How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?
I was a founding member of CSS when it first began (I think that was 2015?). At that time, I was in my MA program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was still pretty new to comics studies. I think I was so drawn to CSS and to comics studies because it felt like an emerging field and community where I could really find a place of academic belonging and where there was space for my ideas. To be a part of an academic society from its inception and to be able to shape the direction of the society and the field has been really exciting for me and is something I haven’t really experienced in other academic spaces. I definitely feel that CSS, especially the GSC, and other comics spaces (like ICAF) are where I’ve found friends, colleagues, and an academic home.
What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?
I have fond memories of reading the newspaper with my father, Angel Urcaregui. I think the newspaper was an important mode of literacy for both of us, as he used it to practice reading and writing in English and to learn about the U.S. and I used it to be near to him and to read the funnies. I didn’t necessarily have any favorites, but I remember reading Dilbert, Peanuts, Family Circus. However, I didn’t necessarily love comics or see myself as a comics reader until much later. My first real introduction to comics within an academic setting was when I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home in an English course in my sophomore year of undergrad. It was a text that I fell into and fell in love with, in part because of my newfound love of and obsession with the form and in part because it made my own queerness visible to me. Fun Home holds a special place for me for bringing me to comics and to myself. (Warning: shameless plug) You can check out some of my writing on Fun Home in The Routledge Companion to Gender and Sexuality in Comic Book Studies, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama!
What are you reading now that you think others should look into?
I’ve just added DC’s The Monkey Prince by Bernard Chang (artist) and Gene Luen Yang (writer) to my pull list! I definitely see connections to some of Yang’s previous work in American Born Chinese and love to see the Monkey King (or Prince) picked up within the superhero genre and with an entire creative team. There’s a great red envelope variant of issue #1 to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?
I can’t name any single scholar. I have been influenced by a number of comics scholars working within feminist, queer, and antiracist comics studies. I frequently return to Hillary Chute’s work. Her book Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere is a really accessible introduction to contemporary comics history, and I often return to Graphic Women to think about questions of visual representation. The scholar who has impacted me the most recently is Rebecca Wanzo. I reviewed her book The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging for Inks. Wanzo’s work has been really influential for the ways I think about how visual culture and comics construct citizenship and national belonging and also model possibilities for alternative political frameworks. Finally, the work of Ramzi Fawaz, Darieck Scott, Kate Polak, Jorge J Santos Jr., and Qiana Whitted has been really useful for thinking through how the formal elements of comics speak to social and political formations of gender, sexuality, and race.
Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?
I’m a literary scholar by training, so questions of form (both literary and visual) have always interested me. I think there is a long genealogy of thinking through comics’ formal affordances, such as Thierry Groeensteen’s The System of Comics (translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen). Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics also engages questions of form, although I now only ever teach or cite it alongside Johnathan Flowers’ really vital and necessary critique in his chapter “Misunderstanding Comics.” I’m really interested in a newer shift I see within literary studies writ large and comics studies specifically to connect formal aesthetics to questions of social violence, identity formation, and politics. For instance, I frequently return to Kadji Amin, Amber Jamilla Musser, and Roy Pérez’s “Queer Form: Aesthetics, Form, and The Violences of the Social” to think through the political possibilities of form. I see the work of the cluster of scholars I mentioned above, particularly Ramzi Fawaz and Darieck Scott’s “Queer About Comics,” as thinking through some similar formal questions through the specificity of comics. Essentially, I see really exciting futures for a revitalized and politicized attention to form in comics, particularly as it intersects with feminist, queer, and critical race theories.
Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?
Again, it’s hard to pin down any single scholar. In terms of how I think about the field and the future of comics studies, I have been significantly influenced by fellow graduate student scholars and junior faculty, who I think are really working toward breaking down barriers between scholarship, artistic praxis, and politics. Collectives like #WomenOnPanels and the Eisner Award-winning Women Write About Comics (WWAC) are largely led by underrepresented, junior, and precarious scholars. These organizations are doing a lot of great work to increase the visibility of women, queer, trans, and non-binary scholars as well as creating comics scholarship that speaks to wider audiences outside of academia. Some of my early publishing opportunities came from WWAC. I know that our beloved former president of the GSC-CSS, Adrienne Resha, has been very involved with both #WomenOnPanels and WWAC.
If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?
Alison Bechdel and her work will always hold a special place for me, both personally and professionally, and I’d love to meet her and just say thank you.
What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?
I’m currently working on finishing up my dissertation, Visual Poetics, Racial Politics: Seeing Citizenship in Multiethnic U.S. Literatures, so that I can graduate in June 2022. In this project, I examine a wide range of visual forms and aesthetics that authors employ to think about the relationship between race and citizenship and how they get visually coded and circulated. While this project examines a wide range literary forms and genres that collage word and image (such as Claudia Rankine’s poetry in Citizen: An American Lyric, Deborah Miranda’s multimedia memoir Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, and a collection of Latinx editorial cartoons), it is fundamentally shaped by my investments and training in comics studies. After graduation, I plan to revise this into a book manuscript. I’d also love to finally submit and publish an article that has been in progress for some time on James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac’s children’s picture book Little Man, Little Man. A conference version of this paper received the Comics Studies Society’s Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper!
How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?