The last iteration of the International Comics Art Forum was my very first academic conference. I was green behind the ears and, while I had given some comic studies papers to my peers when I was an undergraduate, I had never presented any kind of paper to an audience that wasn’t made up of my friends. A colleague of mine had attended a big national conference earlier in the semester and had had a very lonely, very stressful few days, so my expectations were not very high. I didn’t know who I would meet, I didn’t know if they would want to talk to me, and I didn’t know if my paper — on a one panel quotation of Van Gogh in one of Gilbert Hernandez’s Heartbreak Soup stories — was any good.
My fears were unfounded. Unlike the big national conferences, which are forty or fifty intersecting discourse communities having individual conversations under the umbrella of one big theme, ICAF is one community, tightly knit and still welcoming. I got to interact both with my grad school peers and with academics and journalists who I have read and admire and all of those people took me and my project seriously. Moreover, while I get the feeling conferences like this can sometimes be hermetically sealed in the academy without actually considering the fact that there are artists working in the medium, the highlight of ICAF, at least for me, was the talks given by cartoonists invited by the conference, who get the opportunity to share their process and their thinking about the way they make their art.
Coming from an institution that supports me and my research but doesn’t have anyone who works on or any campus resources about comics, being able to meet those people was extraordinarily important for me. After going to ICAF, it felt like I was part of a larger conversation, not just one grad student trying to work on a thing all by himself. In a field like this one, which is very small and which is working on building its own structures and institutions, that’s extremely important.
Part of that community is the new Comic Studies Society and its Grad Student Caucus (that is, us). There are some big things planned– both in the conference and outside it– and we can’t wait to tell you about them. In the meantime, we’re hoping you’ll join us and help us grow.
I can’t, in other words, recommend going to ICAF enough. The CFP for the conference, being held next year at the University of South Carolina, is here. The deadline for the submitting abstracts for 20 minute talks has just been extended to Monday, November 9th. In particular, the organizers are looking for papers on Comics and the American South, Digital and Online Comics, and Superheroes, although proposals on other subjects are welcome. For those of you who are working on substantial research projects on comics, there’s the John A. Lent scholarship in comics studies, which is an extraordinary opportunity to present your work to the whole of the conference body. Even if you don’t want to submit any work, think about coming to Columbia for the conference anyway. The invited guests include Howard Cruse (who I heard give an extraordinary talk at the Queers and Comics conference at CUNY last May), Keith Knight, Cece Bell, Dominique Goblet, Roy Thomas, Sanford Greene, with a keynote given by Michael Chaney. I can’t wait.