Continuing a project that began with the teach-in this October, students in Associate Professor of English Elizabeth Muther’s Of Comics and Culture class put up an installation around campus this week to highlight the power of comics as an artistic medium for examining issues of environmental and social justice. 

Muther’s course explores the extent to which comics have agency in impacting and reflecting various cultures. According to Muther, comics are a subversive art. They provide a lens to deconstruct complex cultural issues.

“Comics catch us by surprise,” said Muther. “Comics can relocate our understanding of an issue in an instant. They can map out forms of hypocrisy.”

The class also focuses on satire as a tool for communicating with and engaging a broad audience. According to Muther, in destabilizing our prior assumptions, humor can provide a fresh take on an issue, exposing an irrationality or a fraudulent viewpoint.

“We laugh sometimes because you can literally see the fabric of a set of assumptions being torn,” said Muther. “Humor becomes an instrument for exposing social contradictions that can’t be resolved easily.”

For the week of the teach-in, the class zeroed in on narratives centered around the intersections between climate change, racism and social justice. Muther invited students to bring in graphic narratives that explored the relationships between these issues, from global warming to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Katherine Bryan ’17 was particularly interested in the topic and decided to take it further to create a “Teach In-tervention” around campus. The project aims to showcase comics as a lens for examining the same issues discussed in the teach-in. Seven other students in the class joined the project.

“Comics are not generally viewed as mediums to discuss culture,” said Alex Haregot ’17, one of the students involved in the project. “We’re trying to show that they can be and that they are.”

The students have posted one or two-panel comics around campus, including in Smith Union, Searles and many residential halls. In addition, they have completed an installation in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library with a computer display open to a webpage created by one of the students. The page features a rotating display of cross-cultural webcomics, ranging from post-Katrina stories to Ms. Marvel, a young Muslim superheroine. The display will be up this week and during finals period.

“Here are all these inviting visual narratives, and people can take a study break and sit down and read,” said Muther. “There’s a tremendous amount of very important work that’s been done in these narratives.”

According to Haregot, one of the main barriers in the issue of climate change is that some people have a greater understanding than others. Comics provide an artistic and satirical approach to these issues, engaging those who are less knowledgeable about the topic.

“We’re trying to encourage the wider Bowdoin community to see that the discussion of climate change isn’t only occurring on a verbal level but also on a visual level too,” said Haregot.