Reading Comics and Religion (Chesick)

Stokes 118K

Ken Koltun-Fromm
Haverford College
Gest 201
610-896-1026 (office) 610-645-8324 (home)

Sabea Evans
Teaching Assistant
347-835-0299 (cell)

Tuesday 10-12, 1:30-3:30; Wednesday 10-12; Thursday 10-12


This course engages visual culture and religion through a reading of comics, examining how graphic mediums represent religious traditions, ethics, and culture. Reading comics is a visual practice, but it is also a study in religious expression, creative imagination, and critical interpretation. The course will focus on (1) comics and the representation of religion, (2) comics and sacred texts, (3) the ethics of representation, and (4) comics, culture, and religion. We want to engage the multi-textured layers of religious traditions through a reading of comics, and challenge our notions of what counts as religion.

We will also collaborate with Laura McGrane’s class on South African literature by reading Spiegelman’s Maus along with Krog’s Country of My Skull, two pivotal texts that explore the ethics of representational memory—who remembers the Holocaust, how does one depict trauma, what is the relationship between truth, reconciliation, and representation. The concluding symposium will bring both classes together to explore issues in the ethics of representation.

Books to Own

R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated
Will Eisner, A Contract with God
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Steve Ross, Marked
Joann Sfar, The Rabbi’s Cat
Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus
Michael Taussig, I Swear I Saw This


Preparation for class discussions is required and necessary. You should be fully prepared to engage the course material, and offer reflective analysis upon the reading assignments as well as the comments by others in class. Once during the summer you will present the readings for class discussion. This 10 minute opening discussion should take the form of 1) a concise summary of the class readings, and 2) a focused attention on a difficult passage, or a guiding question that troubles or concerns you about the reading, or some other way of engaging your peers in what you think matters most about the texts.

You will write three, doubled-spaced essays during this five-week summer session. Your third and final paper on the ethics of representation will form the basis for the culminating, public symposium.


You will write three (all double-spaced) essays over the course of these five weeks that follow the same preparatory structure: you will turn in a draft on Monday and a final draft on Friday. All drafts (initial and final) will be turned in electronically on the Moodle site for this course in the appropriate folder. The process works like this: I will discuss in our Wednesday class the paper assignment due on Monday. You will meet with Barbara Hall, Lecturer in the Haverford College Writing Program, during that week to discuss your draft, and again meet with writing tutors on Sunday to prepare your first draft due on Monday. We will collectively discuss drafts on the Tuesday afternoon session (one day after you turn in your draft), and we will take the first hour on Thursday to discuss writing and revision. Your revised, final essay will be turned in on Friday. All three essays follow this structure, but note that as you revise one paper you will also be thinking about the next.

Your first essay will be a 2-3 page textual analysis paper. In this paper you want to focus on a specific passage of the comic text and analyze it in a way that helps one become a better reader of the comic. To do this you want to focus on what the text means and not on what it says. Think about peeling away layers as you go deeper into your analysis. Your introduction should be a concise summary of your argument (consider writing this last), and your conclusion should open up your paper to related issues not fully covered in your argument. You want to err on the side of ever increasing details that draw out textual nuances, and try to refrain from general observations.

Your second essay will be a 3-4 page textual analysis paper like the first one, but will include critical engagement with secondary sources. These sources may come from class readings or from material researched at Magill library. When we discussed this in class, I noted two examples of how to use secondary materials in the work: 1) the first example was an historical one, in which you bring in historical context to highlight something distinctive about the text. This is but one way to use historical analysis. It could be that historical context allows you to make other claims about the text. But in all cases, this secondary work strengthens, deepens, and nuances your critical, textual analysis; 2) the second example explored how one could bring in a theoretical discussion from one thinker to help explore some particular issue in your text (I used Taussig in my example). Here too you want to bring in this secondary source to further your own commentary. In both examples, it’s important to “set up” your secondary work by explaining why this work is important for your analysis. And you want to elucidate the meaning of that secondary text, and not merely quote it and tell me what it says. I am asking you to strengthen and deepen your textual analysis by drawing on another voice that helps you articulate your own. So continue to work at going deeper into a text, peeling away the layers of meaning through textual analysis, and now add another textual source to help you do that well.

Your third and final essay will be a 4-5 page synthetic, broader thesis paper on the ethics of representation that includes textual analysis and secondary sources. This is more of a thematic paper in which I want you to pursue a thesis on the ethics of representation as you develop it through two preceding steps: 1) exploratory paragraph due on Thursday, July 14th in which you articulate the focus of your work on the ethics of representation; and 2) a more expansive version of that paragraph in a 2-3 page paper due Monday, July 18th in which you begin to unpack your thesis through close textual analysis. Any text or texts read in class should be the focus for this paper on the ethics of representation. Topics may include the ethics of representing race, gender, violence, sacred texts, religious cultures, or divine beings. As part of this assignment, when you turn in your draft on Monday, July 25th you must include a number count for “to be” and passive verbs in your draft.

I will discuss in detail these assignments during our Wednesday classes, and then post to this web syllabus the collective sentiments gleaned from our discussion as a reference guide.

All Monday draft papers are due at 9 am, and all Friday papers are due at 12 pm.


Due on the last day of class (Friday, July 29th), you will turn in your final, four-five page paper on the ethics of representation that will provide the theoretical grounding for your public talk at the concluding symposium on Thursday, July 28th. This critical, reflective paper will argue for a way of reading or analyzing ethical representation in comic works. You will present your analysis at the concluding symposium (in a six-eight minute talk) with substantive examples from our summer reading. This talk may include visual presentations of images (with PowerPoint or other presentation software), and should concisely depict a critical area of concern in the ethics of representation.


Your final grade will be based on the above assignments, with significant weight placed on your engagement in class discussions. I do not evaluate each task with percentage accuracy (your final paper is not worth, for example, 30% of your grade), but I instead examine all your work as a piece, and provide a grade that I hope fairly expresses the work and attention rendered to the class assignments, your peers in class, and your class participation. This process also allows me to take into account improvement over the course of the semester.

If you require any kind of accommodations due to learning differences please contact me privately early in the summer so we can plan a course of action.

My Policy on Technology in the Classroom:

You must bring all readings to class and be prepared to read, cite, and engage those texts in the seminar. Some of you may prefer to bring in computers or other technology to access these readings (instead of printing them out as a hard copy). For those who wish to use computers or other devices in the classroom, you may not use those devices for anything other than engaging in and committing to the seminar. When we step into the seminar room, we become a community of intellectual learners, and this community requires commitment and attention. If computers or other technical devices interfere with that learning process then I will no longer allow those devices in the classroom. This means that if your use of a computer or similar device prevents you or any of your peers from fully engaging the class, then you will be required to remove your device from class. Only under special conditions may you use a cell phone for communication in the classroom; normally these devices must be turned off or left outside the room. The basic premise is this: we should use technology when it enables intellectual commitment to the seminar; we should leave it alone when it undermines that commitment. Please come and see me if you have concerns about using technology in the classroom.

Week One: Comics and the Representation of Religion

Tuesday, June 28
Overview of Course
Spiegelman, Maus, p. 207
McCloud, Understanding Comics, pp. 1-2

Discussion of Essays and Writing
“Example of Close Reading” of Spiegelman’s Maus, p. 207
“How I Footnote”
“Setting up a Quote”
“How to Indent a Quote”
Writing Samples 2 and 5

Wednesday, June 29
McCloud, Understanding Comics, pp. 2-49, 60-73
Eisner, A Contract with God (not entire book but only the first graphic narrative)

Thursday, June 30 (Addy)
Taussig, I Swear I Saw This, pp. xi-xii, 1-20
Thompson, Habibi, pp. 1-49, 132-145, 471-475, 597-605

Week Two: Comics and Sacred Texts

Monday, July 4: First paper draft due (2-3 pages)

Tuesday, July 5
Discussion of Essays and Writing

Wednesday, July 6 (Rafael)
Allred, The Golden Plates
The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, chs. 1-14
Book of Mormon Stories, especially pages 23-26, 85-88, 99-102, 114-123, 138-142, and 154-156

Thursday, July 7 (Shaun)
Amar Chitra Katha, Tales of Durga
Mclain, India’s Immortal Comic Books, Introduction and pp. 87-113

Friday, July 8: First paper due (2-3 pages)

Week Three: The Ethics of Representation

Monday, July 11: Second paper draft due (3-4 pages)

Tuesday, July 12
Spiegelman, Maus, pp. 13-25, 75-149

Discussion of Essays and Writing

Wednesday, July 13
Krog, Country of My Skull, pp. 19-66, 212-225, 311-317

Thursday, July 14
Continued discussion on Spiegelman and Krog
Paragraph on ethics of representation
Workshop essays (second hour)

Friday, July 15: Second paper due (3-4 pages)

Week Four: Comics, Culture, and Religion

Monday, July 18: Two-three page expansion of paragraph on the ethics of representation

Tuesday, July 19 (Pam)
Sfar, The Rabbi’s Cat
Eisenstein, “Imperfect Masters: Rabbinic Authority in Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat,” pp. 163-180

Discussion of Essays and Writing

Wednesday, July 20 (Diana)
Ms. Marvel
Idea Channel: How is Ms. Marvel Changing Media for the Better
Satrapi, Persepolis, pp. 3-46, 94-102, 118-134

Thursday, July 21 (Cameron)
A Tale of Selfless Generosity
Tezuka, Buddha, pp. 1-25, 148-160, 352-370
Vakil, 40 Sufi Comics
Haverford Centers visit (11:30-12:00 in Hall 201)

Week Five: Comics and the Representation of Religion

Monday, July 25: Third paper draft due (4-5 pages)

Tuesday, July 26 (Kierra)
Taussig, I Swear I Saw This, pp. 21-31, 67-70, 100-102
Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, ch. 1-3, 15-22

Visit from librarian Anna Fodde-Reguer (meet in library at 1:30)
Discussion of Essays and Writing

Wednesday, July 27 (Leslie)
Ross, Marked
The Wolverton Bible, pp. 270-284
Student presentations (practice and trial-runs)

Thursday, July 28

Friday, July 29
Final paper due (4-5 pages)