In the course Suffrage & Comics, students examined political cartoons from the era of the American Civil War through the 2020 presidential election. They also created multi-panel comics of their own.
“It has been interesting to study historical comics and recent comics at the same time. Sometimes in class we analyzed comics that were only a few hours old,” said Maggie McDow ’23. “I've started looking up comics whenever a new piece of major news breaks. When President Trump announced that he had contracted COVID-19, I kept my eye on the [web]sites Prof. Serrano told us about because I knew that there would be a whole slew of new comics. As someone interested in literature, history, and graphic design, this was my dream class.”
Comics shed light on the country’s consciousness and can be a call to arms, said Nhora Serrano, associate director for digital learning and research, who designed and taught the course fall semester. “Cartoons, editorial cartoons, comic strips, and graphic novels, can be documentarians — like a time capsule, they can show us what's been going on in that moment,” she said. They can critique that moment, too, she added.
Serrano didn’t evaluate students’ comics on the quality of their art. Stick figures were fine, although many students drew impressive work. The important part was the story. One of the assignments asked students to create, in small groups, a comic strip with a get-out-the-vote message for the 2020 election, and Serrano was interested to see that their work was not necessarily about promoting an individual candidate.
“They were all talking about the concept of voting, the responsibility, the challenges, and to me, I think it offers a really wonderful insight into what this generation or this class was thinking about this election year,” she said.