Teaching Gender Through Comics With Christina Blanch, Part 2

by Russ Burlingame

Christina Blanch is teaching a Massive Open Online Course titled Gender Through Comics, which began today.

Sponsored by Ball State University, Blanch's class will bring together comics luminaries like Terry Moore, Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Scott Snyder in a course that examines how gender is depicted and perceived in culture and entertainment--all through the lens of (mostly mainstream) American comic books.

You can sign up for the course here, which does have some required reading--about $75 worth of textbooks in the form of comics available at deep discounts through ComiXology. If you want to know more about it, here's an introductory video created for the course, narrated by Stan Lee.

You can catch up on the first chunk of our conversation with Blanch here, wherein we discuss the basics of the course. With the course beginning today, here's a bit more in-depth thought on what the thousands enrolled will be up to.

ComicBook.com: I'm glad to hear that you're starting with Strangers in Paradise, which I've said for years is arguably the greatest single accomplishment in American comics.

Christina Blanch: I absolutely agree with you. I think Terry [Moore] is one of the most talented, nicest people on the planet.

This is such a great comic to start with because it's people--the thing about this class is that I've never taught a class this size before. There's going to be over 1,000 people in it and I'm not going to get to know them--I've only got six weeks. Plus, they're not doing this for credit so there's no incentive for people to finish things.

And there's people from all different cultures, all different educational backgrounds, all different ages--so there's so many different factors here that I have to take into consideration and one of the big ones is that some people read comic books, some people have never read a comic book. So I have to work around that also.

So we'll have at the very beginning a video that you can watch--you don't have to watch it--that is, "This is how you read comics." The reason I'm doing that is when I taught in face to face classrooms, a lot of people who hadn't read them struggled with that. For somebody like you and I, who understand the language of comics, it's not a big deal but it's almost like learning a second language--you really have to understand some of the processes.

Plus, I think if you understand some of the big processes that Scott McCloud and Will Eisner brought to everybody's attention, you get a lot more out of the experience.

We talk about the gutter--we talk about why this panel is written or drawn at this angle. It's really interesting and to say, "In this scene, the lamp is a little bit askew," and for somebody like me who likes everything to be straight, that puts me a little off when I'm reading that. And that's done intentionally, and this is why I'm feeling this way. This is how this reaction is given, why I have this reaction, and that's kind of interesting, too. So even people who have read comics say, "I've never thought of that," so that's a good thing.

ComicBook.com: How are you going to be conducting the interviews for the class? You said there's going to be a full video and then basically an abbreviated version that's the course component?

Blanch: What we're going to do is, those are goign to be live. Students will get their assignments on Sunday. They'll have a syllabus that tells them what's coming up so they'll know ahead of time, but Sunday's your reminder, "This is what I want you to read." There'll be a short article for them to read that will be available on the Internet, so there's no cost involved with that. Then there'll be the lecture on Tuesday and on Thursday we'll have live interviews. The technical people are still trying to decide if we're going to have these in a Google Hangout situation where we can select students at random to ask a question. If we can't do that, they'll be able to tweet in questions.

It will be a live interview happening on that Thursday--it will also be recorded because since there's so many people around the world taking this...I mean, literally, it's every continent except Antarctica, which I'm really crossing my fingers for! There's different time zones and people have to work and I understand that. So we're recording those and then they can watch them later.

And then we'll also have--becuase I can't really say if you have a question e-mail me, becuase that could be a thousand e-mails a day--we're going to have every week, virtual office hours where I'll go into like a Google Hangout, where I can come online and we can interact and talk and all of that.

There will also be message boards. We'll have two kinds of message boards: one that's "What's your reaction to the lecture, the material, here's a question to answer," and they read those and respond to each other and that's like the academic section. There's also another set of message boards where we'll say, "Okay, here's the section for Batman or Green Lantern or Wonder Woman or Black Canary," and people can talk in those.

We're going to have a few assignments, btu they're fun. We're going to try and put together a comics and gender wiki, where everybody's going to make some entries. I've got another really cool thing I don't want to talk about yet because I doin't want anybody to steal it--then we're going to have another few assignments along the way but they're going to be interesting assignments. Again, if people don't finish them they don't have to but it will help with the whole class as it goes along.

ComicBook.com: The quantity, of course, is going to be totally insane to try and grade those, obviously. But are you going to try and go in and look as much as you can?

Blanch: I'm going to look at it as much as I can and I think Ball State is going to hire one graduate student to help us. I love teaching with comics--I love it--and I'm so excited for this class and I love the interest that people have for it. So I'm really going to try to look at as much as I can.

And fortunately, with Canvas [the online study system used for the course], they have a way that you can look at the most popular things that people are saying and so there is a way that you can do that, but basically going through and looking at what people have to say...and obviously there's the virtual office hours, and hopefully people will take advantage of that. But no, the thing about this class is a lot of the MOOCs that they've been offering that have like 40,000 people in them, they're either math or computer science or something where here's a test, there's a definite answer. There is no definite answer to what is gender. So I can't say, "Put this in," and then have it automatically graded.  And that's what those classes are doing; they're automatically graded and they're not reading through essays or anything like that. I just physically as one person--or even if there were three people--I don't think we could go through and grade over a thousand essays every week for six weeks.

This is an experiment--there aren't a whole lot of Humanities MOOCs out there. And this is one of Ball State's first MOOCs.

ComicBook.com: Have you thought about looking at some of the more controversial books out there, where things like Cerberus has been accused of being more misogynistic?

Wonder Woman #7Blanch: We're going to talk about that. We're reading Wonder Woman #7 by Brian Azzarrello, who's a fine writer...but I stopped reading Wonder Woman at #7 because I didn't like how they changed the myth and I think it made Wonder Woman appear dumb that she didn't know this was her culture.

We're going to look at when we talk about both the masculinity and the femininity and how men and women are portrayed, we're going to talk about those things. We're going to talk about Power Girl and her symbol is basically her breasts--there's no symbol there. We're going to talk about that, we're going to talk about how Wonder Woman has changed--especially when we talk about Women in Refrigerators, we'll talk about things like that--about how women are just put in the story to advance it along or women are in there for the male fantasy, the male gaze--we're going to talk about all of that when we talk about the femininity.

And then you have the masculinity. There's a couple of Rob Liefeld drawings of people like Captain America that are just like, "What?".

Something I didn't realize until I taught this class when we were talking about the evil comic book characters is you've got the Penguin and the Joker and Dr. Doom and all these gross-looking men, then you've got Enchantress and all these sexy women. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to use Secret Six, is that Gail Simone has one of the only female bad guys who's just gross.

By Russ Burlingame

Russ Burlingame has been covering comics and pop culture since 1999. He has written for WIZARD: THE COMICS MAGAZINE, Comic Related, Newsarama, and more before settling in for the long haul at ComicBook.com back in 2011.