Class Info

In 1837, Swiss illustrator & writer Rodolphe Töpffer published an illustrated comedic account entitled Histoire de M. Vieux Bois.  The work was translated and re-released in 1842 in the United States as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. Containing 30 pages, each of which had between one and six illustrations with associated text, the work is widely considered to be the first comic book.  The rest, as they say, is history. More than 150 years later, comic books (and their associated intellectual property)  are a multi billion dollar industry, and  more than worthy of mainstream attention and scholarly study.

The History of the Modern Comic Book is designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore the development and current state of comic books.  The course will take a socio-historical approach to the subject, exploring not only the lineage of genres & trends, but the impact that the industry & medium has had on society and vice versa. While the historical foundations of the medium will be briefly explored, the course will focus on the period following the Silver Age.


Ethan Watrall is an Assistant Professor at Matrix: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters & Social Sciences Online, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, and Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Michigan State University. In addition, Ethan is a Principal Investigator in the Games for Entertainment & Learning Lab, and co- founder of both the undergraduate Specialization and Game Design Development and the MA in Serious Game Design at Michigan State University. Ethan teaches in a wide variety of areas including cultural heritage informatics, user centered & user experience design, game design, serious game design, game studies, history of various forms of popular and entertainment media, and ancient Egyptian social history & archaeology. When he’s not being professorial, he’s a world class comic book nerd (Killowog is so his favorite Green Lantern), a sci-fi dork (he’ll argue to the grave that Tom Baker is the best Doctor ever), and an avid player of all sorts of games (digital, board, and tabletop).


Students are not required to purchase any traditional textbooks for this course.  Instead, they will be required to purchase the following:

  • 1 comic book/week during the semester.  Students can choose any comic books they  like – as long as at least of 2 of those (per month) are from an independent publisher (an independent publisher is pretty much anyone by Marvel & DC – so, that means ONI, Dark Horse, BOOM!, IDW, Avatar, Image, Red 5 Comics, etc. – Vertigo & Wildstorm are imprints of DC, so they don’t count as indie).  Students can follow a specific series, buy one-shots, or choose a different series/publisher each week.  These weekly comics are part of the weekly blog assignments (which can be read about in the Assignments section of the website)
  • One original graphic novel/trade from this list.  This ogn/trade will be part of the OGN Analysis Assignment (which can be read about in the Assignments section of the website).  Students shouldn’t buy their ogn/trade until the assignment has been discussed in class.


It’s expected that students attend every class. The material covered in each class is very important and contributes to the successful completion of the course. If a student misses a class, it will be their responsibility to ask one of their classmates about what was covered. Under no circumstances will the Professor repeat a lecture or provide lecture notes for a student who missed class. The bottom line is that is the students’ duty to take responsibility for their decisions while taking this course.

If the student plans on missing a class in which an assignment is due, it is the student’s responsibility to hand in their work before the due date.

Religious Observance: If you wish to be absent from class to observe a religious holiday, make arrangements in advance with the instructor.

Missing Class to Participate in a Required Activity: To be excused from this class to participate in a required activity for another course or a university-sanctioned event, you must provide the instructor with adequate advanced notice and a written authorization from the faculty member of the other course or from a university administrator.


Due dates are not negotiable. All assignments are to be handed in on their specific due date (refer to the Schedule for exact due dates) If a student plans on missing a class, it is their responsibility to hand in the assignment before the due date if they don’t want to be penalized.

Only under extreme (and documentable) circumstances will students be allowed to hand in assignments after the due date without being penalized. Students who do not hand in any of their assignments will be docked 15% for each 24 hour period for which it is late.

Excused absences must be properly documented (i.e. with a doctor’s note). Absences due to family emergencies or other personal crises are (of course) acceptable, but should be discussed with the instructor in person, not communicated by e-mail.

Remember, it is your responsibility to schedule your time, and take responsibility for your decisions. The grade you receive is directly related to the effort you put into this course.


In accordance with Michigan State University’s policies on “Protection of Scholarship and Grades” and “Integrity of Scholarship and Grades,” students are expected to honor principles of truth and honesty in their academic work. Academic integrity means, amongst other things, not plagiarizing. Plagiarism includes submitting someone else’s work (words, ideas, etc.) as their own now will the knowingly permit another student to copy and submit their work. Additional discussion of academic integrity is available on the Ombudsman’s website:


Twitter ( is a cross between a social network and micro-blogging service.  Students will be using Twitter during the semester to stay connected with the course instructor (and each other).


If you don’t already have an account – you need to get one ASAP.  All you need to do is go to, sign up for an account, and then follow (Ethan – your professor).  Whenever you post something relating to the class, use the #hst110h hastag (whats a hashtag?  Check out the description here).

There are also lots of comic book pros (writers, artists, editors, etc.) on Twitter.  Check out this handy list put together by iFanboy, and follow your favorites.


The classroom is a community, and, as such, the instructor requires that the students must follow several basic guidelines:

  • Cell Phones : The instructor has a strict no cell phone policy during class time. If you have a cell phone, be absolutely sure that it is turned off during class. If any student engages in a phone discussion during class, they will be immediately asked to leave.
  • Late Arrival : The instructor understands that there are often unpredictable events that prevent students from arriving to class on time. If this is the case, please be respectful of others, and enter the class as quietly as possible.
  • Departing Early : It is extremely rude and oftentimes disruptive to both fellow classmates and the instructor when students leave early without a genuine reason. If you know in advance that you are going to be forced to leave the class early, be absolutely sure that you take a seat as close to the exit as possible so that when you do leave, your departure will cause a minimum of disruption. If a student continues to leave lab early, it may count against their participation grade.
  • In Class Talking : It is extremely important that all students respect their peers (as well as the instructor) and refrain from any unnecessary disruptive talking during class. The instructor encourages an open environment in which everyone has a right to express their own opinions and ideas. However, everyone should be able to do so without having to talk over any of their peers in order to be heard.

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