Day in the Life: Lecturer in Comics Studies.

#SYPcon | Last week we heard about researching comics, this week Dr Chris Murray takes us through being a lecturer in Comics Studies in Dundee.

I genuinely love my job.

I feel like I’ve been training for it my whole life. My earliest memories involve comics, and now I am a lecturer at the University of Dundee specialising in Comics Studies. I lead a Masters programme on comics, research the medium, and now, by a strange turn of fate, I also create edit and write them. It would take a long time to tell how I arrived at this point, but perhaps a few notes on what an average day looks like would give a flavour of my job.

Chris Murray by Ian Williams

I usually wake up at around 7.30am. At this point I’ve had about 4 or 5 hours sleep. The morning rush is usually all about getting my 3 year old daughter ready for nursery. We are out of the house by 8am on a good day. After dropping the wee one off, my wife Gill heads off to Abertay University where she works in support services, while I wind my way towards the Tower Building at the University of Dundee. My office is on the second floor of the Tower Extension and I get a lovely view over the river. On these spring days sunlight streams in as I start up the computer and get down to work.

I don’t have anything on at 9am today, which is great, so I spend the time planning the rest of the week ahead. The diary pages are already laden with tipex from the juggling of meetings that is going on at the moment. I’m reminded again that the sooner I get a handle of my electronic calendar life will be easier. My colleagues and friends Mayra, Keith and Jen drop by in stages to say hello before rushing off to their classes.

The first class is at 10am. It’s a lecture on Film Noir. Its a remnant of the film teaching I used to have. Five years or so ago I was mainly teaching English and Film. Little by little the English disappeared and I was just teaching film. Then, when my Comics Studies Masters programme was approved, the comics teaching started to replace the film teaching. Now I mainly teach comics, with just a few exceptions. Today I am lecturing on the demise of the classic period of Noir production and the challenge from televsion, widescreen and 3-D films in the 1950s.

The lecture spills out at 11am and I head back to me office for a PhD supervision. I have several students undertaking PhD research with me. This particular supervision is on American Western Comics, and is co-supervised by my friend and colleague in Film Studies, Dr Brian Hoyle. I had spent the previous Sunday reading over the latest chapter from this student and was keen to chase up some points with him. At 12pm it was time for Brian and I to wrap up the meeting. It was also time to grab some lunch and seek out the week’s research materials (which is code for the weekly trip to the comics shop).

I head outside and meet Phil Vaughan, who teaches comics and animation at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. I’ve known Phil for five years now and we work very closely together. We’ve also been frequenting the same comic shop or about twenty five years – The Black Hole. The proprietor, George, hands us our bundles and quizzes us for information on which big comics guests we’ll have up to Dundee next. We give nothing away, largely because the Dundee Comics Day seems a long way off and we haven’t locked down a big guest yet. Phil and I start to discuss this over lunch, but we are quickly distracted by the fact that Phil has brought the proof for our new publication – Anthology 6. This collects the work created by students on our comics modules and is published through our own comics imprint, UniVerse Comics. This serves as a great focal point and showcase for the comics work produced by our students, but Phil and I are also loving the fact that we are editing a series of comics.

The meeting of the critical and the creative is one of the defining things about our courses, and an unique selling point. This is something Phil and I need to make clear at a meeting later in the week, where we’ll be discussing the creation of a new Comics and Graphic Novels Masters programme, which is a collaboration between our two schools.

At 1.30pm Phil and I head down to the nearby Dundee Comics Creative Space, which we have set up with funding from the Rank Foundation. Damon, the co-ordinator of the project meets with us to discuss the activities in the space that week, and we catch up with the comics artists who work in the comics studio that is part of the space. By 2pm I am teaching a class to the Comics Masters students in the Comics Studio in the Tower Building. There is a presentation on auteurship and Steve Ditko which I am particularly impressed by.

After a quick meeting with my Dean to discuss the appointment of a new (and long awaited comics lecturer) I am back at my office and catching up on emails. A couple are from my publisher, the University Press of Mississippi, who are in the process of copy-editing my book, The British Superhero. By 5pm I’m heading out the back door of the Tower and I’m at the University nursery to collect Kaitlyn. My brother, Gavin, has picked Kaitlyn up and is playing with her when I get there. Gill pulls up in the car and Gavin say’s his goodbyes. In the car journey home Kaitlyn cries for a bit then falls asleep.  It’s a well-worn pattern.

After a meal and playtime with Kaitlyn we put her to bed and then I’m off to my cabin, which is an office in our back garden. I spend some time not writing the research paper that I should be but rather drawing a very rough comic page and working on a script. This is for a story that will feature in a comic about British Superheroes. This is part of a strategy to tie my research work into creative outputs that will disseminate the ideas and assist with our goals for public engagement and impact. I’ll get to that research paper tomorrow. Then I notice that it is tomorrow.

It’s about 3am and I am heading back into the house to crash. I’ll be up later this morning to start the whole thing again. Kaitlyn will be shaking me awake in about 4 hours. I am so tired, but I cannot  complain. I am teaching researching and creating comics… and I love this job!


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