Tag Archives: V For Vendetta

Comics In The Classroom: Grand View University

By Greg Goode

Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, appears on Time magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century list.  In 2009, The New York Times began publishing a graphic novel bestseller list.  The same year, Heath Ledger wins an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker, Batman’s arch-enemy, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The comic book, long considered a disposable object exclusively for children, is finally getting some respect. Further validation for the art form can be found on college campuses, where graphic novels are becoming an increasingly common part of the curriculum, including at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Matt Plowman, Grand View’s associate professor of history, first experienced comics in the classroom at another institution as part of a critical thinking class on the Holocaust. Plowman said one of the most powerful texts the class read was Maus by Art Spigelman, a graphic novel about Spigelman’s father’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp.

“I’ve seen [graphic novels] used very effectively, and communicate things that just weren’t alive on the page of a history book,” Plowman said. “Literally, it’s graphing reality for them, picturing reality and playing with it.”

Later this semester in his European Cultural & Intellectual History class, Plowman will be using V For Vendetta by Moore and David Lloyd, a graphic novel about an anarchist’s war against authority in a near-future totalitarian England.

“With European intellectual history, you kind of have to show where society’s moving,” Plowman said. “So I was looking for something that was late 20th century, and particularly with where a lot of European thinkers were going, there’s a lot of dystopia. And the graphic novels tend to be on the edge of that.”

Plowman said he picked V For Vendetta partly because of the students familiarity with the story from its 2006 film adaptation.

“I wanted them to be able to see the original intent of Alan Moore and what he’s really trying to say about society,” Plowman said. “Sometimes it’s easier for some students, rather than trying to find a movie that has a traditional novel, where they have to do more literary criticism. Especially for the visual learners.”

Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View, said he’s always been intrigued by the use of graphic novels in class. Two years ago, Gannon took part in a summer reading program for the Grand View freshman class that used Gene Luen Yung’s graphic novel American Born Chinese.

“I had never taught with that before and in my discipline, it’s not very common. We use pretty standard vanilla textbooks. I was intrigued with the idea,” Gannon said. “I was a bit intimidated by the idea, too, because I had no idea how to teach it. What I learned is that it’s just like any other text.”

This semester, Gannon is assigning A People’s History of American Empire, a graphic novel that adapts writings by radical historian Howard Zinn. Gannon said students have responded to the text enthusiastically.

“For me personally, a graphic novel fits right in with the way I structure my courses and what I want students to be able to do with the texts that we read,” Gannon said.

Other Grand View instructors utilizing comics include Ken Jones, who assigned the zombie apocalypse story The Walking Dead in his Introduction to Ethics class this semester and Jim Whyte, who has given students the task of creating their own comics in his Principles of Management class.

Gannon said he sees the use of graphic novels in his class as a way of expanding his students’ ideas of what materials can be used in the classroom environment.

“I ask my students to be open-minded and look at different things as text, not just the standard printed page,” Gannon said. “If I’m going to ask my students to look at a text in that way, I should be willing to do the same myself.  And that’s where graphic novels help stretch me as a teacher.”

A literary recommendation: Promethea


published by America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm Comics 1999-2005
story and script by Alan Moore
pencil art by J.H. Williams III
ink art by Mick Gray
color art by various
calligraphy by Todd Klein

Like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, most of Alan Moore’s great works have been serialized.  Promethea was originally released in 32 pamphlets.  It was not presented as a limited series but it’s beginning, middle and end were clearly determined before the first issue was released.  The series has been collected into five books but there are no self-contained story arcs.  In other words, Promethea is a comprehensive work and should be read as such.

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the premise.  Go to Wikipedia for that.  I would prefer to talk about what I think makes Promethea so great.  First, I’ve never seen a comic that is so successfully experimental.  Moore and Williams constantly seem to search for new ways to present their story.  The layouts are excellent, clearly the best I’ve ever seen.  That’s a tough concession for me to make as a Ninja Turtles comics fan, as I always felt the classic Mirage comics had the most creative layouts I’ve seen.  However, Promethea‘s pages are gorgeous and often contain elaborate border designs.

The story usually moves forward well, although there are sequences that maybe could have moved along a bit more briskly.  Moore peppers the narrative with famous magicians and cultists from real life, including Aleister Crowley.  Also present are elements of practically every major religion and famous cult.  Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and especially Kabbala Jews are welcome.  Moore clearly loves the supernatural.

There are many light but sensitively-portrayed sexual themes and the various incarnations of Promethea are statuesque and gorgeous. Promethea is never presented in a salacious manner and, while attractive, she seems almost motherly and untouchable. There is also some violence in the story but none of it feels as immediate or gritty as the bone-crunching action in Watchmen or V for Vendetta. Most of the real adult material comes in the form of conversations, sometimes deep with many layers and sometimes drowning in silly occultism.

There is a maturity and depth to the entire story that fans of Moore are likely familiar with. On the other hand, there is complete mayhem and nonsense, like the entire character of the Painted Clown. In most Moore stories that I’ve read, everything makes sense in the end but there are several characters and situations in Promethea that are resolved in ridiculous but enjoyable manners.

But in the end the real star of the whole thing is the art, the layouts, and the presentation, which I’m sure Moore and Williams planned together. So do yourself a flavor and chuck it out.

I very briefly grade all of the Warner Bros. DC Comics movies

* = I like it to some extent, even if has a bad grade

Superman: The Movie (A)
Superman II (A)
Superman III (C)*
Supergirl (C-)*
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (D)*
Superman Returns (C)

Batman (A)
Batman Returns (A)
Batman Forever (C+)*
Batman & Robin (D)*
Batman Begins (A)
The Dark Knight (A+)

Steel (D)
Catwoman (F)
Constantine (B-)
V For Vendetta (B-)

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