Genres, forms, functions

The Stanford freshman seminar 63N (The Language of Comics) has tended to focus on the genres that are the focus of my postings on the comics — what you might characterize as traditional or mainstream print comics. Manga, graphic novels, animation of all sorts, etc. come up, but the focus in class and assignments is primarily on three types of traditional print comics: single-panel cartoons (sometimes called gag cartoons), three- or four-panel cartoons, and comic books (which continue over at least a few pages). (Student projects have been more adventurous.)

The multi-panel comics clearly have a narrative structure: events happen in time, or at least (as is often the case in Zippy) a conversation takes place. Even single-panel cartoons presuppose some previous history and suggest some future developments.

Single-panel cartoons are supposed to stand on their own, and three- or four-panel cartoons often do so as well — but some of these come in sequences, telling a longer story over several days; Doonesbury is famous for these long story arcs. (These are often gathered together in books.)

After these brief notes on form, some remarks on function. We often refer to the comics as “the funny papers”, and our focus in the Stanford course has been on comics that are intended to be funny, in one way or another (sometimes wryly, other times quite broadly).

But there are other functions. Some comics depict relationships, in the fashion of soap operas; Mary Worth is maybe the most famous of these. Others are adventure stories, as in Terry and the Pirates.

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