Graphic novel course offered at Sheridan



Reading, writing and arithmetic? How about Batman, The Watchmen and V for Vendetta instead? These popular titles are just a few examples of what make up the colourful curriculum in Sheridan’s Graphic Novel course, now going into its third year.

According to instructor Peter Grevstad, its purpose is to introduce students to what comic artist Scott McCloud, author of the course’s textbook, calls the “invisible art of comics.”

“This shows that graphic storytelling, fictions and artistic expressions are as old as humanity,” explained Grevstad. “Pictograms, tapestries and illuminated manuscripts, for example, are a much older tradition and sort of predate what we call ‘literature’ today.”

Students are shown how graphic novels can be read, analyzed and understood as a distinct form with a language and a grammar all their own. Some of the works that are studied in the class include The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Maus, Persepolis and even a work by Sheridan graduate Guy Delisle called Pyongyang.

“It’s pretty good,” said Jon Champagne, a 19-year-old Computer Programming student currently in the graphic novels class, which is an elective. “There’s a lot of history, which I wasn’t expecting. But it’s cool.”

When Grevstad came up with the idea for the course he had to take the idea to his Associate Dean. “I had to demonstrate that graphic novels are a complex, rich and fascinating form of literature and that they have a legitimate place in the literary canon.” It didn’t take much to convince his AD and when he took the course to a higher committee, “they were very supportive and thought it was a cool idea.”

Grevstad, who has been reading comics and following them in newspapers for many years, got the idea for the course when he was teaching in Japan. He noticed the popularity of “manga,” a form of graphic novel that is extremely popular in Asia. He asked the undergrads he was teaching about that form of literature and they opened his eyes to what was happening in graphic fiction in Japan.

“I realized that graphic novels would speak to students who might not enjoy extensive reading of traditional literature.  Plus, graphic novels have a fan following and many of them tell fascinating stories using both traditional narrative and innovative artwork. I couldn’t resist.”

He also hopes the course will encourage a love for pleasure reading among his students. “Graphic novels are legitimate works of fiction. A lot of my students already know this, as they are passionate about graphic novels already, and they come to my class eager to discuss something they’re interested in in an academic way.”

The course is offered by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences as a general elective for almost all students in diploma programs at Sheridan.