Should comics be taken seriously? Last week, the United Kingdom’s first degree program in comic studies was launched at Dundee University in Scotland. One Scottish politician criticized the graduate program; the Courier reported that Glasgow South Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Tom Harris made snide remarks over Twitter, stating that the new degree “dumbed down” the post graduate system. He later added comments like “Coming soon to a university near you: a BSc in Battlestar Galactica — comparisons of the original v the reboot. Nine grand a year,” and that he was “looking forward to Sheffield University doing a degree in forks.”
The city of Dundee is home to the publisher, DC Thomson and Co., who was the company behind such publications as Dennis the Menace and The Broons. Although Harris did not hesitate to make his feelings known, there were many who disagreed with him. Stewart Hosie, Dundee East MP, told the Courier, “This masters degree in comic book studies is a first-class idea. Comic books are a global industry.”
As if to prove the point, the Moscow University of Industry and Finance also announced last week that they plan to open a Department of Comics in the fall, headed by Russian-born animator and comic books author Pavel Sukhikh. The “comics masterclass” will feature subjects like “Storytelling,” “Character Creation,” and “Technical Study,” reported the Animation Insider blog.
We’re happy to join the side arguing in favor of these new university programs. It’s about time comics gets the same serious treatment as other mediums. In Julie Danielson’s review of our latest TOON Books release, Patrick in “A Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” on the Kirkus Review blog, she noted the success of comic books as a tool for new readers.
“Given their approach to this series, Mouly and Spiegelman’s venture was being marketed as a contemporary spin on emerging readers. But I say then and now (though I think hardly anyone would still refer to comics as a passing fancy) that what matters is taking a close look at the books themselves: Are they high-quality literature for children? Yes. Since it was launched three years ago, the series has brought readers nearly 15 outstanding titles by artists from a wide range of backgrounds—established children’s book author/illustrators (Agnès Rosenstiehl), cartoonists and comic books artists (Harry Bliss and Jeff Smith), and some new talent (Trade Loeffler). And the titles have racked up a whole slew of honors, including Theodor Seuss Geisel nods on more than occasion.”
(Read the rest of the review here. Read Danielson’s recent post on TOON Books on her own book blog, “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” here.)
Dr. Chris Murray, who will lead the Dundee University comics program, told BBC News, “Employability is an important consideration for any postgraduate programme, and it lies at the heart of what we aim to do with this course. There will be practical advice on publishing and developing a career as a comics scholar, writer or artist, and we hope to arrange work placements for students.”
When we asked Geoffrey Hayes, children’s author and illustrator of the Benny and Penny series and Patrick in “A Teddy Bear’s Picnic,” whether he thought a professional career in comics was financially viable, he replied, “Today, comics are more popular than ever…now, more than any other time, is making a living out of comics possible.” He added that comics are now widely used for children’s education, like TOON Books’ early readers. When Geoffrey learned of the graduate program at Dundee University, he responded: “I wish they had a program like this when I was going to school. I had to learn how to do it [writing and illustrating children’s books] on my own.”