Tag Archives: #SuperMOOC

EXHIBITION: Gender Through Comic Books (#SuperMOOC) Student Work

The following is a little exhibition of the top student comics of the “Gender Through Comic Books” Massive Open Online Course (Codename: #SuperMOOC), which ran on Canvas.Net from the beginning of April to Mid-May of 2013. In a class of 7200, there were over 800 comic submissions, and these were the finalists. The top three are listed in order of the student body’s popular vote, beginning with #1 – Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs…. ! Enjoy!

girls dont like panel
Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs!

Girls Don’t Like Dinosaurs

by Natasha Alterici
For my story I blended together a few real-life anecdotes from my childhood; my mother trying futilely to make me dress like a young lady, the neighbor boy who told me “Girls don’t like dinosaurs!”, the exploration, and of course the dinosaur role playing. As a kid I was completely fascinated by dinosaurs, but I was also completely aware that this was not “normal” for girls. Looking back I think this is because dinosaurs are gendered toward boys and this is probably because they’re essentially a science-based play. Dinosaur-play involves lots of learning, about biology, natural history, geology, forensics, etc. If a girl is interested in animals or science they can play Barbie Veterinarian, but this isn’t a science-based toy, it’s just another form of dress up. You aren’t given opportunities to learn about how to care for animals, you’re given an outfit (sexy lab coat) and accessories (sickly baby animals).

small and waiting small
Small and Waiting

Small and Waiting
by Nicole Marie Guiniling
In grade school I was told that a good essay was like a hamburger. You had a beginning and an end that reflected each other, with a meaty middle. (I even had a teacher go so far as to say that your thesis should be a “crisp, green line towards the top.”)  Then I went to college, where another, arguably better Literature Professor threw that out the window and said that none of that mattered. A decent essay, he said, should look like Beyonce—an hourglass shape with a “KA-POW!” ending, so to speak. This definitely got some gasps and laughs when I first heard it in class 6 years ago. I thought it would be a little ironic to apply that method (if I can call it a method) to an assignment in a class on gender.
“Small and Waiting” is about me growing up, learning about gender roles, coping with the trauma of the worst aspects of that role (including eating disorders, body image issues, and assaults by men), and overcoming those challenges with a higher understanding of gender and systemic oppression in our society.

video game girl
Working in Games

Working in Games
By Shivaun Robinson
This is my comic. There are many like it but this one is mine. It was also my first attempt to make a comic after many decades of only reading them. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to find me on Twitter @shivaundingo or support my latest effort as I play video games for 24 hours for charity at: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=46567

childs play
Child’s Play

Child’s Play
by Jacinda Contrerras
This is my brother and me when we were kids. He always wanted to hang out with his older sister and be like her, as he told me years later. Getting to wear a dress with a black towel wrapped around his head while poppin’ wheelies in our neighborhood was just a bonus.

My family consisted of one set of grandparents, my mom, 2 aunts, and 3 uncles.  They grew up as migrant workers and believed that teaching children survival skills and street smarts outweighed raising proper little ladies and gentlemen.  These hardworking adults were more concerned with the cost of clothes than whether they were buying pink for girls or blue for boys. So, I didn’t think of my toys as being girls’ toys or his as boys’. I owned the books, Hot Wheels & Tonkas that I allowed him to play with when he wasn’t annoying me, my brother owned the Atari and Star Wars action figures that he allowed me to play with when we were on good terms.
Eddie Blake did a great job with the art and inks, this story comes alive because of that.


by Anthony Sweet

w: www.handwrittengames.com
e: anthony@handwrittengames.com
fb: Handwritten Games
tw: @handwrittengame

Walkin’ After Midnight – NOTE: This file is a Microsoft Word .docx file!

Walkin’ After  Midnight
By Angela Staiger

E-mail: angela.staiger@gmail.com
Twitter: @anjuhluh

sexy legs
Sexy Legs

Sexy Legs
Written by Ross O’Dell
Drawn by Raylene Winkel

insert title here
“Insert Title Here”

Insert Title Here

By Greg Marcus
In high school (class of 1995) I was the staff cartoonist for the newspaper. In that time I managed to pick up some awards for my work. This strip in particular is a complete reworking of a strip that won an award from the Palm Beach Post. I rewrote it updating outdated ideas and things that are not accurate for my current age (Teacher crushes, mentions of things that were understood in 1995 but not today) I then redrew the entire strip using Adobe Illustrator.
All of the things mentioned in the strip are accurate, just not necessarily to the person saying them. I did test androgynous and have been known to loofah, but most of the things my friend said should be attributed to my wife. Although, I do enjoy a good mud mask from time to time.

Gosplay Genius

Cosplay Genius
By Shawn Proctor

Website: http://shawnproctor.com/

Shawn Proctor’s writing has been nominated for Best New American Voices and published in several literary journals and anthologies, including Storyglossia, Think Journal, and Our Haunted World: Ghost Stories from Around the Globe.

He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, and earns geek cred by blogging on Nerd Caliber, Geekadelphia, and CultureMob.

He recently completed a superhero novel, featuring former college classmates who must fight for their lives when the world’s only superhero is murdered.

#SuperMOOC Week 2: Superman and Reflections of Masculine Idealism


We’re nearing the end of Week Two over at Ball State University’s Gender Through Comics, (Twitter hashtag: #SuperMOOC), and we’ve been reading Superman Birthright by veteran comics writer, Mark Waid. I enjoyed listening to Instructor Christy Blanch’s interview with Mark last Thursday, which actually led me to pick up Birthright again–I’d put it down after 1 1/2 issues on Wednesday night, cause I just couldn’t get into it. But it definitely started to come together for me, and I’m glad that I’m now much more acquainted with one of the world’s oldest superheroes.

I’ve developed my own thesis by which to tackle Superman: he reflects our evolving notion of masculine idealism. A lot has changed in terms of how we perceive the “perfect” man or woman in the last 100 years. Superman keeps getting re-invented to reflect this. But what connects them? How is the Superman of the 1930s’ Action Comics still Superman just as much as Clark Kent in Superman Birthright? Maybe, to do this, we should look at what is noticeably different?

“Living things have a kind of glow around them. They’re surrounded by a halo of colours. …I’m not sure if that halo is a soul or an aura or what. I do know that at the end of the life cycle, it fades pretty quickly and what’s left is… hard to look at. Empty in a way that leaves me empty, too….But when it’s there, my God, how it shines.”

Kent’s Vegetarianism

This is an interesting update–one that Mark Waid touched on in the interview, explaining that this wasn’t intended to just be New Age mumbo-jumbo, and I agree. I think he is effectively exploring a higher understanding by way of Kent’s alien super-abilities. I believe this to be one of the many positive effects of sci-fi culture on modern pop culture, equivalent to Christianity’s influences of divine idealism on the Renaissance, if that makes any sense. That is, we as humans develop notions that don’t actually exist, but come into existence by us imagining them as notions of God or another higher being, like an alien. Thus we develop interpretations of inalienable rights, Utopias, …. and, well, places where we don’t have to kill other living things just to survive. That is an idealism entrenched in lots of Sci-Fi, and Waid has selected it as a “Superman” trait. I think this was an excellent decision, and emphasizes that an ideal masculine trait, now, is to be able to empathize and connect with life around you.

Kent begins his identity as Superman by travelling the world and searching out knowledge and adventure. This is compared to Pa Kent’s time in the Army in Issue #3 of Birthright, but it reminds me a lot of Che Guevera in the chapter of his life when he wrote his Motorcycle Diaries. It reflects a deliberate and positive step in the maturation process.

superman_isolatedThis ‘search for himself’ is coupled with the reality that Kent struggles with his identity and the gap that exists between himself and his [not-so-fellow] man. He describes that it never takes long for his relationships with other people being to break down, once his abilities become known. “Invariably, they freak,” he says. “They become retroactively paranoid, wondering what else Clark Kent is hiding from them.”

In my mind, this narrative runs parallel to the concept of privilege. In addition to being an alien with superhuman abilities, Clark Kent also happens to be an able-bodied white male, who was raised in the most powerful and militarily aggressive country on Earth: the United States. It shows him attempting to make friends with non-Americans in his travels, to no avail once they discover just how much more powerful [privileged?] he is than they are.
He struggles with balancing his desire to help people without isolating himself from them. He longs to be accepted as a human.

superman_whitemansburdenWhen Kent tries to advise a local African leader not to march because he foresees violence against him, the villagers are right to point out that he is a white outsider trying to dictate to them. It doesn’t mean Kent has bad intentions, and some readers may think that this objection makes the characters simple and petty, but there is real history and politics there that he is not, or has chosen not to be, aware of. If anything Waid downplays this in the story; in real life, I think a man like Kent would be facing serious trust issues well before he started lifting buildings.

On this note, I can’t help but point out that a summary of this plot line smells a bit of “white man’s burden”. Kent wants to help people who need help the most, so he goes to help a minority tribe in Africa. Some of the images depicting this are particularly noteworthy, like this one to the right, which could also be critiqued from a perspective of gender as well as race. What can I say? It’s hard to write realistic stories without touching real-life issues like politics, gender dynamics, race relations, histories of colonialism and imperialism, etc. Comics have traditionally been comfortable in their own universe[s], but that is slowly, slowly changing, and I think panels like this are an indication of both an attempt to be more real, while also clinging to old stereotypes. (I mean, really, how long has Abena known Kent? Two weeks? If I were her and this guy came out of no-where with mega perception and rock-hard abs, I’d think he was CIA–hands down.)

Waid uses a great term in the #SuperMOOC interview: comics are a “visual short-hand” form of storytelling. I acknowledge that it’s hard not to simplify human conditions and relationships. Duly noted, but I wouldn’t be doin’ my job if I didn’t point this stuff out.

A side-note: The epitomy of “cheeziness” is the absence of believability. Superhero stories are in a constant struggle to maintain believability. To do that, Superman is all about depicting things on the edge of what we can sense and understand: that means everything from the constant introduction of new concepts (logically), to the depiction of senses that we find difficult or impossible to detect, such as superhuman sight, hearing, and movement. The illustrations in Birthright are vital to this, and really carry the story.

Linked to the first image explaining why Kent is vegetarian, here he sees his friend’s “aura” fade away, and he knows that he is gone forever. This effect emphasizes the pain and loss Kent feels, and is in turn emotional for the reader.

Superman crying: this is part of the evolution of masculine idealism, as well as the creative struggle for believability. The idea that men are supposed to hide their emotions is thankfully falling out of date as a prejudice that is both detrimental to men and world around them. Furthermore, emotion is an essential element within the anatomy of epic narrative: battles where life and death hang in a balance must make emotional connections. Crying , at least for any writer worth their salt, is not a sign of weakness in a character, but an indicator that they understand and are intimately connected with that world. As well, we ideally expect to see story characters crying around the points in the story when we, the readers, feel like crying. This connects the protagonist not only to the world around them, but to their audience as well, and creates a better story experience.

superman_perfectmaninimperfectworldPart of Superman’s modern-day struggle, invariably, becomes one of masculine idealism vs. realism: can a near-perfect man exist in an imperfect world? Since man can influence the world through his abilities and actions, and this man does, despite the world remaining imperfect—is he still a perfect man / an ideal? Is he still “Superman”?

Superman has traditionally had a strong father-son bond. This is a part of masculine idealism: ideal men come from ideal father-son relationships. This explains the place of prominence for Kah-el (Clark Kent’s birth father) in previous Superman narratives—as well as Pa Kent.

Pa Kent and Clark struggle to understand their connection, now that Clark wants to explore his extraterrestrial roots.
Superman is always an optimist. This distinguishes him from new superheroes, who are often expected to take on a “more realistic” perspective on the world, as well as old superheroes who have been reinvented within the modern “anti-hero” framework.

What to make of Lois Lane?

superman_loislane1944Superman is as much a reflection of the evolution of gender perceptions as just about any pop culture icon that outlasts a generation. But what do we make of Lois Lane? In the very first Superman comics, Lane was a very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. In the most recent remakes of Superman, we see Lane as…. A very attractive, feisty and smart news reporter who is dedicated to her career and her independence, despite ALSO having the occasional dramatic lapse of utter dependence on Superman and his supernatural abilities. Despite some subtle changes, (and one really confusing case of Lois Lane turning Black for a day), the woman has remained much more glued to her original form.

If Superman has changed so much over 75 years, why not Lane? Was Lois Lane classic, at in her inception, already a progressive enough reflection of the female gender? Are comic creators’ notions of women and their ‘social evolution’ simply stagnant—it just doesn’t get any better? I’m unsure about this one, and want to give it some future thought. I actually think that it presents an interesting argument: gender perceptions of men have changed more than women in the history of comics. This is despite massive social, political, and economic changes in the status of women in that time.

I’m looking forward to reading others’ thoughts on this, as we continue with the #SuperMOOC class. Thanks for reading. More to come with Week 3.

#SuperMOOC Week 1: “Gender Through Comics” Intros with Strangers in Paradise

Of all the topics that could be discussed endlessly with regard to socio-political relevance in comics, Gender is probably the first that comes to mind. Discussions are literally endless.

It is also the topic I’ve personally grappled with most as well, as, to me, there really aren’t a lot of clear, pointed answers. Writing a concise blog post about the subject is downright impossible. So when the opportunity came along to take the online “Gender Trough Comics” MOOC, presented by educator and comics afficionado Christy Blanch, I thought it was worth a try.

What’s a MOOC, you ask? It’s new to me too. It stands for Massive Open Online Course – generally offered for free, and completed without the reward of academic credit. It’s a great realm that’s just beginning to blossom for people who are interested in education for the sake of education.

Our first week is generally about getting acquainted: with the material, the social networking platforms, and with 7000 other “classmates” with whom we share discussion boards and hashtags. (By the way, if you’re interested in enrolling, there’s still time: just check out the Canvas.net page. Comixology offers a lot of discounted material for the course as well, so it’s not too hard on the bank account either.)

Strangers_in_Paradise_by_HappilyDayzedOur first set of reading material for the week is a collection of work by comics creator Terry Moore: Strangers in Paradise, Vols I and II; and Rachel Rising.

Needless to say, this is the beginning of the series, so characters are going to develop in complexity and change, but it is interesting to see where everyone’s starting point it. My thoughts on Strangers in Paradise, having just finished Volume 1, are as follows:

Moore is making a story that is composed of several gender stereotypes. You have Katchoo, the Man-Hating Lesbian: fearless, trouble-maker, liberated, smoker, cat-owner (all stereotypically associated with lesbians). You’ve got Francine, the Hetero Female: timid,lacking confidence/certainty, reactive (instead of pro-active), and seemingly unsure of what she wants in life. These are all stereotypes of a heterosexual/”man’s” woman, and it all boils down to the theory that women lack agency- this is something I’d love to explore more of later on.)
And we have Freddie. Familiar Freddie! The Hetero Male stereotype. My first thought was that he must be some hormone-raging college kid, maybe 19 or 20. Then he is revealed as a wealthy business man, probably late 20s, early 30s (owns a fancy car, etc.) He appears to be wealthy and successful, and yet he also seems bent on guilt-tripping Francine–implying some forthcoming insecurity/control issues.

I see two over-arching themes here that are the most impressive to me.

#1: Moore is transforming stereotypes into archetypes. That is, she is taking qualities that we normally perceive to be highly superficial about a person based on their gender or sexual orientation, and using them to compel the story forward. I’m finding this theory interesting, and am anxious to see if I still feel that this is true after reading the longer Volume 2….

#2: It’s clear that this comic is trying to convey that no one has a “normal” sex life. The next door neighbour in the story is a creepy Peeping Tom, Freddie accidentally brings home a prostitute to get over Francine, who is then removed from the scene by a 6ft, 250lb bull dyke*, who crashes through the apartment wall to reveal Freddie’s apartment neighbour celebrating his anniversary to his blow-up doll with a lil’ Champagne.

In future posts over the next month and a half, I’ll be adding my notes on various pieces of material from the syllabus. Feel free to send me your feedback, or ask me about the course.


* – my apologies for using a potentially offensive term: however, “bull dyke” is the stereotype presented, and is differentiated from the stereotypes of  “lesbian” or even “man-hating lesbian”.