Meet the Board – Sydney Heifler


How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?

I have been involved with CSS since 2020 when I became a member-at-large for GCS. I really wanted to be more involved in the comics studies community and find my community.

What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?

The first comic I ever read was an Archie comic or a Betty and Veronica comic. I used to borrow my older sister’s Archie digests that she got from the grocery store. I remember really loving them and getting lost in the imagery. It felt like a safe, funny world to be a part of and that I could spend as much time as I wanted to in it since there was no set pace to it, like when you watch a movie. 

What are you reading now that you think others should look into?

I am currently reading Élodie Durand’s Parenthesis. It’s so very good. I’ve also, for very obvious reasons, been recommending Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer to everyone. It made me feel seen when I read it and I think it’s done that for a lot of people. 

What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?

In terms of lineage, my work on romance comics builds off the work of Michelle Noland, Trina Robbins, and Joan Ormrod. They have all done a lot of work on women’s and romance comics. I’ve also been doing a lot of graphic medicine work and that’s been informed by Andy Kunka and Hillary Chute’s writings in a big way. I draw inspiration from the broader graphic medicine community all the time. 

Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?

I have been excited to see the commentary surrounding lgbtqia+ creators and the graphic works that deal with this topic. On that note, I love graphic scholarship and really like the work that people like Kay Sohini are doing to advance it. 

Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?

This is an impossible question to answer. But really, talking to other grad students, hearing what they’re working on and the concerns they have with our field has really challenged me in a good way. It’s made me realize the gaps in my scholarship and how to better address things that I need to address, which makes sense. Grad students are in the process of writing what feels like the most important document of our lives. We have to build off previous work, critique it, fix it if it needs fixing, and create something new. We are thinking about the big and small issues all the time. 

If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet, who would it be and why?

I’ve been super lucky in that regard. I have met many of my heroes, but I still hope to meet Maia Kobabe. 

What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?

I’m currently working on a chapter concerning Jack Kirby and romance comics as well as an autobiographical graphic medicine comic. I have an interview with Trina Robbins on fashion and comics that’s underway as well. After I finish those projects it’s going to be completely focused on my generals prep and then my dissertation! 

How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?

You can catch me on twitter @romancecomicbks. 

Melanie West, Creator of the New GSC Logo, Discusses Her Creative Process and Inspiration

In this feature interview, Maite Urcaregui, GSC Secretary-Treasurer, talks with Melanie West, a comics artist and PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, about the process of designing the new GSC logo.


MU: Can you share a bit about how you began drawing comics?

MW: I’ve been drawing since I could pick up a pencil. At an early age, I began drawing comics. When I was child my mother said I used to whisper to my pages when I was doodling. One day she asked me what I was saying and I explained how a stick figure repeated across the page was going to a store, buying milk, running errands, etc. There were no panels to my knowledge, but I was interested in sequential narrative and a consistent character.

MU: Oftentimes as comics scholars, we’re only seeing and analyzing the final product, not all of the creative labor that went into the work. Can you share a bit about your creative process? How did you make the logo and what work was involved?

MW: The logo was a commission, so the creative process was ultimately collaborative. Initially, I brought a pitch to the first meeting. I was interested, as an individual, in seeing a magical girl as the logo. I came to comics through manga. Although I read Archie Comics and other American comic books, manga has influenced me the most and it’s where I also experienced the most feminist empowerment, especially in the magical girl genre. I wanted to blend a sailor scout design from Sailor Moon with the character Tuxedo Mask. That pitch was received well and by the second design I completed the logo. The second design also allowed the initial pitch to evolve as I blended my original character with an early illustration of Batman. In this way, I think the logo ultimately became representative of many cultural and historical references to comics.

MU: You are both a scholar and an artist. Can you talk about how you see these two things coming together in your research and your creative work?

MW: Yes! I have a bachelor’s in studio art and I am currently an A.B.D. (all but dissertation complete, woo!) PhD candidate in Ethnic Studies at UCSD. I am both a practitioner and a political theorist. To me, these are inseparable acts. My dissertation focuses on the MacArthur Fellowship-winning Black science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. Butler’s work has been hailed for its early interest and critical engagement with the reality of climate change, the inevitable horrors of racial capitalism, and the afterlife of North American chattel slavery. Within Butler’s science fiction and fantasy she critiques the organizing practices of modernity, that cannot be untethered from the logics of empire, which impact our dominant institutions, cultures, and politics: blind allegiance to borders and the nation state, patriarchy, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, neoliberalism, racial capitalism, the assertion of the gender binary accompanied by the denial of gender as a social construct and the inherent and wide chromosomal variance among people, and the assertion that sexuality is also in part binary and categorical rather than a fluid continuum of experiences and self identification. Butler deconstructs all of the aforementioned organizing practices in our lives through her speculative fiction. Butler’s speculative fiction challenges, critiques, and offers alternatives like any other political theorist, but in the incredibly clever vehicle of the most fascinating stories I, and many others, have ever read. I seek to do this in my own work. I am a graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and the recipient of the 2015 Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The third chapter of my dissertation is based on a story I wrote during Clarion and published in the highly acclaimed magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The short story “What You Pass For” then won a spot on prestigious editor, Ellen Datlow’s, list of 2019 Best Horror of the Year. My dissertation begins with an analysis of Butler’s political theory deployed in speculative fiction, with archival materials from the Butler papers in the Huntington Library, and then takes my own speculative prose and two of my own comics and argues for the merit of knowledge production and scholarship outside of traditional mediums in the university. Honestly, I am seeking to redefine what the entire dissertation is. Wish me luck!

MU: How can we follow your work and are there any projects you’re particularly proud of or are excited about that you’d like to share with us?

MW: I am very excited for my longform dissertation comic Selma. It will be 20 pages. In summary, it’s about a young Black woman named Selma who spends a harrowing night in a car with the United States Government, represented by a mysterious blonde man named Ted. It’s an Amerimanga about the fallout of integration and parodies Scooby-Doo in order to call attention to gaslighting from dominant institutions and the surreal horror embedded in maintaining the mythology of the United States as a foundational and progressive democracy. It’s an experimental work. I’m very excited to debut it as hopefully the first comic I formally publish.


Melanie West blends many comic aesthetics across culture and place to make images that resonate with her upbringing as a ’90s baby enthralled with Sailor Moon, Black and brown speculative fiction, American pulp comics, and the 1992 run of Batman: The Animated Series.

Meet the Board Members: Zachary Rondinelli

How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?

I came to the CSS in 2017 when I was working on my M.A. in Comparative Literatures and Arts. I had been having a hard time finding people that really wanted to talk comics with me in the way that I did. My friends and the folx from my local comicbook store weren’t all that interested in talking with me about the composition of a particular page out of one of that week’s new comics, you know? Compounding this was the fact that, though the people I worked with at Brock were (largely) accepting of my interest in the field of comics studies, I didn’t know any scholar actively doing comics based research. There are some incredible people at Brock University in that world (shout out to Ebru Unstundag from “Geography & Tourism Studies,” who has become such a wonderfully supportive friend and has taught me a ton about Graphic Medicine), but at the time I just didn’t know anyone. 

It was for that reason that I sought out others who were doing the same sort of work that I wanted to do. I joined Facebook groups and followed folx on Twitter, until that eventually led me to CSS. It was pretty clear from the get-go that this was a community of like-minded scholars and I was so eager to be a part of it!

What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?

When I did my original “Meet the Board” interview back in 2019 when I was elected as “Secretary/Treasurer,” I talked about Batman: Hush and Essex County; two comics that were super important in my journey to where I am today. But recently, I’ve been working on a really personal portfolio for my doctoral candidacy (we don’t take exams in my program, but rather create a portfolio of experiences) and that process somehow jogged my memory and caused me to remember the first *ever* comicbook that I held in my hands. 

So, it’s Halloween 2002 and I’m walking up to a neighbour’s house. My brother, sister, and I run up the driveway, one of us rings the bell, we mutter the old “trick or treat” greeting, and watch as he picks up this huge stack of what I think are magazines and drops one into each of our candy bags. So, we headed down the driveway sort of bummed out that we didn’t get candy (can you believe that?!) and keep going door-to-door. When we got home, looking at this book that we’d each been given was a top priority because it was just so different and unexpected. I don’t remember what my siblings got, but turns out that my “magazine” was actually an issue from a Spawn spin-off series: Spawn: The Dark Ages #16. Even today I can vividly remember the cover, which was a really awesome Ashley Wood reminiscent of his work on Hellspawn. I remember flipping through the comic and thinking that it was super cool; it was so different and nothing like anything that I’d read before. So, I carried it around with me for a while, read it over and over again, brought it to school, kept it in my desk, and eventually… I lost it and didn’t think about comics for another 6 or 7 years.

It’s a fun little story that I’m glad I remember now. It’s also definitely taught me some important lessons… for starters, I intend to be the guy who hands out comics for Halloween now.

What are you reading now that you think others should look into?

Michael DeForge is a really brilliant Canadian cartoonist whose work doesn’t get talked about enough. I have the pleasure of interviewing him for the special issue of Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review on Canadian comics that I’m co-editing with CSS Past President, Candida Rifkind, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time with his work again recently and it is just so brilliant. 

DeForge’s work is dynamic, smart, and critical in a way that feels really important today; he doesn’t back down from difficult or complicated issues and wears his principles on his sleeve. It gives his work an authenticity that is just really special. Not to mention that his art, which often resides on the abstract end of the spectrum, is vibrant, colourful, and challenging in just the right measure. If you’ve never read any DeForge, I’d recommend Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero (2017), Familiar Face (2020), and Heaven No Hell (2021) as good places to start! He also has a daily Instagram comics strip called Birds of Maine (2022) that is really fun!

What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?

I spoke a lot about the incredible scholars who have impacted my research in my last “Meet the Board” interview, but what I didn’t do enough of was talk about public scholarship, how important that has been for me, and the people who have made an impact on me there. 

I found my way into comics largely after writing for a young, upstart comics website, POP! Culture & Comics, where I did some review writing and weekly features (I especially loved my fun, formal analysis feature called “Pages that POP!”). When I began my M.A. and joined CSS, I really missed this side of my comics work. I loved and was excited by the new rigorous academic angle I was exploring, but (at that time) I was writing largely for myself and a handful of professors in that realm; I missed writing about comics for a public audience. So, when I saw a call for new contributors to Shawn Gilmore’s Vault of Culture, I knew I was going to answer it. 

Since starting to write for VoC, I’ve gotten to know Shawn much more and he has become an incredibly supportive friend and colleague. When I reached out to Shawn the first time, he didn’t know me from Adam, but he was kind and supportive, encouraging me to send him some work to consider for the site. Since then, he’s been a huge supporter of my work (especially my #WelcomeToSlumberland project, which he was not only a participant in but also allowed me to curate a “Walking Bed Week” roundtable on the site) and has gone above and beyond helping me establish myself in the field. He’s a strong advocate for public scholarship and you should check out and consider submitting to Vault of Culture! You won’t regret it. 

Once I recognized that there were semi-academic spaces for comics scholarship online, I started reading and consuming a lot of it. One thing that I recognize about my own writing, is that I’ve often struggled tackling the personal. I’ve tended towards keeping my writing at a safe distance and so the academic approach to writing is often quite alluring to me. That said, I recognize that my journey with comics has been largely shaped by the personal relationships that I have with friends. The things I’ve read, the way we’ve talked about comics, the excitement that I’ve shared with people about the comics we’re reading, that’s what got me where I am today. So the personal is intrinsically tied to comics for me. 

Another public scholar who I have always looked up to for her beautiful writing is newly minted CSS Member-at-Large, Anna Peppard. It wasn’t until I came across Anna’s work that I began to understand the ways that a scholar might be able to interrogate the works they study through their own personal experience with them. Her tone, style, and willingness to explore herself through her writing is unmatched, in my opinion, and I’ve always admired how she does it through the lens of her love of superhero comics. Whether it’s her “‘Til Death Do Us Part, At Least for a While” from VoC or “(Behold?) The Vision’s Penis” from the Middle Spaces, reading her work has always been so meaningful and that really encouraged me to let myself go personal with my own writing. I don’t want to emulate her (no one can), but I wanted to give myself permission to be more open and honest with my work and the ways that comics have been a part of shaping the way I see the world. That inspiration has led me to write some of my absolute favourite pieces of public scholarship and I’m really appreciative of her for that. 

Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?

I don’t necessarily think its a *new* shift in the field, but the recent emphasis on comics pedagogy is super exciting to me. Prior to returning to grad school, I had been an active Intermediate/Senior (High School) English Teacher for nearly five years (and have continued to do a lot of K-12 work throughout grad school, though in a far more “occasional” capacity). I think that this has led me to pay particular attention in my work to comics pedagogy and the ways we talk about teaching with comics.

When I’m teaching comics to my English Studies Teacher Candidates in the Faculty of Ed, I rarely get to lecture or discuss the things about a particular work or a particular text that I love because we’re instead talking a lot about how to use comics in the classroom. Working with comics in the K-12 classroom is much different than working with a prose novel, so I get asked a lot of different “how” questions: How do we use them? How do we talk about them? How do we analyze them? How do they read them out loud? How can I assess or evaluate them? (etc.) 

Searching for ways to engage in these conversations with my students has revealed that there has, historically, been less of a focus here than on other areas of comics scholarship. For a long time, Stephen A. Tabachnick’s Teaching the Graphic Novel (2009) seemed to be my go-to because I couldn’t find much else. Fast forward to today and I’m noticing so many more people focusing on this particular question; that is, how we teach comics in our classrooms. Susan Kirtley, Antero Garcia, and Peter Carlson’s incredible With Great Power Comes Great Pedagogy: Teaching, Learning, and Comics (2020), Shveta Miller’s Hacking Graphic Novels: 8 Ways to Teach Higher-Level Thinking with Comics and Visual Storytelling (2021), and Meghan Parker’s Teaching Artfully (2021) are three recent works that have blown me away, but there is so much more out there and it’s really exciting!

Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?

Nick Sousanis. The way that he sees and talks about comics has really influenced not only the way that I teach them to my students, but also how I think about them in my own scholarship. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and hear Nick speak at Michigan State Comics Forum in 2019 and I’ve been a part of some of his workshops (virtually). Each time, I come away with something new to think about. I’m also lucky that Nick is such a great guy and always seems to have time to talk about comics, teaching, and pretty much anything else on social media, so interacting with him and his content there has taught me a lot, as well, because he is always sharing student work and talking about his approaches.

Unflattening (2015) was and continues to be a revelation each time I read it, and his website, “Spin, Wave, and Cut”, is an absolute treasure trove. I’ve used his “Grids & Gestures” activities with almost every class I’ve ever taught to Teacher Candidates because it really starts showing them the ways that comics can communicate beyond words and pictures and his visual analysis assignments have always been a great way to help students understand how we analyze a comics page. More than this though, I think his  “Comics as Thinking” principle has become deeply ingrained in the way I view the teaching of comics. It’s become a pretty huge tenant of my own pedagogical philosophy and students are usually so blown away when they start thinking about the ways that they can bring comics into their own classrooms by thinking beyond traditional approaches. 

If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?

Last time I said, Chris Ware (which is still true; I haven’t yet met him), but since you’re asking me today, I think I’d have to say Tom Hart. He’s done a lot of great work (and I often mine his Sequential Artist’s Workshop resources for stuff to use in my own classes; it’s brilliant stuff), but the one that stands out to me isn’t his Hutch Owen work, it’s his Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir (2016). In case you’ve never heard of it, Rosalie Lightning is a graphic memoir about two people learning how to keep living after the loss of their child. Coincidentally, I first read it right around the time that I learned my first-born son, Dante, was on the way. I don’t remember how Rosalie Lightning found its way into my hands, but being a soon-to-be Dad, it hit me like a bag of bricks and remains one of the most deeply affective comics that I’ve ever read. 

I think about the book, and the little girl that inspired it, often and, whenever I do, I’m reminded that every moment I spend with my (now two) children is precious and that there are no tomorrows promised to us. I come back to it a lot and I would love to tell Tom just how much sharing his story with the world has meant to me, personally.

What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?

Well, next month I’ll be participating in the first ever academic symposium at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, which is hugely exciting! Previously, the Canadian Society for the Study of Comics would hold its annual conference during TCAF, but they haven’t done that in a couple years now, so this will be the first effort undertaken by TCAF to establish an academic conference in conjunction with their other outreach programs at the Festival. I think it’s really amazing. 

Another project that is coming together really well is the special issue of Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism & Review about Canadian comics with CSS Past-President, Dr. Candida Rifkind, which has been an amazing experience. The issue was born out of last November’s “Beyond 80 Years: A Virtual Symposium on Canadian Comics,” which I was involved in as a member of the organizing committee, and will feature some really great scholarship on Canadian comics, interviews with comics creators (like Stanely Whaney & Michael DeForge), as well as transcriptions of the keynotes. We even have some original comics being included in the issue! It’s going to be really, really exciting!

Beyond that, I’m just excited to be serving as GSC President and looking forward to continuing our work! We have done a ton of work this year and this summer is going to be a really exciting time for the GSC! We have such a great team and each and every person is committed to doing all that they can for our membership. I hope it shows in the work we do!

How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?

I’m pretty easy to reach on Twitter at @zjarondinelli and am always eager to talk comics and comics studies! You can also reach out by email at zrondinelli@brocku.ca!

Comics Studies Society 2022 Conference – GSC Bulletin Board

Michigan State University; Photo courtesy of niche.com

What it is: The Comics Studies Society (CSS) 2022 Conference is around the corner and excitement abounds, but so do the stressors of the real-world logistics leading to the conference. To help mitigate these stressors and build community prior to the conference, The Graduate Student Caucus of the CSS has created a virtual bulletin board for your use! This board will serve as a repository for members to seek aid from one another in alleviating travel and lodging costs for this year’s much anticipated conference. 


How to use:
Post your travel needs on the board under the relevant category, along with contact information that you feel comfortable corresponding through and sharing in a public-facing context, such as an email address or social media handle. Contributors to this virtual bulletin board can then use this space to communicate about and coordinate their respective plans for attending the conference. Please note that the GSC will not follow-up on requests on your behalf; instead, our hope is that providing this virtual space will create opportunities for conference attendees and GSC members to talk and plan with each other so as to reduce logistical worries prior to meeting up in East Lansing in July. We hope this space creates more community among GSC members by making the upcoming conference more accessible to all. If you encounter any issues or have any questions/concerns, please contact the GSC at cssgscpresident@gmail.com.

Get started with this link!

See also: For general information and offerings on travel and lodgings, please also visit the CSS website by clicking this link

Collections, Archives, & Cultures 

July 28th – 30th, 2022

Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, Talks Winning the 2020 Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper

In this feature interview, GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, talks with GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, about her 2020 Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper, “Political Geographies of Race in James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac’s Little Man, Little Man.”


ZR: Where did you first encounter Little Man, Little Man: The Story of Childhood and what drew you to it?

MU: My advisor, Professor Stephanie Batiste at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had recommended it to me. While James Baldwin is a canonical author, Little Man, Little Man has been largely overlooked by scholars, which I think speaks to the positioning of children’s literature more broadly and picture books specifically within literary studies. After its original publication and somewhat lukewarm reception in 1976, it was out of print for nearly four decades until it was republished by Duke University Press under the editorialship of Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody. It struck me that this book was being picked up by an academic press and I was interested in what that signaled for the field of children’s literature. The text’s publication history is part of what drew me to it and opened up all sorts of exciting ways to think about how we understand children’s literature and what the picture book might have to offer comics studies. I was also just struck by the beauty and complexity of its pages. Little Man, Little Man is a rather experimental picture book that blends stream-of-conscious narrative, semi-abstract sketches and watercolors to examine complex social issues and to portray the dynamism of 1970s Harlem. 

ZR: So, even though Little Man, Little Man is a picture book, or “a child’s story for adults,” your article places it purposefully within the space of graphic narratives and, therefore, comics studies. Throughout your paper, you present such a brilliant argument about how the creators leverage the visual form in really interesting ways. So, I’m curious about what you think comics studies can learn from studying other types of graphic narratives?

MU: That’s a great question, Zach, and one that I’m continuously exploring through this project! I’m really invested in maintaining that Little Man, Little Man is a picture book, and I think that it’s important to hold onto its place within a genealogy of African American picture books, which were really experiencing an emergence in the 1970s. However, I do understand picture books as part of a capacious definition of graphic narrative that comics studies might explore and embrace. Like comics, the verbal and visual narratives of picture books are fundamentally interdependent. However that interdependence often relies less on panel structure and sequentiality, which have tended to be prioritized in comics studies, so I think exploring picture books and other types of graphic narratives can open up alternative avenues for thinking through the relationship between the visual and the verbal. In terms of what Little Man, Little Man specifically can offer, it is very grounded in the architectural space of Harlem, so I see it creatively participating in some of the critical conversations around architecture and comics happening in comics studies right now. 

ZR: Can you talk a bit about your creative journey with this paper? How did it begin and where do you see it going? 

MU: This paper has taken on a few different forms. The idea came to me when I was teaching Little Man, Little Man in a comics course that I taught in early 2019. Inspired by the rich conversation the text had elicited in the classroom, I created an abstract with a rough sketch of the project and its argument and submitted it for consideration for the 2020 International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF). The paper was accepted, but the conference looked different than originally expected because of Covid-19. I first shared the paper as a blog post as part of ICAF’s virtual conference. We often put so much work into in-person conference presentations that are only ever heard by those few people in the room, so the blog post was a great opportunity to think about how to share my work with a wider audience in a shorter, more accessible format. I also have used that link to share my work on my C.V. and social media! I then expanded the blog post a bit for my virtual ICAF presentation and panel discussion, which also featured our former GSC president Adrienne Resha. The dialogue, questions, and feedback from that panel provided a starting place for expanding the conference paper into an article. The various iterations of the project have provided multiple deadlines to hold me accountable as well as space and feedback to really let the project grow and develop. 

ZR: What does being the recipient of the 2020 Hillary Chute Award mean to you? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience winning it?

MU: Receiving the Hillary Chute Award is an incredible honor, and it came at a time when I was really struggling to find the motivation to write while working from home and in relative isolation over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s not a large community of comics scholars at my home institution, so I really just wanted to share my work with peers and experts in the field. It was really incredible to then have that work recognized with an award that is named after a comics scholar whose work I really admire and has really shaped the field in important ways. The award and my experience winning it helped me feel seen during a challenging time and feel like I was part of a wider intellectual community. 

ZR: One of the perks of winning the 2020 Hillary Chute Award was that you got to have a consultation with INKS Managing Editor Qiana Whitted. Can you tell us a little about the highlights of that chat? How valuable was it to you as a graduate student?

MU: Yes, that is a major perk, and I had a great experience talking with Qiana!  Associate Editors Susan Kirtley and Andrew Kunka were also a part of that conversation, so I got multiple perspectives on the publishing process. I felt really supported throughout our conversation, and I really felt that Qiana, Susan, and Andrew wanted to help me find the best home for my work, whether that was at INKS or somewhere else. We discussed where I might submit the article in order to reach the widest and most interested audience and to situate myself within particular fields and conversations. They also discussed when might be the best time to publish the article and kind of gave me permission to set it aside for a bit to focus on the job market and the dissertation, which I really needed to hear. Talking with the INKS team helped me feel more comfortable and confident submitting to their journal in the future and demystified the whole process of academic publishing a bit for me as a grad student and early career scholar. 

ZR: Finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with graduate students who are interested in having their work considered? 

MU: My biggest piece of advice would be to submit it! Regardless of whether you win (and you might!), it’s an opportunity to share your work, get it read, and increase its visibility. I also really felt that, by submitting my work for consideration, I was participating in and contributing to a wider community of comics scholars. 

Meet the Board Members: Katlin Marisol Sweeney-Romero

How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?
I am new to CSS as of 2022. In reflecting on my journey through graduate school, it has become clear how much comics studies and comics spaces have been my academic home, and I felt that joining CSS would be another opportunity to engage with this community. One of the most meaningful ways that I have participated in comics spaces has been through contributing to ongoing efforts to organize comics programming that grows the field, so joining the CSS Graduate Student Caucus has been a great way to learn new ways to do so.

What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?
I remember being in preschool when I received one of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon manga for the first time. From then on, I became so enthralled with visual narratives of transformation. Even before I could really read what the words said, the images in the manga kept my attention and motivated me to learn how to read. By first grade, Sailor Moon really became my personality. I was decked out in Sailor Moon-inspired hair clips, keychains, backpack–you name it! Witnessing the “moon prism power” sequence on page and on-screen was so impactful that perhaps it is no surprise that as an adult, I express myself through self-adornment practices like bright makeup, glitter, and accessorizing with big earrings.

What are you reading now that you think others should look into?
I am always bouncing between a few comics at a time, but right now, my recommendations short list is Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner, and Emma Steinkellner’s Quince: The Definitive Bilingual Edition (Fanbase Press), Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel (BOOM! Box), Sharon Lee De La Cruz’s I’m a Wild Seed (Street Noise), and Lawrence Lindell’s From Truth With Truth: A Graphic Memoir (self-published).

What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?
Doctora Fernanda Díaz-Basteris at Cornell College. As someone who is interested in drawing points of connection between film and television, comics, and social media in my dissertation, I have really appreciated learning from her work on Puerto Rican webcomics. In her writing and in her conference presentations, she often talks about Latinx comics creators’ use of social media platforms and how these spaces act as sites of resistance. I especially want to shout out her Forum contribution titled “Traumatic Displacement in Puerto Rican Digital Graphic Narratives” to a/b: Auto/Biography Studies in 2020 (vol. 35, no. 2). Doctora Díaz-Basteris is also so supportive of and engaged with independent Latinx creators at comics festivals. I love learning from her as to how I can bring the comics I collect from exhibitor alleys into my own classes. Overall, she is a big inspiration to me of what is possible as a comics scholar.

Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?
I read a lot of comics on Instagram, and I am really interested to see how comics studies and social media studies can come together through scholarship on webcomics. Additionally, I love when comics creators talk about their use of and relationship to social media on panels and in interviews. I am excited to see where the field of comics studies will be in the next 5-10 years, and how we will continue to see social media tools incorporated into our scholarship, reading, and narrative creation.

Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?
It’s hard to pick just one, so I have to shout out all of the incredible scholars and comics creators I have met through SOL-CON: The Brown, Black, and Indigenous Comics Expo, The Latinx Comic Arts Festival (LCAF), and MSU Comics Forum. I am so appreciative of how spaces like exhibitor alleys at comics events and panels focused on BIPOC creators have opened up so many new doors to friendships, collaborations, and learning. I am grateful to be in community with so many wonderfully talented people, but also so many fiercely kind people.

If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?
My absolute favorite artist is Jen Bartel. The work that she did on the Image Comics series Blackbird is so beautiful and has been so impactful to me on so many levels. I have never connected with a comic artist’s style more than hers. I would really love to just thank her for creating such a beautiful comic series that follows main characters who are Latinas with magic powers and who are healing from generational trauma.

What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?
I am really proud of the work I am contributing to The Latinx Comic Arts Festival (LCAF) at Modesto Junior College as Co-Coordinator of Programming & Marketing Support and an Advisory Board member. I am also working on my dissertation. With this project, I am actively thinking through how Latina girls and women innovatively use the Internet to produce self-mediation methodologies that envision ways of being beyond what is portrayed through legacy media forms. I am excited that some of what I am working through is forthcoming in TikTok Cultures in the United States (Routledge, 2022) and was just published in Latinx TV in the Twenty-First Century (U of Arizona P, 2022).

How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?
I can be reached via email (sweeney.464@buckeyemail.osu.edu), or feel free to say hi via Twitter (@KMSweeneyRomero).

The CSS Extends the Nomination Deadline for its Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Paper

The Comics Studies Society (CSS) has extended the deadline for its Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper until April 15th. The award is named for Hillary Chute, whose critical work as a comics scholar paved the way for feminist and political readings of graphic memoir. The prize is an important way that the CSS recognizes and encourages graduate students’ contributions to the field as emerging scholars. The winner will be recognized at the annual CSS Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, July 28-30, and will receive a plaque and a $300 cash reward. They will also have the opportunity to have a consultation with an editor of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society. Submitting your work for consideration is a great way to increase its visibility, share it with a community of fellow comics scholars, and begin to envision its publication future. You can submit papers 7-15 pages in length that were written in 2021. The paper does not have to be published and could be a conference paper, a seminar paper, a blog post, a cohesive excerpt of a longer work, or anything else you’ve written on comics this year. To nominate yourself or a peer, you can email comicssociety.awards@gmail.com with the title of the work and a means of accessing it, such as an attached .pdf by April 15th. You must be a member of the CSS to accept the award. You can learn more about CSS membership here. The Graduate Student Caucus and the CSS are looking forward to reading and celebrating your work!

Graduate Student Caucus Call for Nominations 2022

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 students 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 2022 to May 2023: 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.

GSC Secretary-Treasurer serves a one-year term.

GSC Members-at-Large serve one-year terms.

More information about each of these roles may be found in the GSC’s Constitution.

Please submit nominations and self-nominations to cssgscpresident@gmail.com. Nominees should submit a short bio (100-200 words) no later than April 4th, 2022.

Results of the elections will be announced in early May 2022.

GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, Talks Winning the 2020 CSS Gilbert Seldes Prize for Public Scholarship

In this feature interview, GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, talks with GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, about his 2020 CSS Gilbert Seldes Prize for Public Scholarship winning project, #WelcomeToSlumberland, a social media research project. 


MU: Can you tell us a bit about #WelcomeToSlumberland? In particular, I’m curious to learn more about how you developed your methodology for a project of this scale and why you chose to examine Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comics?

ZR: Absolutely! In a nutshell, the #WelcomeToSlumberland (@LittleNemo1905) project saw me tweeting, for 549 days, one of the strips that belong to Winsor McCay’s early 20th-century Little Nemo comics (including Little Nemo in Slumberland, In the Land of Wonderful Dreams, and the Little Nemo in Slumberland revival). Since the comics exist within the public domain, I was able to tweet an image of the strip for participants to read and engage with. Each strip was also accompanied by my personal reading and an invitation for others to a) share their personal readings, and b) comment on mine! It was a lot of fun to talk with people over Twitter! 

#WelcomeToSlumberland is a social media research project and that was always one of its defining features. I began the project right at the outset of the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and really wanted to demonstrate that, even though we couldn’t work face-to-face with participants anymore, there were still ways to engage with qualitative research. Social media was perfect because it provided an asynchronous sharing method and bridged divides created by the pandemic (that it also made it possible to include participants from around the world was an added bonus). So, the project’s existence as a pandemic-era project has become really important to me and what I believe to be one of its most important elements. 

Now, initially, I hadn’t even intended for this to be a research project! I had received the gorgeous two-volume Taschen collection of McCay’s Little Nemo strips as a gift and had become enamoured by them. Sure, I’d read some of them before, but I’d never really considered how important they were or where they fit into the history of comics. I remember running over to Twitter to see if there were any accounts dedicated to McCay’s little dreamer (something like a “Let’s Talk” account) and, when there wasn’t, my initial idea was to just start one of those. Thankfully, I went a different route.

My reason for codifying it into an ethics-approved qualitative research project was largely a result of my engagement with the “1001 Comix” project, a education-focused twitter project that my friend and K-12 education colleague, Don Liebold (@patientpyramid), was working on. His model involved tweeting analyses of 1001 comics pages on Twitter and receiving feedback from other community members. I immediately saw the value in this method and decided that I wanted to do something similar. 

From there, it was mostly just about ethics approval and away we went. I received clearance from my University’s research ethics board on May 22, 2020 and completed the project some 600 days later (I missed a day or two here and there for various reasons) on January 27, 2022.

MU: Thanks for sharing a bit about your process. I love that you really embrace it as a pandemic-era project! Why was it important for you that this project be public, and what does public scholarship open up for you, for this project, and for the field more generally?

ZR: I have always been drawn to public scholarship more than traditional academic publishing. I started writing about comics for an upstart comics review website back in 2018 called, POP! Culture & Comics. I used to write a cool feature called “Pages that POP!” where I would choose a page from a new comic that I thought was particularly cool and analyzed/broke it down. I often get excited about cool communication using the comics form and wanted to share that excitement with others! Working on the feature really made me think about how to share what I thought was really special about the page (sometimes involving complicated comics theory) in accessible ways for a general audience. I heard a lot, from people who read the feature, that being introduced to these more theoretical ideas was exciting for them because it gave them terms and language to talk about the things they loved about comics. 

So, for me, public scholarship has sort of become something I’m dedicated to and passionate about. As a simple review of my CV would tell you, much of my publishing has been within the realm of public scholarship and, while that is not unusual for us comics scholars, it is a bit unusual for those within the field of education. As you might expect, educational research in particular tends to be pretty isolated to academic publishing, which can sometimes be open access, but still pretty inaccessible for the general public who will be using the information most readily. That was why I wanted to make sure that #WelcomeToSlumberland was a public scholarship project; I wanted educators and practitioners to see what the project was accomplishing for comics literacy and get excited about either contributing to the work by participating themselves or by thinking about ways that comics could be used in their own classrooms!

MU: Building on this sense of accessibility, part of what I think is most powerful about #WelcomeToSlumberland is the way that it has really fostered a digital community that challenges traditional scholarly hierarchies and divisions. Your followers are also your co-researchers in a sense. What have you learned from this community and from your participants?

ZR: Oh, without question, I view my participants and followers as co-researchers. Though #WelcomeToSlumberland isn’t exactly Participatory Action Research (PAR), I’ve modeled much of the project around the idea of participants as leading the work that we’re doing. Since #WelcomeToSlumberland takes its primary theoretical framework from the transactional theory of Louise Rosenblatt (1978), it was really important for me to acknowledge, incorporate, and privilege the readings of others. Each participant/co-researcher brought their own experiences to the work and those experiences shaped (in many different ways) the interpretations, understandings, and knowledges that we created in collaboration with the strip. I frequently found my perspectives challenged or extended through conversation with participants and often contributed to the same feeling for other participants. 

One of the first stumbling blocks, though, was getting participants talking and sharing their thoughts. This is where my personal thread came in handy (especially at the beginning) as a way of giving people permission to really stretch their interpretive muscles. That said, I really tried to move away from my thread as the starter (admittedly with mixed success) and focus on the participants most directly. One approach that I used throughout the project was to invite “Guest Contributors” to post their readings to start off the conversation instead of always having my own act as the kickstarter. We got a handful of these throughout the project and it was really amazing to get different perspectives to kick off the conversation! Other times, I would do “threadless” posts that were completely open-ended without any personal reading accompanying them. These worked well for some strips and less so for others.

MU: #WelcomeToSlumberland has examined every page of McCay’s Little Nemo strip. What has it been like to study this incredible work in its entirety, and do you have any favorite moments?

ZR: It was really awesome to read these strips chronologically. Again, I’ve read lots of them randomly but to see them all in their original order was really neat. I don’t want to suggest that we experienced the strip the way that McCay’s contemporary young readers did, but we did experience this work in a similar(ish) way. This really plays into the transactional nature of the project because, with each passing day, I never knew what was coming next. For those of us who were reading the series through for the first time, it let us make inferences, and guesses about what was coming next and how the (loose) continuity would play out from week to week/day to day. Even those who had read the series in its entirety often remarked that they had forgotten about a certain strip/event or created some new meaning from their transactions. I always loved when that happened!

I have so many favourites, most of which are pretty commonly loved by many in the comics community! I tend to find myself drawn to the strips that do innovative and experimental things with the comics form. That said, I also have a favourite series that, I think, generally receives less attention than the rest of the Little Nemo strips. At the end of McCay’s tenure with the New York Herald (before relocating and taking Nemo to the New York American) in 1911, there was a series of fifteen strips that were printed in a much different way than the ones that came before it. We took to calling this the “tri-tone series” (Day 288-302) because the strips were black, white, and only one other colour. This is strange since it is a well-known fact that the New York Herald had one of the best colour printing processes of the time. The prevailing thought (I believe from John Canemaker, McCay’s biographer) is that since the paper was losing McCay to William Randolphe Hearst and the New York American newspaper anyway, they no longer cared to spend the time or money printing McCay’s work in full colour. 

I have become somewhat infatuated with these strips and intend to write something on them in the near future, so I won’t give away too much about why I’m interested in them, but I’ll just say that I find these strips a really cool look at McCay’s use of subtlety and allegory. It’s also connected to #WelcomeToSlumberland in a fun way because, had I not done the project and thought so deeply about the strips/collaborated with all my participants, I never would’ve come to the conclusions that I did about the series! More on that in the near future, but if you’re interested, you can check the “tri-tone series” out at the link above.

Finally, I also have a favourite panel! I think this really sums up the project for me (though I was a bad academic and forgot to write down which of the 549 strips it comes from)!

MU: The CSS has recognized some incredible public scholarship with this award. How does it feel to be recognized by this award, and what does it mean to you? 

ZR: I was beyond honoured to receive the Seldes Prize last year. At the time of its nomination, I really believed winning the award to be a long-shot because the project was a bit less-traditional than any that had previously been awarded. That said, I truly believed that the blend of academic research with public, open access scholarship was both innovative and meaningful. I was also really privileged to have the support of CSS colleague, Shawn Gilmore, who published our #WalkingBedWeek Roundtable (which celebrated the most famous strip in Little Nemo’s history by presenting 5 different readings by 5 different scholars) to his edited, semi-scholarly website, The Vault of Culture. This gave #WelcomeToSlumberland a simultaneous existence within the social media and more traditional public scholarship spaces. Seeing the work that I had really poured all of myself into rewarded by an organization that I am deeply committed to was such a meaningful thing for me.

Beyond that though, I am really excited that my project’s acknowledgement has opened up the possibility of other non-traditional public scholarship projects being recognized! My project is not unique or special in the sense that many amazing examples of non-traditional public scholarship have existed before it in spaces that haven’t always been recognized for semi-academic work. This includes other social media projects, YouTube video essays, and a plethora of podcasts that add so much to the conversation surrounding comics and comics studies! That the Gilbert Seldes Prize now considers these amazing types of projects as recipients of the award is incredible. I am not so full of hubris to think that this outcome is a direct result of my efforts with #WelcomeToSlumberland, but I hope that it played a small role in making it possible. 

MU: Do you have any advice for fellow graduate students who are interested in pursuing public scholarship?

ZR: People often ask me why I would publish public scholarship when I could hold onto my paper or my idea and publish in a more “highly-regarded”, academic journal format. The truth is that some of the most meaningful work that I’ve read (and produced) has been public scholarship, aimed not at the ivory towers but at the people. So, the first piece of advice? Don’t hold back; dive right in! You’ll be shocked at how much fun you have and how many people you meet!

I’ve been very lucky to have found a lot of connections through my public scholarship. Shawn Gilmore has become a good friend over the years and a constant supporter at the Vault of Culture (if you have an idea, pitch him; I guarantee that he would love to hear from you) and, while I’ve never published with her amazing Eisner-Award winning website, my friend, Kate Tanski (Women Write About Comics) has been so supportive of my interest and passion for public scholarship. I’m always floored by the incredible work of my friend and fellow Brock University colleague, Anna Peppard (who’s amazing essay (Behold) The Vision’s Penis: The Presence of Absence in Mutant Romance Tales received an honourable mention for the Seldes Prize last year), and she is someone whose public scholarship (both her written and podcast work) has been a massive inspiration to me. There are so many people that I could list here, but the most important takeaway is that public scholarship has really been a positive force for my feeling of belonging within the comics community!

So, if you have an idea to pitch? Check out one of the amazing edited, semi-scholarly websites that exist out there and share your idea! Are you interested in recording video essays? Take that step and put together that first video! Been a long-time listener to one of the incredibly amazing comics studies podcasts? Download that app and start recording! I think you’ll find that the supportive community of comics scholars that we have will support you!


You can find more about #WelcomeToSlumberland on Twitter (@LittleNemo1905) or the project website, which features a digital table of contents collecting all 549 days worth of conversation!  You can learn more about the Comics Studies Society’s annual prizes on their website.