It was only a matter of time. The graphic novel along with its on-screen equivalent, computer games, are to be offered to students as a new university course.
From next month Edinburgh Napier University will become the first institution in Britain to teach writing for graphic novels — books in comic strip form — at Masters level.
Dave Bishop, the former editor of the British science fiction comic 2000AD and the course lecturer, said that “poetry is banned” in his classes; he will focus instead on the practicalities of getting work published.
“We are willing to get a little bit grubby and talk about the filthy lucre,” he said.
The University of Dundee has joined the trend by introducing a module on British comic writers — including Batman writer Grant Morrison and Watchmen creator Alan Moore — as part of its English degree.
Bishop, the author of 20 novels and the computer game State of Emergency 2, will teach the Napier course alongside Sam Kelly, a former literary agent and book reviewer.
Ms Kelly said that graphic novels and interactive entertainment were growth industries, unlike many other forms of literature. “We know there’s a huge amount of talent out there among people who want to write for so-called commercial and popular forms,” she said. “This is their chance to get knowledgeable in types of fiction and types of writing that have large, popular audiences. These are areas where the people who run companies are actively looking for fresh, new, young, inventive talent.”
Guest lecturers will include the crime author Ian Rankin and the Edinburgh-born comic book writer Alan Grant.
Ms Kelly said that the course, which will teach 24 students initially, represented a radical departure in creative writing tutorials. Instead of students’ work being judged by their peers, Bishop and Ms Kelly will use “one-to-one mentoring”.
“Peer critique doesn’t teach you how to be a better writer — it also doesn’t teach you to be a good critic or a good reader,” she said.
“It tends to flatten things out to one level. As professional writers they would tend to work with one person, such as an editor, script editor, a producer and so on, and a workshop gives you no preparation for that. We’ve tossed out the artificial environment.”
“The danger is that [workshops] create the next generation of creative writing teachers — God forbid that they should do that,” Bishop said. “There are 1,000 ways of telling a story and we’re looking at the other 998 ways.”
Bishop said that many institutions had a tendency to dismiss genre writing as downmarket forms of literature.
“Most of the other creative writing courses in the UK didn’t even mention genre writing,” he said. “The ones that did talked about it with disdain dripping out of every syllable. It really got my back up. Just because someone is writing in a genre doesn’t mean that it’s a lesser form than any other kind of writing.”
Grant, who began his own comic book apprenticeship with the Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson in 1967 and wrote Judge Dredd for 2000AD, said that the creative writing course was “unquestionably a good idea”.
“Everybody has at least one story in them, though most never manage to get it told. I applaud any method of improving that number,” he said.
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