A colleague once asked Professor Charles Hatfield if his attraction to mass culture was connected to it being not region specific, and that if it was a constant while his family moved a lot throughout his childhood.
He replied, “I’m not sure about that, I don’t know if its true or not but it seems like a reasonable way of reading my experience.”
Professor Hatfield works in the English department and specializes in the study of comics and graphics novels, children’s film and literature and popular culture. He has traveled many places before coming to CSUN.
“My father was an Air Force officer from about 1960, when he graduated from Texas A& M University, up to about 1983. So for almost a quarter century, my father was an air force officer so that had the effect of moving us around,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said that his family did not move around as much as some other armed forces families, yet he moved more than others.
“The first place I can remember is Panama. The Canal Zone which was then in the jurisdiction of the United States,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said he and his family also lived in Texas, New Mexico, California, and Connecticut.
“I did my high school and undergrad stuff in California,” Hatfield said. “I went back east to the University of Connecticut for 10 or 11 years to do a masters and a doctorate; and to have some kids also and to live life!”
Hatfield said that it was halfway through his grad years, that he decided to stand and complete his dissertation on comics.
“There were a few people that expressed concern over that,” Hatfield added. “It seemed like a suicidal move career-wise.”
Hatfield said at the time, in the late 90’s, comics had not yet happened and the study of the material was not obvious to anyone yet, but the majority of people supported him.
“I was the first person in the English department at the University of Connecticut to do a doctoral thesis on this kind of material,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said his older brother created comics, and watched movies very passionately. Being a few years younger, he was heavily influenced by his brother’s interests.
“I don’t remember any comic books before the ones that he drew, the home made comic books,” Hatfield said. “So that made an impact I’m sure.”
Hatfield said that once all his coursework for graduate school was done and he needed to choose his dissertation topic, he realized that he was giving much attention to comic book, comic strips and graphic novels.
“I was getting no academic credit for that, but I was doing it and I was even starting to write freelance articles about this material,” Hatfield said. “I thought ‘Well I should make it so my academic work and this other interest are aligned.’”
Hatfield said that he went to his academic advisor and changed his dissertation topic from 18th Century Literature to contemporary American comic books.
“She said ‘You should do what you want to do,’” Hatfield said. “Had I gotten a different response that day, my whole life could have been different.”
Hatfield completed his dissertation on comic books, which got him involved in teaching and researching children’s literature. This resulted in his hire at CSUN.
“Ever since I got here in 2001, it has been one opportunity after another to continue to do this research that relates to comic strips, comic books, comic papers, cartooning,” Hatfield said. “I never thought I’d be so busy.”
In Hatfield’s comic book classes, he tries to engage students in seeing comic books as story experiences by using graphic design.
“I present the comics as a kind of visual literature, and I hope students get an awareness of how the kinds of stuff can work and the kind of work that its asking us to do while we’re reading it,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said he tries to discuss with his classes, what it’s like to describe characters and other worlds in illustrations rather than in written words.
“I hope to give students a sense of what comics can do in terms of their form; how do the words and pictures relate, how are the images broken down and laid out, how is he graphic design used to convey a story,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said he also incorporates the history of comics and the debate of the legitimacy of them in the literary fields that it always changing.
“When I teach comics, things are going on now that I can teach it toward high culture or toward mass culture because it connects both, it bridges both, it straddles both and has a very ambiguous, intense relationship with both,” Hatfield added.
He commented that even though comics have now become legitimized, there are still people in the field that do not want to lose its rebelliousness.
As Professor Hatfield continues to write books and research this ever-growing genre he does not see comics as solely career based.
“I’m sure if I wasn’t teaching courses on comics, I’d still be reading a lot of comics on a fairly regular basis,” Hatfield said. “I’m so deep into it now, I don’t know my inside from my outside.”