The Marvel of Study

I discovered Coursera a couple of weeks ago. It’s true, distance learning has been around forever, and there are plenty of archives around and about where you can access whole glorious degree courses of everything from all over the world, but I’ve never quite got a handle on the discipline of following an entire course like that on my own. I like to be spoonfed things, to have organised access to stuff, and, preferably, to be tested on what I’ve learnt throughout. So it was like a half-dozen Christmases at once to find this little selection of wide-ranging courses from all over the world here that cater to my exact and super-specific educational requirements.

It’s difficult for me not to sign up for everything ever, but I started out with three courses. The first is on Kierkegaard, from the University of Copenhagen, and it starts with lovely, concise, introductory video lectures which show me the Copenhagen I could never quite envisage right when studying Kierkegaard as part of my Philosophy degree, and it reminds me of things I remember back then I had earmarked to think about more later in life, and so I’m thrilled to come back to that. The second, I haven’t really investigated yet, but it’s on a series of classic sci-fi and fantasy novels, almost all of which I’ve read multiple times, almost all of which I love. And the third, which has taken up all of this evening, is a course that’s already a couple of weeks in, which I’d dithered about joining, for reasons shortly, on comic books and graphic novels – the whys and wherefores, the what are they and how do we read them.

Already, I am utterly entranced by the videos for this course. The enthusiasm, the passion, that reminder of being taught something that gives your brain a new method of thinking, a new tool for understanding, the feeling that there’s something you did already know, but had perhaps forgotten how to do, or, indeed, to do at all. It’s like when, in the middle of a crazy stressful day, a friend takes your arm and reminds you that you can breathe deeply, and slow your heart down, and everything gets just that bit clearer and brighter. It’s like that, only the starting point was neutral, rather than negative, so it makes for a considerable slice of happiness.

Great lecturing on any topic, and considered, enthusiastic giving of context and storytelling within the education…these things will always make me happy, but to have that level of attention paid to something I have wanted to learn to read, to understand as much as the comic book, well, it’s like being taught a language in a way you’ve always wished you could be, the way that you have long been certain would make it make sense.

I have worked fairly hard to learn to love comic books. I’m so used to reading text quickly, to loving ploughing through paragraphs – the more dense the better – that I couldn’t understand how to take the time to get everything out of a graphic novel, I didn’t know what to look for, where my eyes ought to go, or how much attention I needed to pay to things like what the characters were wearing…all sorts. But, my love for the X-Men franchise eventually convinced me, a couple of years ago, to go and look properly at the comics, and so I did, as many as I could. I have a pretty reasonable X-Men collection now, with many more to read, but I think I’ve covered the major arcs, and a few of the sidestrings that have fascinated me. From there, really, only to a few other Marvel things, some Avengers, Iron Man, etc, and then Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and that’s about it. But that’s also enough to have experienced a wide, wide variety of styles and traits and plots and characters; all manner of panelling and thinking and telling, and it’s exciting, it’s been exciting, and knowing that I’ve only scraped the surface of the available comicry is thrilling enough, never mind what’s always been my favourite part of reading anything – the reread.

So, at this point in my comic appreciation, I’m thrilled to have access to this fascinating course, for, just as studying English at school gave me tools to criticise and contextualise and analyse regular novels, or as studying music allowed me to parse and phrase and ponder Mozart in a way I never could before, so I hope to get some new handles on the reading of comic books, to catch up on the techniques and thoughts and understanding that people with lifetimes of comic book reading have put together, and to, eh, be more enthusiastic about more things I love, and find new ways to love them further still.

The thing that did make me resistant to signing up for the course is that one component of it is to design your own comic, and, yeah, you won’t meet anyone less graphically-minded than me. I really struggle to create anything, anything at all visual. Although I am excellent when it comes to interior design. I can tell you the story of a room, sure. But I really have issues with drawing anything, or, worse still, attempting to storytell through visual means, because I, as you might have noticed, am all about the words. So, yeah. That’s a very daunting, almost upsetting idea to me, to volunteer myself to create something that seems as un-me as a comic.

But, as per previous entries, this time in my life is known as The Time of the Brave Tiger (I can’t tell you how glad I am that Katy Perry decided to provide me with a soundtrack for this time) and brave tigers just get on and do the stuff that scares them. Just in case it turns out they liked it after all. I think this used to happen to Tigger, actually. So it’s all got a good basis in fact.

So that’s a little story about another one of the many things making me extremely happy. And, if you’ve a bit of spare time, an interest in this course, and any loose comic book curiosity, just go and sign up for it and watch a couple of the introductory videos, particularly ‘What is a Comic?’ and see if you’re half as cheered by them as I am.

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