Meet the Board Members: Austin Kemp

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

I’ve been a member of CSS since last year (2021). At the time I was very much searching for a community in this emerging field and feeling as if I was at a deficit in terms of knowledge and scholarship. I came across CSS and gravitated towards its commitment to creating a space for comics scholars to put their own voices out there, to feel heard in a field that still hasn’t fully overcome the institutional biases levied against it. Since joining I’ve made friends out of colleagues who are always there to discuss research or the newest comics-based addition to popular culture, but at a deeper level we are all unified by our passion for comics. That alone is something I am extremely grateful for and if one thing we do as part of the GSC/CSS can have the same impact on one scholar as it had on me, I’ll be happy.

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

I actually have an answer for both. The first comic I ever read was Batman #315.
It was Batman versus Kite-Man on the cover and I spent years tracking it down just to say I owned the first comic I ever read. In terms of impact I’d say Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle had a big impact on me. As an individual who experiences mental illness it was gripping to see aspects of that experience translated through comics composition for the first time. I used to be a standard capes and cowls reader beforehand but Mister Miracle expanded my idea of what comics could do in a personal sense.

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

Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera. Like all four volumes. I literally just finished the most recent trade volume in a scrap of spare time and it’s well-roundedly horrifying. Frequent spreads and concise paneling create an almost cinematic tension that I found unique.

I’ve also just cracked into Dr. Barbara Postema’s Narrative Structure in Comics: Making Sense of Fragments so I can learn more about the structure of comics. This book is broadening my perspective on comics as a meaning-making structure, which is always a welcomed journey.

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

Richard McGuire’s Here has actually had the biggest impact on my current work. McGuire’s composition allows the reader to perceive the actual “history” of a given place. Here depicts the corner of a room along with inset panels as windows into the varying temporalities of that space. The past, present, and future collide on every page. I’m obsessed with this idea of manipulating time and space in comics to imbue a sense of history.

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

I’m really excited about the idea of comics in the digital humanities. The idea of guided reading programs alone creates space to explore how we interact with the comics “page” as readers. The inclusion of sound in many popular webcomics offers a new dimension to the comics experience. I look forward to seeing our understanding of comics expand as digital media grows even more.

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

Albert Monteys. Monteys delivered some killer artwork for Slaughterhouse-Five: The Graphic Novel and it got me hooked on exploring uses of temporality in comics. There are definitely other people I could mention but Monteys comes to mind having added dimensionality to how I think about comics. I love the idea of being able to separate time/space into “time” and “space” and exploring what that means within a given page or narrative.

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

Neil Gaiman, hands down. I’ve always felt a genuine love for stories in all of his work. Sandman was a revelation to younger me who grew up being told that, like Trix cereal, comics were for kids. A lot of his stories influenced my academic interests and passion for stories overall. Though I honestly don’t know what I’d say if I did meet him other than thank you.

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

Currently I’m outlining and researching for an article concerning the temporal/spatial elements of comics composition. If I’m being really honest I’d say I’m at the stage of writing when I must compile vagrant thoughts into a coherent direction.
I always have plans for future projects, though I caution you to imagine these plans with less organization and more random post-its scattered haphazardly.

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

Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@AustinKemp13) or through email (!

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