Serious about the funnies: Private donor endows UO Comics Studies minor

English professor Ben Saunders
English professor Ben Saunders

The University of Oregon's groundbreaking Comics & Cartoon Studies program, which explores the world of comic strips and graphic novels, is getting a serious boost.

A private donor who has chosen to remain anonymous is investing $50,000 per year for four years in the program, to create a $200,000 endowment. The money will help sustain the UO's undergraduate minor in Comics and Cartoon Studies, which launched a year ago as the first academic minor of its kind in the country.

“We’ve developed a wide-ranging curriculum, drawing on talented scholars from multiple disciplines — including art, art history, comparative literature, east Asian languages and literatures, English, ethnic studies and romance languages,” said UO English Professor Ben Saunders, director of the Comic Studies program. “Just next term we are offering an exciting course on the way comics can help children to express and process real-life challenges."

The winter term offerings will include a community service component (ENG 313: “Fantasy, Comics, and the Real Lives of Boys and Girls”), a class on Japanese comics (JPN 250: “Manga Millenium”) and a course on visual story-telling offered by the UO Art Department (ARTF: “Comics and Narrative”). Spring term courses in the program will include “War in French Comics” (FR 339), an upper-division course taught entirely in French; a class on the sociological implications of the Superhero fantasy (ENG 480: “Modern American Superheroes,”); and a lower-division introduction to the field (ENG 280: “Intro To Comics Studies”).

"Our benefactor has recognized our efforts, and has inspired us to do even more with this generous gift,” Saunders said.

The UO Comics Studies endowment is expected to help bring creators, teachers, publishers and other professionals from the world of comics to the UO campus for classroom visits and lectures.

“We need to keep building our relationship with comics creators,” Saunders said. “Who can better advise the next generation of creative storytellers in this field, after all?”

The funds will also help finance more comics-related art exhibitions at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Previous exhibitions curated by Saunders have drawn thousands of visitors from across the UO campus and the wider community. 

But Saunders thinks the importance of the investment is more than financial.

“It’s a sign of faith in the cultural value of the comics form itself,” he said. “Comics constitute a remarkably successful mode of communication, with a history that is at least as old as print culture, and a global reach that includes most of the nations of the world. This private investment in our program is evidence that we are doing something important and worthwhile.”

- from the UO Office of Strategic Communications