For the last year, I have opened GSC Board meetings with an exercise in which each officer talks about some thing or things for which they are grateful before choosing the next to go until everyone has participated. So I am going to end my term as President the same way I started Board meetings as President: with gratitudes.
I am grateful to the 2020-21 GSC Board for serving in an exceptional year.
I am grateful to Jeremy Carnes for all of his years of service, especially the ones that have overlapped with mine.
I am grateful to Joshua Roeder and Sydney Heifler for serving as Members-at-Large on the Board. To Josh, for serving on the Chute Committee with me. To Sydney, for hanging out after everyone else left the Zoom call.
I am grateful to Zachary Rondinelli for serving as Secretary-Treasurer, for serving on the CSS Outreach Committee, and for his continued service on the GSC Board and in CSS.
And I am grateful to Evan Ash for his service on the 2021 Conference Organizing Committee and on the GSC and, this next term, CSS Executive Boards.
I am also grateful to everyone who took part in the Mentorship Program, whether testing the applications over the summer, volunteering time and experience as a mentor, participating as a mentee, or matching as a member of the Board.
To incoming members of the Board, Secretary-Treasurer Maite Urcaregui and Member-at-Large Frida Heitland, congratulations!
It has not always been easy or fun, but I have never regretted running for Secretary-Treasurer or Vice President. I hope the returning and newly elected officers get as much out of serving as I have over the last three years. I am very much looking forward to being a member of the Caucus under their leadership.
The Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) of CSS calls for nominations and self-nominations for positions on its Executive Board. The GSC Board meets virtually once a month, and GSC Board members serve on GSC committees as well as CSS Executive committees.
All graduate student and recent graduate (within 3 years of degree) members of CSS are members of the Caucus, can vote in GSC elections, and are eligible for positions on its Executive Board. To join or renew membership, please consult the Society’s website. The GSC Board will have four elected positions open this spring, to serve May 2021 to May 2022: Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and two Members-at-Large.
GSC Vice President commits to a two-year term of office, serving first as Vice President (one year) then as President (one year) the following year.
The Graduate Student Caucus is pleased to announce the first GSC-sponsored Twitter Book Discussion!
While the past year has been extremely difficult and isolating for all of us, we at the GSC firmly believe that connection and conversation are and should be the backbone of comics studies. We know that Twitter doesn’t replicate the actual fun and messiness of an in-person conversation, but we hope to foster a discussion that is thought-provoking, fun, and tides us over until we can be in-person again!
This year’s text will be Qiana Whitted’s EC Comics: Race, Shock, & Social Protest published by Rutgers University Press as a part of the Comics Culture series and winner of the 2020 Eisner Award for Best Academic/Scholarly Work.
The conversations will begin with questions crafted by members of the board of the Graduate Student Caucus, but we hope you will bring your own questions, insights, and ideas about the book as well!
Check out the poster below for more information and be sure to get your copy of EC Comics and follow the Graduate Student Caucus on Twitter so you can read and talk with us starting Monday, March 8th.
You can get your copy of the book directly from Rutgers UP.
The Graduate Student Caucus of the Comics Studies Society endeavors to, following our by-laws, “recognize the outstanding efforts of graduate students working in the field through prizes for outstanding student work.” We have done so annually in the awarding of the Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Conference Presentation. Past winners include Alex Smith (2018), Isabelle Martin (2019), and Haniyeh Barahouie (2020). For 2021, the parameters of the award have been changed, and they will remain changed going forward, but the award will nonetheless recognize outstanding comics studies scholarship by graduate students. From the 2021 cycle onwards, the award will be known as the Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper.
Rather than specifically recognize a conference presentation, acknowledging the privilege inherent in being able to attend and present at conferences under the best of circumstances, the Hillary Chute Award will henceforth recognize a graduate student paper under the following conditions:
The author must be a graduate student during the awards cycle (2021) or have been a graduate student in the year before the awards cycle. This means that the author must either be enrolled in a graduate program at the point of submission or have completed one the year before. Concerning the latter, an author submitting work for consideration in the 2021 cycle may have a degree date no earlier than 2020.
The author must be a member of CSS at the point of submission. More information on how to join or renew membership may be found on the Society’s website.
The paper must be at least 7 but no more than 15 pages (not including citations or images). It must have been written during the eligibility year (2020). It may be a conference or seminar paper, or it may be an excerpt from a larger work (like an M.A. thesis or dissertation), but it must stand for evaluation on its own.
The Chute Award winner will receive a plaque and a monetary prize. They will also have the opportunity to have a consultation with an editor of INKS: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society.
For questions concerning the Awards process at large, please contact CSS Awards Coordinator Biz Nijdam at the address above. For questions specific to the Chute, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications are open to members of CSS. We ask that mentors who applied in the fall please submit new applications if they intend to participate in this round (and we’d love to hear about your experiences with the Mentorship Program). Applications will close at midnight EST on March 1st, 2021.
The 4th Annual Comics Studies Society Conference August 6-7, 2021
The fourth annual CSS conference seeks to bring together scholars, artists, and other members of the international Comics Studies Society to examine, explore, and work to re/build the various communities of which we form a part. Following in the wake of an exceptionally tumultuous year that necessitated distance and isolation like few of us have ever had to experience, the 2021 conference hopes to spark thoughtful conversations about the intersections surrounding comics and communities of all sorts, from comics shops to web comics, cons to cosplay, creative collaborations to comics collectives, and the graphic narrative communities we study to those that we ourselves inhabit.
In keeping with the theme of re/building communities, we hope to bring to the forefront of this conference connections between communities big and small, global and local. Above all, we want to bring our own community back together in a way that is safe and inclusive, and that also celebrates and invigorates the local communities of our members. In short, we will be working in 2021 to help share what the many diverse communities that compose our membership are doing with our larger CSS community.
To these ends, we are currently inviting proposals for two different modalities for this conference: virtual presentations, panels, and roundtables; and small, local pop-up panels or symposiums to be created with contacts in your local or regional comics community. It is our hope that this offering of two distinct modalities will allow for the utmost degree of flexibility in accommodating individual concerns, safety, and comfort, while also maximizing our points of contact with each other and our communities – what we’ve all been missing in the increased distance and isolation of 2020.
As per our custom, presentations may take the form of traditional 20-minute research papers (either proposed alone or as part of a planned panel) or shorter contributions in roundtables organized around a specific theme. This year we will simply be organizing those virtually rather than in-person. In the spirit of the conference theme, we also welcome innovative collaborations that enact as well as address communal forms of comics studies.
The pop-up panels are an opportunity for you to host your own panel and invite members from your own local community to take part in the excellent work being done in CSS. This can be done in-person, if social distancing needs in your area allow for it at the time of the conference, or via videoconferencing, if an in-person event is not advisable. Whether in-person or online, we hope that this presents an opportunity to encourage your local colleagues and contacts to join us at CSS, albeit virtually, and to enjoy some of the benefits of a small, in-person symposium without the travel associated with the larger in-person conference. More details are available on the pop-up panel template.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
– Comics communities IRL, from academic societies to cosplay communities – The virtual communities surrounding comics – Graphic narrative depictions of communities in comics – Character “travel” from one graphic narrative community to another – Considerations of various subject positions in comics communities – Comics and re/building communities in time of social distancing – Historical and contemporary comics fandom as community – communal comics production (the underground “jam,” creative teams, comics collectives, the anthology as community, etc.) – Community activism, organizing and comics – The local comic book shop as community space – Comics and marginalized/underrepresented communities – The comics of specific localities – Scholarship as community – Community and CSS – Curating comics collections for local or academic libraries
Guidelines for Submission
We are accepting submissions for the following (templates are hyperlinked):
The conference organizers will send out notifications of acceptance by the end of February. Please add our conference email to your trusted senders to ensure email delivery.
A presenter’s name may appear twice in the program.
In lieu of our usual set conference registration fees, this year we invite our conference participants to name their own registration fee. In keeping with the spirit of our conference theme, rebuilding community, all fees collected from conference registration proceedings this year will go to special funds to 1) support future graduate student and contingent faculty travel awards and to 2) support future annual CSS awards prizes, as well. When you complete your registration via EventBrite, you will have the option to either “purchase” a free ticket or to make a donation (which also comes with a free ticket to the conference). If you make a donation you will be able to choose which initiatives your dollars will support.
All presenters must be members of the Comics Studies Society at the time of registration.
This update appeared in the recent newsletter for the Comics Studies Society, but we wanted to also share it here since it is particularly pointed to graduate students in comics studies.
Over the summer, shortly after the 2020-21 GSC Executive Board met for the first time, I started working on something that I have wanted to do since joining the Board in 2018: the Mentorship Program. The goal of the program is to create professional connections in the field between members of the Caucus and more senior members of CSS. With the help of GSC and CSS Executive Board members past and present, I created two forms, one for graduate students and one for mentors.
The former asked graduate students to list the discipline in which they are earning their degree and their research interests, rank how important having a mentor in their discipline would be, rank how much engagement they expect from their mentor, and check off options from a list of expectations concerning writing and networking. The latter asked potential mentors to list their own discipline and their research interests, select whether or not they would be willing to work with a mentee in another discipline, rank how much engagement they expect to be able to offer, and check off options from a list of expectations concerning reading and networking. The forms are meant to help pair graduate students with mentors not just according to their research interests but also by what they both expect from the mentorship.
In August, these forms, the Mentorship Program Applications, were made available to CSS’s membership for the first time. There were nearly twice as many mentor applications as graduate student applications, and I am grateful to everyone who applied to be a mentor. As a graduate student member of CSS, I was proud to see senior scholars in the field offer their time and experience to junior scholars. As of this newsletter, all applicants have been contacted and pairs have been made, and each graduate student who applied has been paired with a mentor who shares a significant research interest as well as expectations for the mentorship. The applications themselves are now part of the GSC’s digital archive, with the intention of opening applications again in the future.
We were recently able to interview our very own GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, about his ongoing project #WelcomeToSlumberland. Check out this interview with Zachary and then head over to twitter to engage with this important and innovative research.
GSC: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Zachary J.A. Rondinelli: Sure! I’ve just started my second year as a Ph.D. student in Educational Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON Canada and hold an M.A. in Studies in Comparative Literatures & Arts, also from Brock. My main interests are comics theory, multimodality, and reading/literacy studies. Currently, my dissertation is shaping up to combine all of those interests by engaging in participatory action research and comics-specific visual methods to examine the nature of reading comics in the classroom, as well as extending current research on how the medium sponsors multimodal literacy development for students. I’ve been a High School English teacher in Ontario, Canada since 2014 and, as such, I’m particularly interested in how we can integrate comics into K-12 classrooms more effectively. Outside of (or maybe tangential to) the academy, I’ve been a contributor for Sequential: Canadian Independent Comic Book Magazine since its inaugural issue last year, have published comics related work at The Vault of Culture and recently had my first peer-reviewed article, “‘C’Mon. Sell Me Another One’: Simulation, Sacrifice, and Symbolic Revolution in King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle” (2019) published in tba: Journal of Art, Media, and Visual Culture. I’m also proud to be serving as the Secretary/Treasurer for the Comics Studies Society’s 2020 Graduate Student Caucus.
GSC: Tell us how the #WelcomeToSlumberland project came to be?
Rondinelli: Honestly, it took on a life of its own very quickly! Initially, the impetus was simply that I had received the two-volume XXL Taschen collections of Little Nemo strips by Alexander Braun as a gift and thought that it would be a really cool idea to have a dedicated page on Twitter, similar to other “Let’s Talk” accounts that exist out there, with which to explore his work. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@zjarondinelli) and like to engage in critical conversation about comics, comics analysis, comics as communication, (etc.) with other scholars and fans; I know how powerful a digital community tool like Twitter can be in that respect. So, while it started out as a “fun” personal interest idea, when I really stopped to think about what it was that I was setting out to do I realized that the project provided a unique opportunity to both document and explore different personal and collaborative transactions that reader’s might have with McCay’s comic strip. After some consultation with my amazing supervisor, Dr. Diane Collier, we agreed, and I went to Brock’s research ethics review board to inquire about whether my project would need to be evaluated. They confirmed that it met the threshold for ethics review, so I immediately applied. The review process took a couple of weeks, but, when it came back, I’d received clearance with no revisions and had permission to get started right away. I couldn’t have been more excited.
GSC: Little Nemo in Slumberland is a really interesting choice for the pursuit of this work. Before receiving the Taschen collections, were you familiar with McCay at all, or was he relatively new to you?
Rondinelli: No, I’ve been familiar with Winsor McCay, both the man and the work, for a very long time. He’s just such a fascinating character.
GSC: What is it in particular about McCay that draws your interest?
Rondinelli: Well, he was a really enigmatic person and a performer who knew how to put on a show! McCay was intimately familiar with, and even actively engaged in, the Vaudeville scene of the early 1900s. The time that he spent as a performer in his early life never really left him or his work and this view of him as not just a creator, but an entertainer, really resonates with me.
One reason for that is that I too have been a performer for most of my life. I actually studied Operatic Vocal Performance in my undergrad at Western University in London, ON. As a singer, I was lucky to have the opportunity to perform on many stages in Opera and Musical Theatre productions and, as a result, I feel an interesting connection to him in that way. McCay was able to leverage his personality as a performer to benefit nearly everything he did in life, especially his work in comics and animation. Like McCay, I too frequently utilize the skills that I developed as a performer to enhance or improve my everyday work. They’re particularly helpful skills to have as a high school English teacher, let me tell you!
I also just love the mystery that surrounds his birth; neither his birthdate nor his birthplace have ever been concretely identified. This uncertainty has led to some serious contention, particularly when his most prominent biographer, John Canemaker, first presented the claim that McCay might not have been born in the United States at all, but Canada instead! Both McCay’s parents were Canadian, and Canemaker suggests that Michigan census data from 1870 had recorded a Zenas W. McKay (the artist’s birth name) living in Michigan who had been born in Canada in 1867. As a Canadian, that connection was really interesting to me, but it was definitely his work that hooked me.
It’s true that this project will mark the first time that I’ve read the Little Nemo strips in chronological order, but I’ve been familiar with them, and McCay’s other ground-breaking comics like Little Sammy Sneeze and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, for many years. Like many formalist comics scholars, I was drawn to his prodigious handling of the comics medium, particularly in Little Nemo in Slumberland. In his biography, Canemaker (2018, 3rd ed.) actually compares McCay to Mozart, an undisputed musical genius and one of the most progressive composers of his time. As someone who spent years studying Mozart in my undergrad, I feel as though I can attest to the aptness of the comparison. Like Mozart to music, McCay was an innovator of the comics form. His art nouveau style, experimental panel composition, use of colour, timing, pace, perspective, hatching style, architectural detail, (etc.) all combine to create some of the most brilliant surrealist art you’ll ever find in comics. There’s a reason that his work has made such a lasting impact on comics and cartoonists to this day, nearly 100 years after LittleNemo ceased publication.
GSC: Earlier you mentioned that the goal of the project was to investigate “collaborative transactions” with this research. Can you explain what exactly a “transaction” is in your conceptualization?
Rondinelli: I’m borrowing this theoretical framework from Louise Rosenblatt (1978), but the word transaction simply describes the type of relationship that occurs between a reader and a text during a communicative event (in this case: reading). I really want to use this project as a way to focus on those types of relationships where both the text and the reader are changed by their coming together. This, I would argue, is contrasted by a more basic interactional approach where the relationship in reading is viewed as a collision, or momentary contact between reader and text, that leaves both essentially unchanged by the experience. For me, the strength of this project is that we get to both individually reflect on our readings, as well as collaborate together on renegotiating our own personal transactions through collaboration with the other participants.
GSC: You mentioned earlier that the project was being hosted on Twitter. Is that where participants engage with each other?
Rondinelli: That’s right. I’m actually quite proud of the project’s position as Qualitative Social Media Research.
Though it certainly didn’t inspire the work, I think that it’s fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic gave me the final push to dive in. Since in-person research was forced to come to a screeching halt as a result of the widespread school closures, the question of how we could continue doing participant research became immediately relevant. The notion of using social media as a potential mediator for the impossibility of in-person research became very appealing to me. Social media research isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but it is generally a less popular research model than the in-person alternatives.
That said, I can’t imagine that #WelcomeToSlumberland is the only project that has taken advantage of social media for the purposes of research during COVID-19; If it is, I doubt it will be for long! I can only assume that social media research will continue to rise in popularity as a result of the uncertainty regarding when we can all be back together.
GSC: How does all this translate into the social media space? What does it look like in practice?
Rondinelli: It’s really simple actually.
Each day (or there about), I tweet, in chronological order, one of the 549 “Little Nemo” comic strips and create a thread sharing my own personal transaction with that day’s comic. I then invite others to reply, retweet, direct message, or otherwise communicate with the account in order to share their own personal transactions with that day’s strip. At this point, participants often begin critical conversations with me and each other to probe, challenge, extend, and interrogate our transactions with the strip, which ultimately leaves behind a digital archive of these experiences for me to return to later for content analysis and open coding.
Data analysis won’t occur until after the whole project is complete and I have a large data set from which to explore. This means that, for the majority of the project, the goal is just to have a great time critically reflecting on an amazing piece of comics history with a bunch of participants from around the globe! I’m lucky to have participants from Canada, the USA, India, Norway, and many other places. I love it because if this project weren’t a social media project, I’d never be able to share these peoples experiences the way we are now. It’s fantastic.
GSC: So, you kicked off the project at the end of May 2020, right? How has it been going so far?
Rondinelli: Honestly, I think it’s been going remarkably well so far!
Though I begin each day with my own personal readings, it’s been amazing to see many of my participants share alternative readings or challenge the readings that I’ve presented. We often discuss one concept that builds upon something we’ve previously seen, or we’ve worked together to shape a reading that none of us saw on our own. It’s really demonstrated the negotiating and renegotiating of meaning that can only happen across a digital space acting to connect readers, fans, scholars, and anyone else interested in the strips across the large geographical divide that separate us.
Beyond what I expected to find, I’ve also begun to notice some recurring themes that I think will make for really interesting discussions after data analysis. As I mentioned, I’m not going to dig into the data until after the project is done, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed a thing or two that I think will play into my conclusions. Obviously, as an educational researcher, I’m focusing on how this project can inform educational pedagogy in the future, so nearly all of the findings that I anticipate are directed towards comics in education. Examples of these early themes and implications include supporting the continued development of “comics as comics” pedagogy in K-12 education, promoting anti-discrimination education through 20th century socio-historic artefacts, and promoting historical memory through public domain intellectual property. These, alongside the other early themes and implications that I’m noticing, seem to have a lot of potential to support the continued development of meaningful comics practices in the K-12 education.
GSC: Obviously, your project relies heavily on collaborating with others. Can you clarify exactly how you are defining participation in the project and what are you considering data?
Rondinelli: For the purposes of the project, I’m defining a participant as any individual who follows, tweets @, replies to, retweets, direct messages, or otherwise engages with @LittleNemo1905 or the project website. Data will be defined as tweets, retweets, replies, direct messages, and other interactions with @LittleNemo1905 and the project website. No personal identifiers will be collected beyond those made publicly accessible on the participant’s twitter account.
I really want to stress that participation in this project is, at all times, completely voluntary. There are absolutely no expectations that you will follow my lead and document transactions daily (though all would be welcome to do so if they wanted to). In this way, participation can be as frequent or infrequent as the participant wishes it to be.
Also, following the @LittleNemo1905 account doesn’t in any way constitute a commitment to ongoing participation. Participants can stop following, delete their past comments, or remove themselves entirely from the project at any time if they change their minds. Honestly, if someone wanted to just follow the account for no reason beyond a daily dose of McCay’s little dreamer, that would be totally fine by me.
GSC: Can anyone participate? If so, how can they get involved?
Rondinelli: Absolutely anyone can participate at any time throughout the life of the project! Even though we’re almost 100 strips in you don’t have to go back to the first strip and catch up; you can join us right where we are now! For those interested in reviewing what we’re done so far, or sharing their insight on the earlier strips (if desired), you can check out the Digital Table of Contents available on the #WelcomeToSlumberland website. This page features quick links to every Twitter thread we’ve done so far throughout the project!
Also, no previous experience with McCay, or his work, is required. In true transactional fashion, every single perspective, experience, and point of view is valid and meaningful. If you want to get involved, all you need to do is follow @LittleNemo1905 or subscribe to the email updates on the project website!
GSC: Any final thoughts or upcoming presentations you’d like to plug?
Rondinelli: Actually, two quick things!
Once we cross the 100th day of the project, I’ll be transitioning into Phase Two of the research. Now that I’ve done the primary thread writing for 100 strips and we’re all more-or-less familiar with the process, I’m going to be encouraging participants to take over those duties as a Guest Curator for a short time. This might mean a participant takes over writing for one day or multiple days (if they’re interested in tackling a whole thematic series). Any of the #WelcomeToSlumberland participants can be a Guest Curator! Just reach out to me on Twitter about your interest and we’ll chat!
Finally, I’ll be presenting on #WelcomeToSlumberland at the Flyover Comics Symposium in September! It’s called “FWIW I think you’re over thinking this”: Cutting the Gordian Knot of Authorial Intention in Transactional Approaches to Reading Comics and will explore some of my first impressions and very early potential implications as they relate to comics pedagogy! I’m really looking forward to it!
GSC: How can potential participants get in touch with you if they have any further questions?
Rondinelli: I’d encourage anyone with questions to reach out to me by direct messaging @LittleNemo1905 or @zjarondinelli on Twitter. Alternatively, they can email me either from the contact form on the project website or at email@example.com.
Today we wrap up the introductions of our new board members with Secretary-Treasurer Zachary J.A. Rondinelli’s “Meet the Board” interview.
How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?
I first joined the CSS in 2017 when I began my Master of Arts in Studies in Comparative Literatures & Arts at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON Canada. At that time, I was ravenously consuming as much comics-related scholarship as I possibly could and was desperate to find some like-minded folks who shared my interests in comics (particularly the communicative/meaning making abilities of the comics form). I wanted to have meaningful and critical conversations that could challenge my own thinking.
As my desire to represent graduate students on the Grad Student Caucus may attest to, I certainly found what I was searching for with the CSS! As a result of my joining, I began to “meet” (both online and in-person) many amazing people who have helped to constructively challenge my views and help me grow as a scholar and theorist. I’ve attended conferences and submitted for opportunities promoted through the CSS Facebook page and listserv that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s been wonderful to be a member of this community!
What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?
Ha! I have two very different answers for those questions!
The first comic that I remember reading was Batman: Hush as a TPB in or around 2007. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a late comer to comics; I never read them as a kid, opting instead for the Animated television Batman, Justice League, Spider-Man, and X-Men series’ and films. To this day, I’m not actually sure why I decided to pick up that first comic book… but I can tell you that I haven’t put them down since.
The first comic that really resonated with/impacted me was Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. I remember meeting Lemire in 2011 at “HEROES: Cards and Comics” in London, ON so that I could get my New 52 Animal Man #1 signed (which, I might add, is still framed and hanging in my office). While I was waiting in line to meet him, I saw Essex County (2009) on the shelf and decided to pick it up on my way through because I had heard great things about it (it had just recently been nominated for the prestigious Canada Reads award) and was interested to see what comics beyond the mainstream were all about. Lemire’s unique signature art style, intensely character driven narrative, meaningful thematic mediations, and True North setting affected me intensely.
What are you reading now that you think others should look into?
I need to get in an obligatory plug for Canadian comics here! Michael De Forge is a Canadian comics powerhouse and has recently published some really incredible work. For example, Leaving Richard’s Valley (2019) which is a comics allegory about friendship, belonging, meaningfulness, and the unforgiving nature of life in our “big city” (a.k.a. Toronto). His most recent work, Familiar Face (2020) is an artistic masterclass in comics surrealism that juxtaposes itself against a powerfully grounded narrative about humanity. These are must reads.
Something that certainly isn’t new, but always worth checking out anyway, is Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comic strips. I recently received the two-volume XXL Alexander Braun collections as a gift and it has prompted me to return to Slumberland like never before! I’ve read the strips randomly throughout the years, but never chronologically. It seems to me that any comics scholar interested in formalism should certainly know at least a little bit about McCay’s work. My interest in McKay actually led me to start a Twitter project, #WelcomeToSlumberland, where I’ve been tweeting one strip per day and documenting my own reading experience, encouraging others to share theirs, and opening up discussion for collaborative transactions. If interested, I’d encourage people to follow @LittleNemo1905 and join in on the fun! It’s been a blast!
What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?
There are a number of scholars that I can easily identify as influential to my own thinking about comics. As a formalist/educator, I’ve tended to rely heavily on scholars that do a lot of theorizing about the comics form; scholars such as Barbara Postema, Thierry Groensteen, Hannah Miodrag, Nick Sounsanis, and Aaron Kashtan stand out for me. While each of these people have impacted my work in numerous ways, Dale Jacobs’s writing about comics and multimodality have truly helped to define it.
When I began my M.A., I was headed down a totally different comics-related road. My thesis proposal surrounded one of the first female superheroes and prominent WWII Canadian comics star, Nelvana of the Northern Lights (introduced about four months before Wonder Woman; eat your heart out, Diana!) and the elusive concept of Canadian Identity. As I began my research and started working on it, I just didn’t feel like it was going where I wanted it to go; my heart wasn’t in it. Then, I stumbled across Dale Jacobs’ article in the English Journal, “More Than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies” (2007) and my world was flipped upside down.
Without exaggeration, I can easily say that “More Than Words” forever altered the trajectory of my post-secondary studies. It irrevocably changed the way that I see and read comics, introduced me to the concept of multimodality (which has since become a primary focus for my work in education), and gave me a new, exciting direction that reinvigorated my M.A. work!
Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?
There are two that I’m particularly excited about!
The first, which has, admittedly, been ongoing for almost a decade now, is the “multimodal turn” in comics. By this, I don’t just mean the recognition that comics are a multimodal medium constructed with modes like the linguistic, pictorial, spatial, temporal, colour, gestural, (etc.) communicating in relationship with each other and the reader, but also that this recognition has started to inform theoretical work. The application of multimodal analysis to comics is becoming more noticeable each year in texts like Paul Fisher Davies’s recent Comics as Communication: A Functional Approach (2020), which embraces elements of multimodal discourse analysis in its framework. Personally speaking, I believe that the application of multimodal analysis to the comics form opens up many new avenues for investigation into how modal relationships impact the experience of reading comics. This is something that my own research hopes to explore more fully.
The second, a shift related to (particularly K-12) education and pedagogical practice with comics, is the idea of teaching comics not as a tool to be used for the goals of studying other ideas and concepts, but rather studying comics as comics. Using comics to teach other ends has been common practice in K-12 education for years and has predominantly resulted in a conceptualization of the medium as leverage for the instruction of other (loftier?) pedagogical focuses. That comics can be explored as a “fully interdisciplinary endeavor” (Jacobs, 2020) has been previously promoted through work like that of James Bucky Carter’s “PIM Pedagogy: Towards a Loosely Unified Model for Teaching Comics and Graphic Novels” (2015). Other similar research can continue to support this shift in comics pedagogy from a view that sees comics as a means to an end in the K-12 classroom to one that recognizes them as valuable contributors to interdisciplinary knowledge-creation.
Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?
I don’t know if I would say that he has impacted my view of the field, in general, but Tom King is a writer whose work I tend to gravitate towards.
I recognize that King tends to be a bit controversial, and I totally understand that. His work isn’t without its problems, and I’m all for recognizing and challenging those elements. I also think that a lot of King’s work leans into the formal brilliance of comics. Admittedly, King has been blessed to work with some of the best artists in the mainstream comics business today, including Gabriel Walta, Clay Mann, Joelle Jones, Lee Weeks, and Mitch Gerads. Though not perfect (as nothing ever is), these collaborations tend to really reflect the sorts of powerful formal communication that is possible within the medium. I’ve written about this before, but I appreciate the way that the form is just as much a storytelling agent in his work as are the more commonly recognized “words and pictures”. When I began reading King’s work, it wasn’t something that I felt I’d seen a lot of in mainstream superhero comics, so I think I became that much more attuned to it when reading his work. That isn’t to neglect the other creators out there embracing experimental design and communication in mainstream comics (J.H. Williams III and Brian Michael Bendis immediately jump to mind here), or even ignore the potential publisher impact around allowance/flexibility for experimentation. For me, both The Vision (2018) and Mister Miracle (2019), which I’ve published about in tba: Journal of Art, Media, and Visual Culture, were groundbreaking superhero stories and very impactful for me as a reader.
If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?
Oh, this is a really easy answer: Chris Ware.
Many scholars that I deeply admire, our own Martha Kuhlman, Shawn Gilmore, and Gene Kannenberg, Jr. chief among them, have spilled gallons of ink (metaphorically, of course) writing about his comics and I’ve read many of them in complete and utter awe at what he’s able to accomplish with the comics form. Truly, I think you can sum up Ware’s contributions in two simple words: next level.
My personal journey with Chris Ware has been interesting. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (1995) was one of the first non-genre comics I bought after I caught the comics bug. Oh, how naïve and innocent I was. I remember reading the first, maybe 50 pages, before putting it down and letting it collect dust for a couple of years. I just wasn’t ready for it at that point. I barely had a vocabulary to describe how comics communicated, but I knew that what Ware was doing was very atypical and I just needed to develop my own understanding of the form before trying to tackle it again. I think that I finally read Jimmy Corrigan in its entirety about two or three years later and loved it!
Fast-forward to quarantine during COVID-19 and I finally bit the bullet and ordered a copy of Building Stories (2012) to occupy some of my time. I’d been tentative to buy the book simply because I was afraid I had nowhere to put it (Aaron Kashtan had made it’s intimidating size very evident during an anecdote in Between Pen and Pixel). The massive box that it comes in certainly doesn’t fit on a bookshelf, and I have limited physical space at my place, but I decided that now was the time to experience it for myself. I’ve had a lot of fun constructing the book’s overarching narrative out of the disparate parts. It is probably the work that demonstrates most for me just how brilliant Ware actually is! That the experience of reading Building Stories can be different for each person, yet still completely unified in narrative, is a major accomplishment
Rusty Brown (2019) is on my shelf, but I haven’t started it yet.
Honestly, Ware’s work is like no one else in the industry and getting to hear him talk about his process and philosophy would, I can only assume, be just as unique an experience.
What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?
Well, the most current project I’m working on right now is my #WelcomeToSlumberland Twitter Project. The main purpose of the project is to investigate transactional occurrences between myself and the text, others and the text, as well as collaborative meaning-making. I’m hoping that the account will become an archive of diverse readings that I can come back to at its conclusion and interrogate more deeply. I think that there could be something meaningful in there about critical discussion and inspired transactions framed within a digital community.
I chose “Little Nemo” for many reasons. First, they are public domain so I can legally tweet the strips which, I hope, will encourage others to join into conversation because the strip is right there for them to read. Second, I felt as though there was a bit of a void on Twitter for McCay. With all the “Let’s Talk” or fan-related accounts celebrating the work of great artists, there wasn’t really anyone doing anything for McCay, which I felt was a travesty. Finally, discovering McCay’s Northern heritage (he may have been born in Canada) was exciting and got me interested in learning more about his life and other works. John Canemaker’s Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (2018, 3rd ed.) is a really fantastic overview of his life and one of the only biographies on him. He’s just an interesting guy and his work is so incredible; it all came together really well.
As I mentioned previously, anyone can follow the account and join in!
In terms of future projects, I’m really proud to have been given the opportunity to be a part of an exciting National-scale project to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Canadian Comics! 2021 will see Better Comics #1 (1941) turn 80-years old and we’re hoping to commemorate that by collaborating on multiple projects in order to promote Canadian comics culture across Canada! More on that in the future…
How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?
I’m pretty active on Twitter as @zjarondinelli and am always looking for opportunities to chat about comics and comics research! If social media isn’t your thing, firstname.lastname@example.org!
Each year, the board of the Comics Studies Society releases an annual report. You can read the full report over on the Comics Studies Society website, here. Below is the report from the current President of the Graduate Student Caucus, Adrienne Resha.
A year ago, I was most concerned with studying for my comprehensive exams and heading back into a new, but not all that different, semester. Now, it’s hard to say what tomorrow will look like, let alone the end of summer. For the last two years, the annual conference has marked, for me, the end of an academic year: I finished my first year in Urbana-Champaign and my second in Toronto. I was, like many of you, looking forward to Arkadelphia. Now, I’m looking forward to a time when it’s safe to see each other in person again. Between now and then, and in my third year on the Graduate Student Caucus Board, there’s still a lot I want to get done, and I am privileged to be working alongside members of the GSC in doing so.
Before I welcome the new Executive, I want to thank the 2019-2020 GSC Board. Biz Nijdam, Hanah Stiverson, Alex Lampp Berglund, and Safiyya Hosein: on behalf of the graduate student membership of CSS, thank you for your service.
I am very proud to welcome Vice President Evan Ash, Members-at-Large Sydney Heifler and Joshua Roeder, and Secretary-Treasurer Zachary Rondinelli to the 2020-2021 GSC Executive Board. I am also proud to continue to work with Web Editor Jeremy Carnes. This Board has met several times this summer and is already hard at work.
In the next few months, Josh and I will be reworking the Hillary Chute Award. In a good year, attendance at conferences is a marker of privilege, much less one in which many conferences — in, around, and outside of comics studies — have been cancelled. The Chute Award will, as it has this year, continue to recognize excellence in graduate student research and writing. It will just look a little different going forward.
Over the next twelve months, Evan will be representing the Caucus on the CSS Conference Organizing Committee. As Josh and I form the GSC’s Award Committee, Evan is joined by Zach on the GSC’s Conference Committee. Having previously served on the Conference Organizing Committee, I know just how much work goes into planning a conference, and I am absolutely sure that Evan and Zach are up to doing their part for it. They will be supported in doing so by the rest of the GSC Board.
You can learn more about the new officers of that Board here on our website, where we’ve been running “Meet the Board” posts. Our website and social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter) fall under the purview of our Website Committee, Jeremy and Sydney. Of everything we’ve talked about at our first few meetings, I am most excited by the ideas that these two have put forward. Speaking on behalf of the entire Board: we’re going to do some good work this year.
And speaking for myself: I am privileged to be in my third year of service on the GSC Board. I have served after or alongside many graduate students and early career scholars who I am lucky to count not just as colleagues but also as friends, and some of them graduated this spring under less than ideal circumstances. My sincerest congratulations go out to them and especially to our own Dr. Jeremy Carnes. Just as much as I am looking forward to being able to see each other in person again, I am looking forward to celebrating this cohort of scholars. Until then, know that I’m rooting for all of you.
To those of you who are dissertating now, like me, I want you to know that you’re not alone. To those of you studying now for your comprehensive exams, I wish you the best of luck. And to those of you just beginning your graduate programs, I want you to know that you have a place here, in this community, whether or not you ever run for a spot on the Board or get to present at the annual conference.
And to those of you who have graduated, whether this spring or long before, I want to remind you that you were once a student and that you likely would not be where you are today without the support of more senior scholars. Soon enough, the GSC will be launching a Mentorship Program, and I ask that you offer your time and experience when called on to do so.
Finally, from the GSC Constitution, which I helped rewrite with Joshua Kopin and Bryan Bove during my first year on the Board, “The purpose of the Graduate Student Caucus is to assess the needs and represent the interests of graduate students and early career scholars within the Comics Studies Society and to provide fellowship, support, and advocacy for such individuals as they pursue their work in comics studies.” Further, “The GSC strives to be an inclusive organization and to build solidarity among all graduate students. It will actively seek out to promote the participation and engagement of marginalized groups and underrepresented persons.” For this term, as President, I am committed to our purpose and especially, as a woman of color, to advocacy for other graduate students of color and marginalized genders, both in my service on the GSC Board and on the CSS Executive Board.