Here, Christy answers a raft of questions about the course, how she pulled it all together — and how some of the top names in comics got involved!
Dan Greenfield: What’s your secret origin?
Christy Blanch: My secret origin isn’t so secret and not nearly as cool as most of them. I was born and raised in Indianapolis — daughter of two amazing teachers. Growing up, I never knew there was anything I couldn’t do because my parent’s always encouraged me to be what I wanted to be and not let culture dictate who I should be.
I was the only girl in our neighborhood so grew up fighting to have to not always be the girl in everything we played. For example, Princess Leia is cool, but I wanted to be Han Solo, because face it, he is the absolute coolest. I had to fight for that role, but I won. I think that pretty much set the tone for my life. If I set my mind to something, I don’t stop. Even if it’s unpractical.
Regarding comics, I have been reading them for most of my life. Some times more than others, but they’ve always been in my life. When Star Wars came out, it consumed my life so it was pretty much Star Wars comics and books. That lasted a while.
Comic books really took a prominent role in my life when I had my son and used them to teach him to read. His interest reignited my interest and neither of us have looked back. Now my daughter is hooked on them, too. It’s awesome.
I started using them in the classroom to teach in higher education a few years ago when I read “Y: The Last Man” and realized that it was a culture/gender textbook. After that, it just took off and comics have consumed my life.
I write an online comic with my good friend Chris Carr called The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, I co-own a comic book store with Jason Pierce and Mark Waid, I use comics to teach, I teach online list classes or MOOCs (massive open, online courses) using comics, and am finishing up my dissertation for my doctorate, which is about comic scholars.
And I just told my secret origin during an interview, so there is nothing secret about it now.
Comics and education are clearly a passion of yours. Tell us more about that and what you’d like to accomplish with SuperMOOC 2.
I love teaching. I love comics. So teaching using comics is simply just a dream to me. With the first SuperMOOC, a large community was created which was a big bonus.
Since Ball State decided against doing any more MOOCs, I wasn’t sure what would happen but there was a huge outpouring about the first MOOC and people wanted more. That’s when I decided to offer this SuperMOOC and enlisted the help of my store partners, Mark Waid and Jason Pierce.
When I talked to our sister store Aw Yeah Comics in Skokie, Ill., one of their co-owners, Marc Hammond, said that he wanted their store involved and I got the idea to involve comic book stores in this course. (Art Baltazar and Franco are the other partners in the store.)
For this SuperMOOC, I really want people to feel like they are a member of a community. A community of SuperMOOCers would be amazing. We have a good start with the first course, but I think with the addition of comic book stores, it will make it stronger.
The SuperMOOCs are simply a place for people to come to talk about our topics, in this case social issues, through the lens of popular culture, which is comic books in this case. I think comics are an amazing teaching tool and I believe that the first SuperMOOC on gender proved that. These students didn’t have to participate in the class or the discussion boards, but they did. It was amazing. I am so excited for SuperMOOC2. It is somewhat of an experiment because we haven’t done a MOOC on our own so there is a lot to learn and a lot to do, but it’s OK. We’re doing what we love and I believe that the SuperMOOC fills a void that is present in comics and in education.
Have you considered trying to get a version of the SuperMOOC into high schools? How feasible is that?
I have not. In the Gender Through Comic Books course we had several students who were in high school, but the course is recommended for over 18 due to some strong language in a few of the comics and some of the discussions. But age is relative and some students under 18 are fine for the course as long as they and their parents/guardians know what to expect. My experience is in teaching college age and above, so I gravitate towards that. Also, I think of MOOCs as for life-long learners and those in high school are still ‘learning,’ but maybe some day.
What was the response from the industry last year?
It was amazing. It was great how all the interviewees sent me thank-you messages before I could send them one. They were really impressed with the students and the questions they asked, as was I. The students were amazing. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Mark Waid, and Jen Van Meter all volunteered to do a panel at Geek Girl about the MOOC and it was awesome. A shout-out to Greg Rucka, who also volunteered but got sick and couldn’t make it. The publishers, the professionals, the fans, and this year, the comic shops, have been so supportive and it makes me so proud to be a part of this industry. Everyone has been so generous with their time.
How can more creators get involved with this?
I would love more creators to get involved. The key is that the books have to fit the theme. I talked to Jeremy Whitley who writes Princeless and it’s a great book that I love. I would love to involve him and I plan to in a future MOOC, but for this course, it simply wasn’t a good fit.
But trust me, I have a list of books and people I want to use in future MOOCs. There are some that will never happen. For example, I would love to have Alan Moore as an interview on any number of his amazing list of creations, or Joss Whedon on either Buffy or his Astonishing X-Men run, but I doubt that I can do that.
But the creators that I have approached have all been amazing and they go above and beyond. For example, last year I contacted Brian K. Vaughan and he had to decline because his schedule was booked and he was actually going to be filming for “Under the Dome” when I asked him for the interview. But a day later he emailed back and said he really wanted to help and if we could do the interview the last week of the course, he could do it. He was very accommodating and it was so appreciated.
I try and get creators who people know and some who people may not be familiar with yet. Many people may not know Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells, who created “Skin Horse,” but the students will and they will be happy that they were introduced to their amazing work.
Tomorrow: Christy will be back to tell us about her own love of comics. In the meantime, spread the word, and share this on Twitter and Facebook! To sign up for SuperMOOC 2, click here! It’s free! Follow @SuperMOOC2 and @13th_Dimension on Twitter and follow Christy @christyblanch. Join the SuperMOOC 2 Facebook group here and Like 13th Dimension here!
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