Comic Class Teaches History

By Edward Garza, Student Contributor Anybody who has picked up a comic book will more than likely say that they are a source of entertainment and nothing more. The brightly toned panels leap at the reader to capture their attention. Crafty home brewed villains act to generate fear and antagonize civility. Then by the end of the comic, the titular superhero rescues the girl, stops the robbery, and captures the bad guy. Today, they have spawned a multibillion dollar industry that continues to inspire wonder among viewers of all ages. But, what if they were more than entertainment? What if they were a source of knowledge: a looking glass into the past? If readers read carefully, they can be viable sources of historical information. This is what Dr. Richard Hall’s “Intellectual History of the U.S.”  class concerns itself with this spring semester. The creation of the modern American comic book comes in the 1930s as the Great Depression loomed. Superheroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman saw their debut and maintained the little hope that readers had. As war approached in the 1940s the comic book medium became an almost propagandic entity asking for readers to join the war effort any which way they could. The Red Scare of the 1950s would transform the superhero comic and even kill off other genres entirely for their “communist sympathetic” qualities. Then the 1960s seemingly broke all ties of conformity in America and thus, a rebirth of the superhero genre occurred. Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man–these and more were born in the wake of the rebellious 60s. This pattern of reactionary creationism continued throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and even post-9/11 America. Every time America was suffering or rejoicing, the comic book was there to capture the thoughts of Americans and voice them out on cheap newsprint. Dr. Hall gives his attention to each decade and traces various societal products or “isms” like racism, sexism, nationalism, communism and others. In this history class, comic books themselves become the primary sources. Students analyze speech bubbles and the bold illustrations and it is then, the entertainment value of the comic book is surpassed by the intellectual value. I spoke with Mr. Christopher Garcia and Ms. Alejandra Guajardo, both students of Dr. Hall’s “Intellectual History” class and they offered me their thoughts and outlook on the course. “I’ve been a big comic book fan since 2008” says Mr. Garcia, a communications major.  “I had knowledge of current events but no knowledge of the comics before 2002…I’m taking this class because a friend suggested it,” When asked what he has learned in this class he said, “I’ve learned how the historic events and social movements at the time affected the writing of comics from day one, when Superman debuted. As history progressed so did the comics such as the X-Men, arriving during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Superman became an embodiment of Moses and Roosevelt” Likewise, I asked Ms. Guajardo, a history major, why she took the class: “I had to take it because it is a history class. But, I chose it because the topic looked interesting. I had no knowledge of comics at all. I only knew about superheroes because of the movies.” She continued on what she learned, “I have learned that pop culture reflects society. As a historian it is important because the expression of cultures tie to the ideals of the time. We portray our sentiments in different ways. I have also learned many things about comics that I’ve never imagined. I feel like a better critic now. Also, I have learned to appreciate the genre more.” Thus, to sum it up, this class is suited for armchair historians, historians-in-training and comic book lovers in general. Dr. Hall takes his passion for both comic books and history and wraps it up for students to unravel over the course of the semester. If interested, keep a lookout for any and all classes offered by Dr. Hall because he is sure to bring a welcome twist to learning.
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