1: From Action to inertia -- the superhero boom of the '30s and '40s, and the bust that followed it in the '50s. Lessing's "Laocoön" and the relationship between language and images.

Week 2: The Silver Age and the '80s -- the superhero renaissance and the rise of Marvel Comics. The British Invasion of American comics. Lee, Romita, Eisner, McCloud and the articulation of comics' formal tools.

Week 3: The Image revolution and the Chromium Age -- how artists seized the spotlight and the means of production; the Ponzi scheme of "hot" issues and investor-focused publishing. Thierry Groensteen's "The System of Comics" and the changing implications of visual style.

Week 4: Where we are now -- superhero comics as test labs for transmedia stories and franchises. Character and super-character in the network age; what's lost and gained in transitions from paper to screen.