Sanders love of comics leads to career as ‘accidental expert,’ lecturer

Dr. Joe Sutliff Sanders, assistant professor of English, teaches Composition and Children’s Literature and is a children’s literature expert. But it is his expertise in another field that may raise a few eyebrows.

Sanders, a recent addition to Missouri Southern’s English department faculty, had a number of essays and reviews published on and about comics. He has worked as a consultant to a book distributor, and still reviews comics for the national library review journal Voice of Youth Advocates.

“I became an accidental expert in comics, because I had always loved comics and nobody at this level could talk about them well,” said Sanders. “I don’t remember a time I wasn’t reading comics. I remember before I could read, reading comics. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood the pictures. My initial foray into comics came from a time I don’t even remember.”

Sanders said comics don’t have to serve a higher purpose.

“I don’t think at all how comics impacts literature because I’m so interested in comics themselves that I don’t really care if they have anything to offer the rest of the world,” Sanders said. “I think they deserve to exist on their own, so who really cares what they offer.

“However, it turns out I’m not the only one who is an accidental expert in comics. There are all the recent films that are derived from comics. Not only the obvious ones like Fantastic Four and Spiderman, but also Road to Perdition, V for Vendetta, Sin City, and From Hell are all from comic books.”

Popular literature is not the only area Sanders believes is influenced by comics.

“Comics also influence highbrow literature,” he said. “You’ve got a couple Pulitzer Prize winners: The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chavin and Maus[by Art Speigelman].

“You also get people who are interested in comics like Art Speigelman, who has an enormous influence over The New Yorker is this cornerstone of high literary thought. So there are all these ways that comics directly influence literature and literary culture.”

Sanders said although comics are still looked down on in some literary circles, this isn’t without good reason.

“It’s called Sturgeon’s Law,” Sanders said. “Ninety percent of everything is crap. Ninety percent of all movies, novels, short stories, and plays, they are all crap. Ninety percent of comic books are crap, and I think they deserve to be critiqued. But a lot of people have stopped looking down on comics because there have been enough of that 10 percent that’s good.

“Now it seems to me that there’s this general feel among literary scholars, they’re kind of nervous about comics because they don’t know where that 10 percent is.

They are very nervous because they are sure that they are going to sound stupid when they start talking about it.”

“My lectures on comic books, they are always packed out,” Sanders said. “Usually about 30 percent of the people who are there are actual comic book fans. The rest of them aren’t. People are really eager to learn about that 10 percent of comics that’s good.”

As a professor at Southern, Sanders said one of his favorite classes to teach is composition.

“I think I finally figured out how to help make people better writers, and that’s such a valuable thing in the world in general,” said Sanders. “I love doing that. I really enjoy my composition classes and I love the students I have here.”

Sanders’ students seem to return the sentiment.

“He’s interesting. Knows what he’s talking about,” said Dusty Newsum, freshman undecided major. “He actually cares. Composition is a little more fun with him teaching it. It’s not as boring as I would think it could be.”

“I think he’s pretty cool,” said Allison Bolin, freshman psychology major. “He’s laid back. I like the way he teaches. He gets us involved.”