Zack Kruse on the 2020 MSU Comics Forum

In an effort to amplify not only the voices of graduate students and contingent faculty but also events central in comics studies, it is our pleasure to feature this post by Panel Coordinator Zack Kruse on the 2020 MSU Comics Forum.

One of the great joys of my academic life is being a part of the Comics Forum at Michigan State. Before coming to MSU for my Ph.D. program, I attended the Forum for a number of years as both a comics maker and a nascent scholar. In fact, a major part of my motivation for coming to MSU was that the Comics Forum’s director, Ryan Claytor, asked me to join him on the Forum to develop a more robust slate of academic panels. Since taking on that role in 2015, the academic panels have doubled in number in each subsequent year. I’m really proud of that not because we’ve collected more scholars to populate panels but because I think that we’ve helped the Comics Forum become one of the places where new and interesting ideas in Comics Studies are being incubated and hatched. One of the ways we’ve been able to achieve that is by emphasizing the role of graduate students as generators of those new and significant ideas.

As a part of our aim to develop a sort of critical boutique, incoming-Panel-Coordinator Julian Chambliss and I have shifted the Forum’s attention to critical discourses in Comics Studies that we believe will help amplify the important work being done by emerging scholars, as well as scholarship that may have been on the periphery of earlier conversations. So, for the 2020 Comics Forum, we have made a deliberate effort to draw attention to the foundational work provided by comics librarians through critical librarianship and the absolutely crucial work archival work also being done by librarians. In conjunction with our interest in archival work, we’re also looking towards the Digital Humanities as a place for Comics Studies to flourish by thinking through how collections operate as data. In other underserved areas, we have partnered with MSU’s Graphic Narratives Network to include programming that focuses on the important work being done in non-Anglophone comics and comics in translation—a partnership that emerged, largely, because of the outreach done by current GSC President, Biz Nijdam, when she and I first connected in 2015. We have also been intentional in our panel formation to ensure that we platform some of the most important ongoing conversations in comics studies, particularly those involving race and identity. However, what all these efforts bank on are not our good intentions but the phenomenal work being done by so many of us in graduate programs and contingent positions.

Of course, many of our friends and mentors in tenured positions are doing incredible work that helps sustain the field, and we rely on those voices at the Comics Forum, too. But what I think we’ve been most successful at during my time with the Forum is developing an open and inviting space for scholars who may not have access to larger events. And, in so doing, we have uniquely positioned ourselves to be a forum for young, fresh ideas in the field. To ensure that accessibility, the Comics Forum does not charge registration fees of any kind—even though this may be a relatively small gesture, it’s one that is meant to be in comity and solidarity with those scholars who are most underserved or for whom such fees limit their ability to participate.

The 2020 MSU Comics Forum will be held on February 21-22 at the Michigan State University Library. Our artist keynote will be delivered by Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters) and our scholar keynote will be delivered by Nick Sousanis (Unflattening).The Forum also features a full artist alley, which shares a floor space with our academic panel rooms. The deadline for proposals is Monday, September 23. The CFP can be viewed and proposals can be submitted at:

I hope to see you there! 

Zack Kruse

Zack Kruse is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Michigan State University, and his first monograph, Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity, is in press at the University Press of Mississippi. He is currently the panel coordinator of the Michigan State University Comics Forum, and he previously served as the Managing Editor of The Journal of Popular Culture. With a unique blend of good-natured comity and over-the-top bravado, he will gladly tell you about all of the other comic booky stuff he’s done at the earliest opportunity. He can be found on Twitter at @zackkruse.

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