Creating and Teaching Comics with Pixton

Instead of evaluating and using Google Ngram for this week’s assignment and blog, I decided to explore and write about another tool: Pixton (https://www.pixton.com).  I chose Pixton because it is a Web site that allows the general public to make its on comics, whether for fun, an assignment for school, or as a technique for teaching, or a tool for the professional workplace (the first page of the Pixton Web site informs visitors that it can be used for a variety of reasons).  I also chose Pixton because it complemented the assigned reading for the week, which was Nick Sousanis’ book about creating, teaching and theorizing comics: Unflattening.  I also have fond memories and a personal connection to Nick Sousanis and Pixton.

In the spring of 2013, I was fortunate enough to take Sousanis’ class, “Comics in Education,” at Teachers College of Columbia University.  It was the last time that Nick would teach the course at Teachers College (TC) before immersing himself in his dissertation and finishing his studies at TC, earning his EdD degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.  Nick’s dissertation would become his book, Unflattening, and he shared parts of it with us throughout the semester.  We were lucky to explore his ideas with him, and I was lucky to be a student in his wonderful class—a class that he would teach for the last time.  (I was a doctoral student, at the time, in the EdD program in English Education at TC; I didn’t finish the EdD program and left TC with an EdM.)

Nick introduced us to Pixton.  Actually, to be more exact, Nick introduced me and a few others to Pixton because most of the other students in the class knew about it.  It was a small seminar course with twelve students, and I was one of the few students—maybe three of us—who did not know much about comics, especially the new digital tools to create them.  Unlike the other students in the class, my childhood was not consumed with reading comics; I read other things.  I didn’t know much about actual comic books.  I knew about comics mostly from watching the movie versions.  But I had read about using comics to teach, especially in literature courses.  And I was intrigued by Nick’s course, so I registered for it.  I also had known and read about a popular underground movement of queer comics.  Comics were popular in the LGBTQ community; however, LGBTQ comics were not popular in the mainstream world of comics.  Yet, LGBTQ comics were proliferating because of the Internet; Web sites, such as Tumblr; personal blogs; and digital tools, such as the ones that Pixton creates and offers to the public.  The democratic use of digital technology allowed LGBTQ comic artists to create and share their work.  So, I took Nick’s course, knowing that I would focus my study on LGBTQ comics, which I did.

I dabbled with Pixton because Nick did not require us to use it to create our own comics.  Instead, he distributed a comic strip template to us in a paper format.  This template was created by Pixton, and is available on its Web site.  We had to create our own comic strips, using the paper template that he supplied.  But I explored Pixton, and familiarized myself with it.  Anyone can use Pixton to create comics.  Pixton also has a function for professional workplaces to use its tools to create presentations in the format of comics.  But what fascinated me most was that Pixton has tools for students to create comics or complete their assignments in the format of comics, depending on how the teacher creates the assignment.  And what fascinates me most about Pixton is that educators can use it to teach.  First, they can try it for free during a trial period; then they can create an account.  One of the amazing features of Pixton is its archive of lesson plans for educators.

taras-story-by-michael

michaels-story-by-michael

I wish to end this blog post with some of my work from Prof. Sousanis’ class.  Because of what Nick and Pixton taught me about comics, I was able to complete Nick’s assignments, which were for us, his students, to create a syllabus, a lesson plan, and a list of resources on comics.  So, I created a syllabus for a course on LGBTQ comics and queering comics; a lesson that used a poem with gay subject matter to queer a comic with straight subject matter; and a list of texts and resources on/for LGBTQ comics.

Syllabus

A&HE 4000: Queer Comics and Queering Comics
Mondays, 5:10-6:50 pm; Room 301, Grace Dodge Hall
Michael Carosone, Instructor
Email: mc3655@tc.columbia.edu
Office location and hour: Room 303, Grace Dodge Hall; Mondays, 7-8 pm
Teachers College
Fall 2013 Semester

“Comics and gays.  They go together well; after all they have one major thing in common: both tend not to get any respect.”  –Jerry Mills (“Introduction” to Meatmen #1. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1986)

Description of the Course:
The purpose of the course is to understand how queer comics are situated in historical, cultural, artistic, social, and political contexts.  Using Queer Theory and a queer lens, we will analyze queer comics and straight comics.  We will ask certain questions, such as: 1) Why are these comics queer and why must they be labeled as such?; 2) Why are queer comics important?; 3) Why are queer comics marginalized and/or disrespected (as Jerry Mills stated; see aforementioned quotation)?; 4) What can we learn from queer comics?; 5) How can we use queer comics for our own interests and work?; 6) How can we queer straight comics?; and 7) How can we understand homophobia in comics?

Required Texts:
Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Jaime Cortez’s Sexile
Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (edition with Tony Kushner’s introduction)
Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek
Tim Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love
Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce’s J.D.s
Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh’s How Loathsome
Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green (must also watch the film)
David Small’s Stitches
Christine Smith’s The Princess
Robert Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA
Roz Warren’s Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z

Other required reading is posted on Moodle: critical essays, excerpts, comics, etc.

Recommended Texts:
Markus Pfalzgraf’s Stripped: A Story of Gay Comics (for more historical background)
Nikki Sullivan’s A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory (for an understanding of theory)
Robert Triptow’s Gay Comics

Organization of the Weekly Session:

  1. Lecture on the topics and assigned readings
  2. Seminar-style discussion on the topics and assigned readings
  3. Guest speakers may attend some sessions

 Weekly Schedule and Assignments:

Week 1

Theme: Putting It into Perspective

Topics: Introduction to the course

History of Queer Comics, Part One

Begin with Tom of Finland (images will be viewed in class)

Week 2

Theme: Putting It into Perspective

Topics: History of Queer Comics, Part Two

Reading due: Hall’s No Straight Lines…; critical essays posted on Moodle

 Week 3

Theme: From Extremely Marginal to Less Marginal (Maybe Even Somewhat Mainstream?)

Topics: History of Queer Comics, Part Three

Underground Queer Comix

From Comix to Comics

Queer Comics as Political Activism

Reading due: DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan…; excerpts from Gay Comix posted on Moodle

Assignment #1 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Weeks 4 and 5

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part One

Topics: Gay Men in Queer Comics

Queer Men in Queer Comics

Bisexual Men in Queer Comics

Reading due: Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby; Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love

Weeks 6 and 7

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part Two

Topics: Lesbians in Queer Comics

Queer Women in Queer Comics

Bisexual Women in Queer Comics

Reading due: Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For; Warren’s Dyke Strippers

Weeks 8 and 9

Theme: Illustrating a Queer Identity, Part Three

Topic: Transgender Men and Women in Queer Comics

Reading due: Crane and Naifeh’s How Loathsome; Smith’s The Princess

Week 10

Theme: Queer Comics as Truth

Topics: AIDS in Queer Comics

Queer Comics as Memoirs

Reading due: Cortez’s Sexile; Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA; Bechdel’s Fun Home

Weeks 11 and 12

Theme: Different in Form, Same in Content

Topics: From Queer Comics to Queer Zines (The Homocore/Queercore Movements)

From Queer Comics to Queer Cinema

Queer Comics in Queer Poetry

Digital Queer Comics

Reading due: Jones andLaBruce’s J.D.s; Orner’s …Ethan Green (must also have watched the film adaptation); poems and digital comics posted on Moodle

Assignment #2 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Week 13

Theme: Comics as a Reflection of Society

Topics: Homophobia in Straight Comics

Let’s Queer Straight Comics (Queer Theory and a Queer Lens)

Reading due: David Small’s Stitches; straight comic of your choice for your assignment

Assignment #3 is due (see below and read the instructions document)

Week 14

Theme: From Past to Present and Beyond

Topics: Queer Comics Today

Queer Super Heroes in Comics

Global Queer Comics

Reading due: J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek; critical essays posted on Moodle

Week 15

Theme: A Queer Comics Happy Ending

Conclusion

Presentations: Student will read the introductions of their research papers

Assignment #4 is due (see below read the instructions document)

Assignments and Grading

For more information, read the instructions document for each assignment.

  1. Assignment #1: Create your own 3-page queer comic with a queer theme or issue; 20%
  2. Assignment #2: In 2-3 pages, analyze the similarities and differences between the comic and cinematic versions of The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green; 20%
  3. Assignment #3: Queer a straight comic: choose 1-3 pages of a straight comic to analyze under a queer lens, using Queer Theory; 20%
  4. Assignment #4: In a 10-15 page research paper, with a minimum of 5 secondary sources, analyze the queer aspects of an entire full-length queer comic, using Queer Theory; 40%

Lesson Plan: Using a Gay Poem to Queer a Straight Comic

The purpose of this lesson is to use a poem with gay subject matter to queer a comic with straight subject matter.

The goals of this lesson are:

  1. To show a connection (and/or make connections) between two literary genres/forms
  2. To analyze a poem and a comic (preferably with a queer lens)
  3. To queer comics

Materials for this lesson:

  1. The comic/graphic novel, Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  2. The poem, “Imagining Your Penis in Blue after Watching Watchmen,” by Stephen Mills

Steps:

  1. Outside of class, students will have already read Watchmen
  2. In class, students will read the poem

Questions for discussion:

  1. What are your thoughts about and responses to the poem? Why? Explain.
  2. What literary elements and techniques do you notice in the poem that you also notice in the comic? Give examples.
  3. What poetic elements and techniques are special to the poem and are not in the comic? Give examples.
  4. How does your knowledge and understanding of the comic help you to understand the poem?
  5. How does the poem complement or enhance the comic, or vice versa?
  6. How is the poem queer?
  7. How does the poem queer the comic?
  8. What are the considerations that must be made about the poem referencing the film adaptation of Watchmen and not the original literary text? How is this third layer of using another medium/genre, that of film, important to our understanding and analysis of the poem and comic?

Other questions from students…

Assessment and Assignment: Write your own poem (any style) that makes references to Watchmen

List of texts for queer comics:
Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Jaime Cortez’s Sexile
Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby (edition with Tony Kushner’s introduction)
Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist
J.C. Etheredge’s Tongue in Cheek
Tim Fish’s Young Bottoms in Love
Eve Gilbert’s Tits, Ass, and Real Estate
Justin Hall’s No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
David Heatley’s My Brain is Hanging Upside Down
Robert Kirby and David Kelly’s The Book of Boy Trouble
G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce’s J.D.s
Tristan Crane and Ted Naifeh’s How Loathsome
Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Markus Pfalzgraf’s Stripped: A Story of Gay Comics
David Small’s Stitches
Christine Smith’s The Princess
Nikki Sullivan’s A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory
Robert Triptow’s Gay Comics
Robert Triptow’s Strip AIDS USA
Roz Warren’s Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists A to Z

List of resources for queer comics:
J.C. Etheredge’s Anti-Heroes: anti-heroes.net
Bent-Con (the convention for queer comics): bent-con.org
Censorship of queer comics: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/04/apple-seen-exercising-double-standard-on-gay-content-in-censorship-of-saga-comic-book.html
Cinematic version of Eric Orner’s The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Comic Book Queers: comicbookqueers.com
Erotic Gay Comics: classcomics.com
Fanboys of the Universe: fanboysoftheuniverse.com
Gay Comic Book Superheroes: http://www.salon.com/2013/04/13its_a_bird_its_a_plane
Gay Comic Geek: gaycomicgeek.com
Gay Comics List: gaycomicslist.free.fr
Gay League: gayleague.com
Gay Porn Comics: comics4gay.tumblr.com
Geeks Out: geeksout.org
Guide to LGBTQ Comics
LGBT Themes in Comics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_themes_in_comics
Lonely Gods: Homosexuals in Comics: lonelygods.com
Politically InQueerect: studiondr.com/comics/politically-inqueerect-2
Prism Comics: prismcomics.org
Queering Straight Comics: http://gaycomicparadise.tumblr.com
Tom of Finland Foundation: tomoffinlandfoundation.org
Wolverine goes gay: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/02/24/now-its-time-for-bisexual-wolverine

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