Comics in the Classroom

Dr. Matthew J. Smith, Director, School of Communication

Dr. Smith brings Comics to the Classroom

By Colton Rhea McConnell

Dr. Matthew Smith, newly appointed Director of School of Communication, will not only be holding his new position, but will also offer a new course this fall semester at Radford University entitled: “Graphic Storytelling”.

The course enrollment caps at 20 students, the course has a current enrollment of 16. Smith teaches the Graphic Storytelling every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10-10:50 a.m. As of now, Smith is set to teach the course every other semester, but hopes that he has the opportunity to teach it more often.

This course covers the principles that guide graphic novels with a focus on how the novels communicate their meaning and understanding. Students will also learn the history of graphic novels and, hopefully, develop an appreciation for the medium of graphic novels under the guidance of Dr. Smith.

 “The basic notion is to look at the kinds of communication that go on in graphic novels. As a unique form of media representation,” Smith said. “This is another form of communication that isn’t widely studied but is worthy of study in terms of understanding how we use images and words put together to make meaning on their own.”

Smith’s personal life has a major impact on his desire to teach the subject. Smith has a deep love for comics and along with Randy Duncan and Paul Levitz co-authored the class’s textbook, “The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture”.

Today, youth grow up with super heroes just like past generations, but most of the children do not read about Superman and Batman instead they watch these iconic superheroes in the movie theaters or on television shows. 

 “There is a wide cultural relevance to what goes on in the medium and it’s interesting because a lot of students haven’t picked up a comic book in this generation and that’s fine,” Smith said. “They’re interested in the source material for all those adaptations they’re seeing in the mass media so it’s a way to get back to the basics.”

Along with understanding a new medium and gathering a greater appreciation for comic books, Smith takes his students to Comic-Con International located in San Diego, California

 “We use the tools of ethnography in the process, which is participant observation, we enjoy comic-con but we study comic-con while we are there,” Smith said. “There is a level of awareness about what’s going on and how things are going on.”

The opportunity is open to students of different majors, as a way to pull students in who are interested in the different dynamics that Comic-Con has to offer, while also gaining college credit.

Sep 16, 2016
School of Communication