Comic communication topic of professors' classes

By Elizabeth Pannell Published July 27, 2008 at 6:18 a.m.
0 Comments A A Font Size

— Dr. Randy Duncan and Dr. Travis Langley, professors at Henderson State University, have a love for comics that runs deeper than buying the occasional comic book or watching the latest Batman movie.

They both teach classes on the subject of comics and took 16 HSU students attended the Comic-Con International in San Diego, which began Thursday and ends today.

Duncan is the co-founder of Comic Arts Conference, which is part of the Comic-Con International.

He has been reading comics since age 8, and now as a professor of communication, he is teaching comics as communication. Duncan said the class makes a historical examination and critical analysis of the unique blend of verbal and visual communication elements juxtaposed in sequence.

Langley is a psychology professor, and he said his love of comics came before he could even read.

"When I was 4 my mom was reading me Batman," Langley said.

Langley teaches a comics and psychology course at HSU, and he said the course is a psychological study of sequential art literature, like comic books and graphic novels, exploring its structure, function and psychological value.

"The conference is designed to bring together comics scholars, practitioners, critics and historians who want to be involved in the dynamic process of evolving and aesthetic and a criticism of the comics art form," Duncan said.

The conference was founded in 1992 by Duncan and Peter Coogan, a writing specialist at Fontbonne University in St. Louis. In 1998, the Comic Arts Conference became part of Comic-Con International. During the conference, academic, independent and fan scholars present papers, panels, poster sessions and slide presentations that take a criticalor historical perspective on comics.

Another project Duncan has in the works is a college textbook he is co-authoring with Dr. Matthew Smith, associate professor of communication at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture, will be released in March 2009.

"The book is intended for a comics appreciation course, but could easily be adapted to many different approaches to comic studies. I don't know how many comics courses are offered, but I think it's a growing trend," Duncan said.

After a trip to Comic-Con, Langley realized that it would be a great place to do empirical research. So he founded The ERIICA Project. ERIICA stands for empirical research on the interpretation and influence of the comic arts.

HSU students, varying from English majors to nursing majors, are involved in the project by researching fan behavior, fan self-esteem and analyzing superheroes.

The research at Comic-Con planned to include the students handing out the Batman Assessment of Personality survey and the Personal/Intrapersonal Experiences Report. The Batman Assessment of Personality survey investigates the relationship between people's self-views and how they view fictional characters.

The Personal/Intrapersonal Experiences Report compares how different people feel about life and questions concerning self-esteem, optimism, assertiveness, life satisfaction, interactions and emotions. Other research will be through interviews with fans, professionals, and professional fans.

A few of the students have come in contact with professional fans, and they say some of these fans make comic book characters part of their family.

"I encountered one fan who believed Batman and Superman were part of her family," said English graduate Justin Poole.

Master's student Robert O'Nale said when fans dress up as their favorite comic book characters it goes further than a cheap Halloween costume.

"I saw a guy who was dressed up as Wolverine from X-Men. Not only was he in full costume, he had the Wolverine sideburns and haircut," O'Nale said. "He really thought he was Wolverine."

Langley said after returning from Comic-Con, the group hopes to publish their results and present them at several psychology conferences.

"We hope to publish the results in professional psychology journals and present our findings at conferences such as the annual meeting of theAmerican Psychological Association.

We also want to use some of the information as part of the groundwork for a book," Langley said.

"Several professionals have been encouraging me to write on the psychology of superheroes and their fans."

None Elizabeth Pannell can be reached at .