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Thematic Seminar: Close-Reading Comics: Hybrid Storytelling in Graphic Memoirs


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


Perhaps because of their very accessibility, comic strips (sometimes called “commix”) and graphic novels have only recently come to be recognized as a serious art form requiring specific reading skills and a literary sensibility. Although hybrid forms of word-and-image storytelling have been around since the Bayeux tapestry, and there is a long and global underground tradition of graphic narrative, a pivotal moment in the genre’s road to mainstream recognition has no doubt been the publication of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1980).
This course approaches a subgenre of comics – graphic memoir – from various vantage points: as a means of narrating trauma and memory, as a form of resistance to dominant culture, as a mode of transcultural communication, and as an underground medium grown up. Spiegelman has described it as “a gutter medium; that is, it’s what takes place in the gutters between the panels that activates the medium.” On one level that characterization attends to how commix must be read, and on another to the place from which they are presumably drawn.
This course sets out to investigate how graphic memoirs can be read, what modes of storytelling and what kinds of stories they promote, and how they negotiate memory, identity, culture, and politics. To research this, we will close-read and contextualize graphic memoirs (and some adjacent texts and genres) from a range of geographical, social, and cultural locations.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

1. To be socio-communicative in collaborative situations.
2. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
3. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments (8 hours per week): 100 hours

  • Preparation for presentations: 16 hours

  • Writing the final research essay (including reading / research): 140 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial Grade Weighing
In-class participation 15%
Seminar outline 5%
In-class presentation 30%
Final Research Essay (5,000 words) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the Final Essay on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the Final Essay.
In case of resubmission of the Final Essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2018 – 2019.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

  • Will Eisner, A Contract with God (1978)

  • Art Spiegelman, Maus I & II (1980-1991)

  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993)

  • Joe Sacco, Palestine (1997)

  • Guy Delisle, Pyongyang (2004)

  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)

  • Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (2006)

  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2007)

  • David Small, Stitches (2009)

  • Jillian & Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer (2014)

  • Octavia Butler, Kindred, the Graphic Novel Adaptation (2016)

The texts on the reading list will have to be purchased (they are all between € 10-20 and easily available) – other reading material will be provided through Blackboard.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, J.W. Williams, The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


  • Enrolment through uSis for Thematic Seminars is mandatory.

  • The Thematic Seminars make use of a waiting list for the enrolment in uSis. If you are on the waiting list for a Thematic Seminar, this does not guarantee you a spot in this Seminar.

  • Enrolment in only one Seminar is allowed. Students are more than welcome to remain on one or more waiting lists, as well as an actual enrolment.

  • If a Thematic Seminar and its corresponding waiting list is no longer available for enrolment in uSis, this means it is full. Do not try to obtain a spot through other means.

  • If you are unsure of your enrolment status for a Thematic Seminar, please contact the BAIS Administration Department.

  • General information about uSis is available here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. S.A. Polak

When contacting your lecturer, please include your full name, student number, and course title.


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 7 June 2019.