AMS 240: Comics and Animation in America

Instructor: Professor Gary Hoppenstand

Office 258 Bessey Hall

Office Hours: TU TH 8:00 to 10:00 a.m., or by appointment

Office Phone: 432-1533

Office Email: hoppens2@msu.edu

Course Philosophy:

This course intends to expose students to the theories and methods of an American Studies approach to the study of the comic book in American popular culture. The specific thematic focus of this course involves:

1)      An examination of the mythology of the American comic book from the period of the Great depression to the postmodern era. The various thematic subjects to be covered include the culture and publication histories of the dime novel in the 19th Century, the newspaper comic strip in early 20th Century, and the pulp magazine of the 1920s and 1930s, as major influences on the invention and development of the American comic book.

2)      An examination of the origin of the American comic book, with specific attention paid to the economic and sociological culture of this mass medium.

3)      An examination of the “Golden Age” of the American comic book, with specific attention paid to the economic and sociological culture of the origins of the major comic book superheroes, such as Superman, Batman, and Captain America. Close attention will be paid to such topics as World War II propaganda and the American comic book superhero; the myth constructs of the American comic book superhero as orphan and immigrant, and the sociology of media censorship as seen in the 1950s with the condemnation of the comic book as part of the Joseph McCarthy-era paranoia of the period.

4)      An examination of the “Silver Age” of the American comic book, with specific attention paid to the contributions of such individuals as comic book editor and publisher, Stan Lee. Close attention will be paid to examining the comic book as representation of the Cold War period in American history.

5)      An examination of the “Postmodern Age” of the American comic book, with specific attention paid to the radically changing marketing and distribution of the comic book, as well as an examination of the successful relationship between the American comic book superhero and the contemporary Hollywood “high concept” motion picture. Specific attention will be paid to the rise of so-called “independent” comic book publishers, and the resulting influences on the medium.

6)      An examination of the art and culture of early twentieth-century animation that reviews the role of animation in silent film.

7)      An examination of Walt Disney’s contributions to animation in the United States, and his successful invention of the feature-length animated movie. A discussion of the Disney formula, and how the Disney animators reworked traditional fairy tales into a new and distinctive American popular culture expression.

8)      An examination of the Warner Brothers system of developing animated short features for theatrical release, which would include a discussion of how mainstream animation was produced that contained a cultural subversive edge, such as best seen in the Bugs Bunny shorts.

9)      An examination of the relationship between children’s television and animation, including a look at Hanna-Barbera’s development of animation specifically for children’s television. Included in this discussion will be a review of the relationship between violence in animation and developmental concerns with children’s social development.

10)   An examination of how Japanese Manga and Anime influenced the development and consumption of animation in the United States.

11)   An examination of how recent computer animation techniques have revolutionized the industry, and a subsequent look at the future of traditional line-drawing animation styles as a valid commercial medium.

 Course Goals:

  1. To reflect in the course materials the various worldviews of the American experience as reflected through entertainment mass culture, such as the comic book, the popular animated film, and television.
  2. To incorporate, as part of the class, a wide selection of interdisciplinary and multi-media texts.
  3. To use course materials reflecting the diversity of the human experience, across both time and racial, ethnic, gender, social class, and geographic boundaries.
  4. To raise important questions or issues regarding the field of American Studies.

 Comics Course Texts: 

    1. Superman on the Couch by Danny Fingeroth (A superior cultural studies analysis of the American comic book superhero).
    2. Comic Book Nation (An excellent social history of the American comic book from the 1930s to the present).
    3. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the American Comic Book (A fine media analysis of the early years of the American comic book).
    4. Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon by Will Brooker (A great American Studies myth/symbol study of an important comic book superhero).
    5. Give Our regards to Atomsmashers: Writers on Comics (An anthology of essays in which some of the most important writers of the 20th Century discuss the culture and history of comics).
    6. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. (A Putlizer Prize award-winning novel that is a thinly-veiled autobiography of the creators of the first comic book superhero, Superman).

 Graphic Novel Course Texts: 

  1. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
  2. Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
  3. The Essential Spierman
  4. The Essential Hulk
  5. The Essential Daredevil
  6. The Essential X-Men
  7. The Crow
  8. Hellboy

 Motion Picture Tie-Ins:

 Dick Tracy (1990)

Superman (1978)

Batman (1989)

Spiderman (2002)

The Hulk (2003)

The X-Men (2000)

Daredevil (2003)

The Crow (1994)

The Rocketeer (1996)

Hellboy (2004)

 Animation Course Texts:

 1)      Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons by Leonard Maltin (A standard history of the genre).

2)      Animation and America by Paul Wells (A solid American Studies analysis of animation).

3)      A Reader in Animation Studies by Jayne Pilling (A collection of scholarly essays about animation and culture studies).

4)      Before Mickey by Donald Crafton (A history of animation from the silent film era.)

5)      Saturday Morning Fever by Timothy Burke and Kevin Burke (A good cultural analysis of the relationship between children’s television and animation).

6)      Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory, and the Avante-Garde by Esther Leslie (An art theory interpretation of Hollywood mainstream animation).

Course Evaluation:

  1. Mid-Term Exam …………………………………………………………            20%
  2. Final Exam ………………………………………………………                        20%
  3. Two Research Essays …………………………………………………….          50%
  4. Attendance ………………………………………………………………..          10%

TOTAL………………………...           100%

 

1) Mid-Term Exam: The mid-term exam will be given at the beginning of the class period indicated in the course schedule. This exam will cover the major reading assignments and multi-media course texts (i.e. the film and television programs) due up to that point in the semester, and it will offer a variety of different types of questions, including multiple-choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and longer essay format.

 2) Final Exam: The final exam for the course will be the same in structure and format as the mid-term exam. It will cover the course content for the second half of the semester, and be given during the scheduled final exam period.

 3) Two Research Essays: The two research essays, one on comics and one on animation, will involve your analysis of class themes and concepts, involving the research and use of secondary sources. Each essay will be a minimum of six pages in length (typed, double-spaced, one-inch margins, 12 point-Times New Roman font, MLA citation format), and will be due at the end of each half-semester. For each day a Research Essay is late in being turned in on its due date, a grade rank will be reduced.

  4) Attendance: The attendance portion of your grade will be evaluated as follows—

 0 absences………………………………………….       4.0

1 absence.…………………………………………..      3.5

2 absences………………………………………….       3.0

3 absences………………………………………….       2.5

4 absences………………………………………….       2.0

5 absences………………………………………….       1.5

6 absences………………………………………….       1.0

7 or more absences…………………………………       0.0

 Students who arrive to class more than ten minutes late or leave class more than ten minutes early will be counted as absent for that day. You are also expected to participate fully in class discussion.

 Course Grade Scale:

 93-100                            4.0

88-92                                3.5

83-87                                3.0

78-82                                2.5

73-77                                2.0

68-72                                1.5

60-67                                1.0

0-59                  0.0

 Course Schedule:

 Note: Class readings are due on the days they are listed in the following schedule. In addition, the course schedule may be altered at the instructor’s discretion. 

WEEK ONE ===========================================================

 The American Dime Novel and the Nineteenth-Century Superhero

 WEEK TWO============================================================

 The American Newspaper Comic Strip and the Advent of Visual Narrative

 WEEK THREE =========================================================

 The American Pulp Magazine and the Fiction Factory

             --Research Essay #1 assigned.

 WEEK FOUR===========================================================

 The Origins of the Comic Book in America

 WEEK FIVE============================================================

 Superman and Batman as Cultural Icons

 WEEK SIX=============================================================

 The Comic Book, the Cold War, and Media Censorship

 WEEK SEVEN =========================================================

 Stan Lee and the Silver Age in Comics

 WEEK EIGHT==========================================================

 The Culture of Postmodern Comics

             --Research Essay #1 due.

            --Mid-Term Exam.

 WEEK NINE ===========================================================

 The Origin of Animation in the U.S.

 --View assortment of silent animation shorts.

 WEEK TEN============================================================

 Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, and the Introduction of the Animated Feature

 --View assortment of early Mickey Mouse shorts. View the film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

 WEEK ELEVEN ========================================================

 Warner Brothers and the Classic Animated Short Film

             --View assortment of Warner Brothers animation shorts.

            --Research Essay #2 assigned.

 WEEK TWELVE ========================================================

 Hanna-Barbera and the Advent of Television Animation

             --View assortment of classic television animation, including The Flintstones.

 WEEK THIRTEEN ======================================================

 Manga and Anime: Japanese Animation in the U.S.

             --View the film, Akira

 WEEK FOURTEEN ======================================================

 Pixar and Computer Animation

             --View the film, Toy Story

            --Research Essay #2 due.

 WEEK FIFTEEN========================================================

 Non-Traditional Animation in the U.S.

             --View the film, The Nightmare before Christmas.

 Final Exam.