Monday, February 26, 2007

comics censorship and the best class I've ever taught

I'm teaching my comics class again this semester, and just last week I had an hour of class that was, without exaggeration, the most interesting class period I have ever taught.

Every single student in the class had something to say--EVERY one of them. Those who teach know how rare a thing that is, especially in a 200-level course; heck, even if you've only been a student, you know that it's pretty rare for EVERYONE to want to comment. Usually you get more than a few that just sit and listen, even in the best classes. But this time around, every student had a comment to make.

And these comments came totally unsolicited. I didn't do anything but sit down in the front of the room and ask them what they thought of what they had read. They ran with it from there. I never had to pull more out of them, because at many points there were multiple hands up at once. They were feeding off each other's comments, letting the discussion flow.

AND the comments were not only relevant, but also insightful. They showed that the students had not only read the material but thought about it critically. They were taking the subject matter of the reading and applying it to the world around them. It was a great thing to see.

The subject of the conversation? Warren Ellis's shelved Hellblazer issue "Shoot."

It is understandable that, in the wake of Columbine, this story which focuses on school shootings was shelved, the feeling at DC/Vertigo at the time being that it might offend. However, to shelve this story indefinitely is an injustice. It is a story that explores the nature of violence in our society, how it pervades everything we do. It is a story that examines how, when faced with a tragedy, we always seek out causes from without rather than looking within.

It is a story that, frankly, we should be reading and talking about. And instead it's been permanently put on the shelf. And that is a shame. I had hopes that, when Vertigo released that Rare Cuts volume of Hellblazer a few years ago, it would end up being published in there, but alas it was not to be.

Based on the strength of this one class period, however, I'm going to include this story in my eventual presentation for an academic conference on comics and critical thinking, along with "Soul of a New Machine" by Grant Morrison and maybe one or two others.