Learning through comics

Eduardo Alvarado, Staff Writer

Kathy Hall teaches in a not so normal way.

Teaching an English class via comic books and presenting at a Comic-Con conference is not the norm, but it’s exactly what part-time Cerritos College English instructor Kathy Hall has under her belt.

“That was my brother’s fault,” she said. “I had been talking about how nice it would be to incorporate visual communications into an English class, saying that I wish I could teach ‘[The] Sandman,’ which is my favorite comic book. But, I said it was too long. It’s 75 issues long, it would be too hard.”

Hall, who received her English Master’s Degree from Cal State Northridge eventually chose Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ critically acclaimed “Watchmen” comic book series as one of the required texts for her English 100 class.

Moore’s “Watchmen” is a 12-special series from DC Comics that ran from September 1986 through October 1987. “Watchmen” also made Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels list and continues to have a strong following since it was first published in 1986.

Hall wanted to choose a text where every student could start in the same place, as opposed to writing from personal experiences. She said it would be unfair to grade an 18-year-old student compared to a 35-year-old student, who happens to have more personal experiences to talk about.

“[‘Watchmen’] is a text that is composed to within an inch of its life. Every possible rhetorical device is being used. All this stuff about repetition, theme and variation, symmetry, time,” she said.

Her English 100 class goes deep into examining words critically in formal argumentative essays, as well as explaining the importance of certain motifs found within “Watchmen,” with other elements and assignments dealing with the comic.

“I’m really enjoying the class,” undecided major Sotero Lopez said. “I’ve read comic books before, but never in the way Ms. Hall has been teaching us. There’s so much depth into it [‘Watchmen’]. It’s mind blowing really.”

Hall also said she occasionally continues to turn heads when others find out about her teaching methods.

“I expect it. Some people have this view of this world where there’s high art and there’s low art,” she said. “I really resist that. Rather than treating it like ‘opera is good and rap is bad.’ I’d rather say, ‘well, what are the best operas and what are the best rap songs about?’”

Hall was also lucky enough to showcase her teaching methods at the 2010 Comic-Con in San Diego.

She presented at a conference session entitled “Comics in the Classroom,” where she gave audience members an overview of techniques and assignments for teaching “Watchmen” in a first-year composition course. She also said she was able to thank her brother by taking him to the convention as her assistant with an all-access pass.

She does not only use “Watchmen” as the required text for the class, but uses another comic, as well.

The book is paired with “Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing,” which pairs verbal images with visual images.

The book covers what college writers need to know. From writing processes, critical analysis, arguments and presentation all in visual images that brings rhetorical concepts to life, using examples from Youtube to Aristotle.

Although there are students who enjoy the class, others feel out of place. “I find it hard. I had never opened a comic book in my life before,” Accounting major Brandyrae Kennedy said. “Which makes it that more difficult to not only read it, but then have to write a paper relating to it.

“At the end of the day, Ms. Hall is a really great instructor and has a passion for the material, which in the end, outweigh the negatives,” she said.

Hall has never stuck with a class as long as her English 100 class. She said that every semester, she tends to rewrite her classes and has been wanting to rewrite this particular class for a couple of years now, but for one reason or another, she has not changed it.

She has no concrete plans on bringing in a new comic or a more traditional text as of now, but hints, “There are some newer comic books that I’m very interested in looking on how I may apply them to the class. There’s one called ‘Ex Machina’ … it has a marijuana legalization issue that is really a different perspective on the issue of marijuana legalization.”

Instructor Hall teaches English 100 with “Watchmen.” Catch her class before she rewrites her course and decides to shelf “Watchmen” once and for all.