The Comics Studies Society prides itself on taking a forward-thinking, interdisciplinary approach to researching, teaching, and understanding the realm of near-infinite possibilities that comics and the graphic medium present to scholars of equally broad fields and interests. One new CSS GSC member took this mission to heart and got to work creating a space for historians of comics to collaborate, share resources, and build working relationships. We “sat down” (as best you can over the Internet) with the coordinator of the Comics Studies Society Comics History Work Group (CHWG), Evan Ash.
GSC: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Evan Ash: I’m currently a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Maryland, College Park. I hold a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay and a master’s degree in History from Miami University. I’m mostly interested in the history of the midcentury American anti-comics movement, which is what my master’s thesis dealt with, and what I imagine my eventual dissertation will as well. I presented a boiled-down version of that master’s thesis at CSS 2019 in Toronto and received one of the inaugural Carol Tilley Travel Grants for that proposal. Outside of the CHWG (pronounced chwug), I also serve on the 2019-2020 CSS Accessibility Committee as a Graduate Student Caucus rep.
GSC: Where did the idea come from to start the CHWG?
Ash: I started formulating the idea while I was still in Toronto. CSS19 was my first conference that wasn’t strictly a history conference, so I kind of had to readjust how I was approaching the whole weekend. Across all the panels I attended, I noticed the awesome diversity of interests, occupations, and fields that the presenters represented, but it was a little harder to glean who had similar interests as me. Near the end of the conference, I talked to a few people and floated the idea of putting together some kind of group that would let people who broadly considered themselves comic historians work together and connect with other interested folks. They all seemed very interested, so I put together a survey of interest as soon as I got home from the conference.
GSC: Can you elaborate a bit on what exactly a work group is?
Ash: So, believe it or not, it actually comes from Wikipedia where I’m pretty active. It’s sort of extrapolated from the concept of a WikiProject, which the site defines as “the organization of a group of participants… established in order to achieve specific… goals, or to achieve goals relating to a specific field of knowledge.” I do a lot of work in the WikiProject Comics, which works to “increase, expand, improve, and better organize articles related to comics.” In a WikiProject, you work together with other people who share your interests and general knowledge of the subject matter with the eventual goal of all-around improvement. I really love that structure, so I wanted to apply it to CSS, which has been really important to me in my professional development.
GSC: What are the professional demographics of the CHWG? What are some of the things that people have wanted to see from it?
Ash: We have a really great sprinkling of people in the CHWG. About half of our members are tenure-track faculty in various fields, and about 20-25% are graduate students. Librarians, independent scholars, and contingent faculty make up the remainder of the ranks. We had a lot of people mention calls for papers and research collaboration, but some of the more specific responses called for banding together and finding resources outside of comics studies, presenting “focused comics history panels” at non-comics conferences, and building a list of books to see what is being used to teach comics history and how they’re being used.
GSC: Any big goals for the future? Or likewise, any big plans?
Ash: I’d love to have a panel or a roundtable at CSS 2020 sponsored by the CHWG. My advisor has been on my case about doing a comics history panel at either the Organization of American Historians or the American Historical Association. Much farther down the road, I’d love to do an edited collection of new approaches to writing about the anti-comics movement.
Those interested in joining the CSS CHWG can join the Slack channel here.
Please also send an email to the coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org so you can be added to the email list.