Comic books produced by Dan Younger's students in Comics and Cartoon Illustration

Comic books produced by Dan Younger’s students in Comics and Cartoon Illustration will be preserved at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Comic books might be considered contraband in many classrooms, read covertly and then tossed away with soda cans and candy wrappers before the reader can be caught.

But Professor Dan Younger makes them the centerpiece of his classroom in the Department of Art and Art History’s Comics and Cartoon Illustration course. Younger is well known as a teacher of photography, but comics and photography have interesting similarities, he said.

“Just as with photography, you don’t need words to get the message across,” Younger said. “It’s a very convenient version of drawing and literature all in one.”

Younger’s interest in cartoons and comics has made a mark with UMSL students and captured interest from the Billy Ireland Cartoon and Comic Book Museum in Columbus, Ohio.

Drawing cartoons was a hobby for Younger as a child, and in grad school he started his first comic, “Flash Funnies,” which poked fun at photography. That cartoon caught the notice of the University of Iowa, which commissioned him to produce four years of their orientation book in comic format.

Younger started teaching his comics and cartoons class at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. He now teaches the same class at UMSL when his photography schedule permits. Students make mini-comics by mid-semester, and eventually produce their class’ own comic book through Younger’s ArtStuff Publishing Empire. The UMSL class has produced five comic books so far.

Students learn about drawing with ink pens and crafting a story, but they also learn about pricing, printing and working with publishers. Even though the class is in the art department, it draws students from all backgrounds. Brett Heuer is a senior art major, but had little experience drawing comics before taking Younger’s class.

“I was happy to find that the university held a class that taught one of my biggest passions, so I signed up the first chance I got,” he said. “Having little experience in drawing actual comics, I learned more of the actual fundamentals to draw them professionally. I also found that I could be more observant of everything around me and apply those observations to my comics.”

Landan Ruan, a senior studying fine arts with a drawing emphasis, produced the cover art for Incriminating Evidence, the book produced in 2013 by Younger’s most recent class.

“The class was a crossover between traditional art and digital art classes,” Ruan said. “It encouraged students from different fields to associate and learn from each other.”

Ruan’s cover illustration depicts three shadowy figures in trench coats and fedoras and wielding assorted weapons. He says the design was inspired by images from the Godfather and other old gangster movies.

The comic books created in Younger’s class are available at the UMSL Bookstore and Star Clipper, but they will also undergo preservation at the Billy Ireland Cartoon and Comic Book Museum. Younger donated copies of his classes’ books to the museum, housed at The Ohio State University.

Comics are meant to be read and tossed out, but they capture an era’s prevailing attitudes and issues, said Wendy Pflug, the museum’s associate curator for collections. History books might offer names and dates, but comics and cartoons provide a look at public attitudes.

“You can look at a cartoon and see the styles of dress people wore, the popular slang terms and even what was acceptable practice of the times,” Pflug says. “It is important to preserve these materials for the study of art, social history and as cultural documents, which reveal important insights into our history.”

The UMSL Experience

Rachel Webb

Rachel Webb