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ENGL251 Special Topic: Word and Image: The Graphic Novel

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An overview of representative genres of the modern graphic novel, considering sequential art in light of theories of reception, adaptation and representation.

This paper offers a selection of representative genres of the modern graphic novel, including the woodcut novels of the early twentieth century, the superhero canon and intensely personal modern narratives. The graphic novel will be examined as a distinct literary and visual form, with its own critical vocabulary. We will consider the sequential art of the graphic novel in light of theories of reception, adaptation and representation, considering both its treatment and resistance of conventional literary forms.

Paper title Special Topic: Word and Image: The Graphic Novel
Paper code ENGL251
Subject English
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2021 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $913.95
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,073.40

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36 points
Schedule C
Arts and Music

To be advised when next offered

Teaching staff

To be advised when next offered

Paper Structure


  • Module 1: The Graphic Tradition
  • Module 2: Life Writing and Memorial Narrative
  • Module 3: 'Lowbrow' Narrative
  • Module 4: Crossovers, Mashups and Palimpsests


  • Script Exercise: 10%
  • Research Essay: 30%
  • Final Exam: 60%
Teaching Arrangements

Three 2-hour lectures per week
One 1-hour tutorial per week
One film screening per week

All teaching is undertaken on campus.

  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (Harper)
  • God's Man by Lynd Ward (Dover)
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf)
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
  • In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman (Viking)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (DC)
  • The Unwritten (Vol. 1, 'Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity') by Mike Carey (Vertigo)
  • Fables (Vol. 1, 'Legends in Exile') by Bill Willingham (Vertigo)

Note: Alternative editions of the above texts are acceptable.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Information literacy.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

This paper will introduce students to the academic study of graphic narratives as literary texts. Students will

  • Recognise and debate the personal, cultural, metaphorical and philosophical meanings in graphic novels
  • Explore the theoretical and critical discourse of graphic narratives
  • Develop skills in the design and critical analysis of visual texts
  • Appreciate and accurately describe the complex interplay between text and image in sequential art
  • Gain an appreciation of the historical evolution of narrative techniques specific to visual narrative

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Not offered in 2021

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system