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New Level 1 Course Unit: Graphic Fiction - The Open College of the Arts
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New Level 1 Course Unit: Graphic Fiction

‘The Adventures of Tintin: Tintin and the Picaros’ Comic (1976), cover by Hergé / Annual Cover, France / © The Advertising Archives / Bridgeman Images

Even just a few years ago, if you had asked someone in the street to name a comic, they might have said Superman, or The Beano, or Viz. The public perception of comics was still of cheaply-printed pamphlets aimed at children or stories about superheroes. Today comics are an intrinsic part of mainstream popular culture, not just on the printed page, but also in high street bookshops, in cineplexes, on TV and online.

The new Graphic Fiction 1 course unit considers the ongoing development of this understanding of comics, from what was once considered only reading material for children to what is known in France as ‘the ninth art’ and an American cultural export as esteemed as jazz or baseball. The unit is now available for enrolment to all Level 1 students on the Illustration, Graphic Design and Visual Communications degree courses. 

Front cover of ‘John Bull’ (October 1954) (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives / Bridgeman Images

The Graphic Fiction unit content comprises a history of comics, from its Victorian origins through newspaper strips and American publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, through to the huge range of contemporary comics and graphic novels. Exercises and assignments focus on the basic principles of the panel as a unit of the page, panel-to-panel continuity, different types of textual ‘voice’, how to start a story, introduce characters, and the span of genres and formats that comprise today’s comics. The unit gives students advice on how to thumbnail and sketch comic layouts, test out different ways of inking and lettering, the use of black and white and colour, and the opportunity to write and draw your own short comic stories. There are also many examples of significant creators like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Hergé, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco and Marjane Satrapi.

Inevitably a 40-credit unit can’t cover everything, but tutorials on areas of practice like manga and digital colouring are readily available elsewhere. But for an introduction to the fundamentals of comics and graphic narrative, a broad overview of the history and contemporary context of the artform, and lots of pointers to further research and reading, the Graphic Fiction 1 unit adds to an expanding portfolio of OCA study options for personal and professional development.

Featured Image: ‘Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars’ No. 1 (May 1984), cover by Mike Zeck & John Beatty / Bridgeman Images

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Posted by author: James Pyman
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2 thoughts on “New Level 1 Course Unit: Graphic Fiction

  • This has been a long time coming, and hopefully will eventually cross over into creative writing as part of the scriptwriting course. I’d recommend Scott McCloud’s books on this area; Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics. They’d make invaluable additions to the reading list, if they’re not on there already.

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