Words and Pictures: The Comics Studies Certificate Program and Write to Publish 2015

Do you like comics? Of course you do. It is, therefore, noteworthy news that Portland State University is now offering a certificate in Comics Studies to post-baccalaureate and graduate students. While this program is meant for anyone interested in the study of comics, students in the Book Publishing program looking for a fun way to fill elective credits will find these courses especially attractive.

The program requires students to complete six courses for a total of twenty-four credits; ENG 449/549: Advanced Topics in Cultural Studies: Comics History & Theory is the only mandatory course. The remaining five courses are selected from the Architecture, Art, English, Japanese Studies, Philosophy, World Languages and Literatures, and Writing departments— a truly interdisciplinary collection. The program features visits from talented local comics professionals including Shannon Wheeler (creator of Too Much Coffee Man) and Brian Michael Bendis.

The Comics Studies program is the brainchild of Susan Kirtley, associate professor of English and the Director of Rhetoric and Composition at Portland State University. Professor Kirtley is busy: she will be one of the judges of the 2015 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, will cohost a panel called “Getting Respect: Comics Go To College” at Wizard World Portland Comic ConA, and will be appearing at the 2015 Write to Publish conference on January 31st. Despite her busy schedule, Kirtley still found time to provide me with more information about the new certificate program.

This is what I learned:

  • This program will partner well with a degree in Book Publishing. “We’re in a comics city with a lot of publishers,” Kirtley said. In fact, two of the elective options in the certificate program include Introduction to Book Publishing and Publishing Software.
  • Internships are in the works. The program has just gone live as of Winter Term 2015, so the details are still being worked out, but there are a lot of interested creators and companies.
  • The program could expand into a full-fledged degree program. “My hope is that eventually, over time, we’ll be able to expand . . . the idea was to start small and make sure that there is an interest.”

I also asked Professor Kirtley about the panel she will be on at Write to Publish this year, “The Graphic Novel Narrative: Where Words Meet Illustration.” The panel, which will also feature Shannon Wheeler, Leia Weathington, and Mark Russell, will address “the growing place of graphic novels in literature, how illustrations affect the narrative, and the relationship between writer and artist.” She thinks it’s fantastic that Ooligan is showcasing graphic narratives as part of the publishing landscape, saying, “I have witnessed that people in this area are very, very passionate and very, very excited about comics.” When asked how she thought the Write to Publish conference would benefit someone who is interested in working in comics, Professor Kirtley said the conference would offer a chance to ask questions of people who work in the field as well as the opportunity to get an inside look at the industry.

If you would like to know more about the Comics Studies program, you can visit the webpage. There you will find a list of courses offered for upcoming terms as well as information regarding admission and completion requirements. For more information about speakers, programming, and tickets for Write to Publish, check out the event’s webpage.

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