How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?
I joined the graduate student caucus in May 2021. I had been following the contents of the listserv for a while and when the call for applications for the GSC came up, I was immediately interested. I was between my master’s degree and the PhD, so the GSC promised a great way to stay in touch with the academic world and get to know some of the researchers alongside whom I hoped to work in the future.
What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?
I believe somewhere in between illustrated children’s book and comics were the Swedish Pettson and Findus books my parents read to me when I was little. They tell stories of an old recluse living with his talking cat and chickens – they’re still quite popular in Germany. The watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and full of little details for kids to explore, like small creatures inhabiting the nooks and crannies of their house. A single image often contains different moments in time to express movement and Findus’ (the cats’) body is especially fluid and “morphable” to show how he jumps, races, and wiggles around.
The first comics proper were Donald Duck (soon to be followed by Franco-Belgian productions that are commonly found in Germany, too). Without realizing it at the time, these works often brought me in touch with re-tellings of famous or even canonized texts and figures, such as Gulliver’s Travels, Jules Verne and the Nautilus, or Marco Polo. I might be romanticizing here, but I like to think this early contact laid the first cobblestone of my path to studying literature.
What are you reading now that you think others should look into?
Since my plan is to combine comics studies and ecocriticism/environmental humanities, I’ve been delving into the latter recently. Ursula K. Heise’s concept of eco-cosmopolitanism (a self-aware, transnational, multi-scalar dialogue) provides a great framework, I think, for combining the two fields, so her book Imagining Extinction is an obvious recommendation.
I’m currently reading Jennifer Wenzel’s The Disposition of Nature, which promises to be an application of eco-cosmopolitanism which I hope can help guide my own future research. Wenzel discusses world literature and proposes to read “from the ground up”, shifting between the local and the transnational – not exactly a simple feat, so I’m eager to see how it can be done.
What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?
I’ve focused on reading up on philosophy (Merleau-Ponty in particular) and ecocriticism recently, in preparation for ecocritical comics studies. I haven’t yet had the chance to assess the work that already exists in this direction in comics studies – I’m eager to hear from or about anyone active in this area, so don’t hesitate to reach out!
For my last bigger project, I investigated visual strategies of expressing highly subjective, potentially traumatic experience in autobiographical comics. Andrew J. Kunka’s Autobiographical Comics gave me great pointers for considering the specificities of these kinds of comics.
Since then, hearing a variety of scholars present their exciting work at online conferences has filled my head with all kinds of ideas during the pandemic.
Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?
I’m not sure this qualifies as a shift; I am excited by comics scholars taking ecocritical approaches – or ecocritics considering comics. Ursula K. Heise, for example, has a section on the comic Virunga in Imagining Extinction (2016), and Elizabeth Hewitt and Jared Gardner curated an exhibition on “comics and the environment” in 2021. I’m thrilled to see these works and hope to contribute to the dialogue here – within and, hopefully, outside the academy, too.
Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?
Hillary Chute. Finding her research as an undergrad helped me overcome any skepticism I had harbored about whether comics can be pursued with “serious academic attention.” It shifted my perspective on the medium I had been acquainted with since childhood and sharpened my senses to all its complexities and intricacies. Chute is such a powerful advocate for the breadth and depth comics can cover and present; I have had no room for skepticism since.
If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?
I’d be thrilled to watch Nick Sousanis work. I probably wouldn’t even have any clever questions for him, I would just sit and guess which abstract idea is taking concrete shape in the panel(s) he’s working on, fully mesmerized.
What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?
I’m hoping to get my undergraduate thesis into publishable shape. It looks at identity construction in David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. There still isn’t that much scholarship out there that engages with this comic, but it’s such a fantastic work that I hope I can contribute my small piece and perhaps lead some readers to it.
As for the future, we will see where this ecocritical approach takes me. I’d love to work on Miyazaki Hayao’s Castle in the Sky, as well as Fiona Staples’ and Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga – once I have finished the tome of the collected Saga volumes, that is.
How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?
I’m easily available via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
And my Researchgate profile gives an impression of former (not necessarily comics-related) research https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Frida_Heitland