An Interview with #WelcomeToSlumberland Twitter Project Principal Investigator Zachary J.A. Rondinelli

We were recently able to interview our very own GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, about his ongoing project #WelcomeToSlumberland. Check out this interview with Zachary and then head over to twitter to engage with this important and innovative research.

GSC: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Zachary J.A. Rondinelli: Sure! I’ve just started my second year as a Ph.D. student in Educational Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON Canada and hold an M.A. in Studies in Comparative Literatures & Arts, also from Brock. My main interests are comics theory, multimodality, and reading/literacy studies. Currently, my dissertation is shaping up to combine all of those interests by engaging in participatory action research and comics-specific visual methods to examine the nature of reading comics in the classroom, as well as extending current research on how the medium sponsors multimodal literacy development for students. I’ve been a High School English teacher in Ontario, Canada since 2014 and, as such, I’m particularly interested in how we can integrate comics into K-12 classrooms more effectively. Outside of (or maybe tangential to) the academy, I’ve been a contributor for Sequential: Canadian Independent Comic Book Magazine since its inaugural issue last year, have published comics related work at The Vault of Culture and recently had my first peer-reviewed article, “‘C’Mon. Sell Me Another One’: Simulation, Sacrifice, and Symbolic Revolution in King and Gerads’ Mister Miracle” (2019) published in tba: Journal of Art, Media, and Visual Culture. I’m also proud to be serving as the Secretary/Treasurer for the Comics Studies Society’s 2020 Graduate Student Caucus.

GSC: Tell us how the #WelcomeToSlumberland project came to be?

Rondinelli: Honestly, it took on a life of its own very quickly! Initially, the impetus was simply that I had received the two-volume XXL Taschen collections of Little Nemo strips by Alexander Braun as a gift and thought that it would be a really cool idea to have a dedicated page on Twitter, similar to other “Let’s Talk” accounts that exist out there, with which to explore his work. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@zjarondinelli) and like to engage in critical conversation about comics, comics analysis, comics as communication, (etc.) with other scholars and fans; I know how powerful a digital community tool like Twitter can be in that respect. So, while it started out as a “fun” personal interest idea, when I really stopped to think about what it was that I was setting out to do I realized that the project provided a unique opportunity to both document and explore different personal and collaborative transactions that reader’s might have with McCay’s comic strip. After some consultation with my amazing supervisor, Dr. Diane Collier, we agreed, and I went to Brock’s research ethics review board to inquire about whether my project would need to be evaluated. They confirmed that it met the threshold for ethics review, so I immediately applied. The review process took a couple of weeks, but, when it came back, I’d received clearance with no revisions and had permission to get started right away. I couldn’t have been more excited.

Little Nemo - Wikipedia

GSC: Little Nemo in Slumberland is a really interesting choice for the pursuit of this work. Before receiving the Taschen collections, were you familiar with McCay at all, or was he relatively new to you?

Rondinelli: No, I’ve been familiar with Winsor McCay, both the man and the work, for a very long time. He’s just such a fascinating character.

GSC: What is it in particular about McCay that draws your interest?

Rondinelli: Well, he was a really enigmatic person and a performer who knew how to put on a show! McCay was intimately familiar with, and even actively engaged in, the Vaudeville scene of the early 1900s. The time that he spent as a performer in his early life never really left him or his work and this view of him as not just a creator, but an entertainer, really resonates with me.

One reason for that is that I too have been a performer for most of my life. I actually studied Operatic Vocal Performance in my undergrad at Western University in London, ON. As a singer, I was lucky to have the opportunity to perform on many stages in Opera and Musical Theatre productions and, as a result, I feel an interesting connection to him in that way. McCay was able to leverage his personality as a performer to benefit nearly everything he did in life, especially his work in comics and animation. Like McCay, I too frequently utilize the skills that I developed as a performer to enhance or improve my everyday work. They’re particularly helpful skills to have as a high school English teacher, let me tell you!

I also just love the mystery that surrounds his birth; neither his birthdate nor his birthplace have ever been concretely identified. This uncertainty has led to some serious contention, particularly when his most prominent biographer, John Canemaker, first presented the claim that McCay might not have been born in the United States at all, but Canada instead! Both McCay’s parents were Canadian, and Canemaker suggests that Michigan census data from 1870 had recorded a Zenas W. McKay (the artist’s birth name) living in Michigan who had been born in Canada in 1867. As a Canadian, that connection was really interesting to me, but it was definitely his work that hooked me. 

It’s true that this project will mark the first time that I’ve read the Little Nemo strips in chronological order, but I’ve been familiar with them, and McCay’s other ground-breaking comics like Little Sammy Sneeze and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, for many years. Like many formalist comics scholars, I was drawn to his prodigious handling of the comics medium, particularly in Little Nemo in Slumberland. In his biography, Canemaker (2018, 3rd ed.) actually compares McCay to Mozart, an undisputed musical genius and one of the most progressive composers of his time. As someone who spent years studying Mozart in my undergrad, I feel as though I can attest to the aptness of the comparison. Like Mozart to music, McCay was an innovator of the comics form. His art nouveau style, experimental panel composition, use of colour, timing, pace, perspective, hatching style, architectural detail, (etc.) all combine to create some of the most brilliant surrealist art you’ll ever find in comics. There’s a reason that his work has made such a lasting impact on comics and cartoonists to this day, nearly 100 years after Little Nemo ceased publication. 

Little Nemo in Slumberland" on the iPad - Sunday Press Books Brings Winsor  McCay's Comic Strip Classic to the Digital Screen

GSC: Earlier you mentioned that the goal of the project was to investigate “collaborative transactions” with this research. Can you explain what exactly a “transaction” is in your conceptualization?

Rondinelli: I’m borrowing this theoretical framework from Louise Rosenblatt (1978), but the word transaction simply describes the type of relationship that occurs between a reader and a text during a communicative event (in this case: reading). I really want to use this project as a way to focus on those types of relationships where both the text and the reader are changed by their coming together. This, I would argue, is contrasted by a more basic interactional approach where the relationship in reading is viewed as a collision, or momentary contact between reader and text, that leaves both essentially unchanged by the experience. For me, the strength of this project is that we get to both individually reflect on our readings, as well as collaborate together on renegotiating our own personal transactions through collaboration with the other participants.

GSC: You mentioned earlier that the project was being hosted on Twitter. Is that where participants engage with each other?

Rondinelli: That’s right. I’m actually quite proud of the project’s position as Qualitative Social Media Research.

Though it certainly didn’t inspire the work, I think that it’s fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic gave me the final push to dive in. Since in-person research was forced to come to a screeching halt as a result of the widespread school closures, the question of how we could continue doing participant research became immediately relevant. The notion of using social media as a potential mediator for the impossibility of in-person research became very appealing to me. Social media research isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but it is generally a less popular research model than the in-person alternatives. 

That said, I can’t imagine that #WelcomeToSlumberland is the only project that has taken advantage of social media for the purposes of research during COVID-19; If it is, I doubt it will be for long! I can only assume that social media research will continue to rise in popularity as a result of the uncertainty regarding when we can all be back together.

GSC: How does all this translate into the social media space? What does it look like in practice?

Rondinelli: It’s really simple actually.

Each day (or there about), I tweet, in chronological order, one of the 549 “Little Nemo” comic strips and create a thread sharing my own personal transaction with that day’s comic. I then invite others to reply, retweet, direct message, or otherwise communicate with the account in order to share their own personal transactions with that day’s strip. At this point, participants often begin critical conversations with me and each other to probe, challenge, extend, and interrogate our transactions with the strip, which ultimately leaves behind a digital archive of these experiences for me to return to later for content analysis and open coding.

Data analysis won’t occur until after the whole project is complete and I have a large data set from which to explore. This means that, for the majority of the project, the goal is just to have a great time critically reflecting on an amazing piece of comics history with a bunch of participants from around the globe! I’m lucky to have participants from Canada, the USA, India, Norway, and many other places. I love it because if this project weren’t a social media project, I’d never be able to share these peoples experiences the way we are now. It’s fantastic.

GSC: So, you kicked off the project at the end of May 2020, right? How has it been going so far?

Rondinelli: Honestly, I think it’s been going remarkably well so far!

Though I begin each day with my own personal readings, it’s been amazing to see many of my participants share alternative readings or challenge the readings that I’ve presented. We often discuss one concept that builds upon something we’ve previously seen, or we’ve worked together to shape a reading that none of us saw on our own. It’s really demonstrated the negotiating and renegotiating of meaning that can only happen across a digital space acting to connect readers, fans, scholars, and anyone else interested in the strips across the large geographical divide that separate us.

Beyond what I expected to find, I’ve also begun to notice some recurring themes that I think will make for really interesting discussions after data analysis. As I mentioned, I’m not going to dig into the data until after the project is done, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed a thing or two that I think will play into my conclusions. Obviously, as an educational researcher, I’m focusing on how this project can inform educational pedagogy in the future, so nearly all of the findings that I anticipate are directed towards comics in education. Examples of these early themes and implications include supporting the continued development of “comics as comics” pedagogy in K-12 education, promoting anti-discrimination education through 20th century socio-historic artefacts, and promoting historical memory through public domain intellectual property. These, alongside the other early themes and implications that I’m noticing, seem to have a lot of potential to support the continued development of meaningful comics practices in the K-12 education.

GSC: Obviously, your project relies heavily on collaborating with others. Can you clarify exactly how you are defining participation in the project and what are you considering data?

Rondinelli: For the purposes of the project, I’m defining a participant as any individual who follows, tweets @, replies to, retweets, direct messages, or otherwise engages with @LittleNemo1905 or the project website. Data will be defined as tweets, retweets, replies, direct messages, and other interactions with @LittleNemo1905 and the project website. No personal identifiers will be collected beyond those made publicly accessible on the participant’s twitter account.

I really want to stress that participation in this project is, at all times, completely voluntary. There are absolutely no expectations that you will follow my lead and document transactions daily (though all would be welcome to do so if they wanted to). In this way, participation can be as frequent or infrequent as the participant wishes it to be. 

Also, following the @LittleNemo1905 account doesn’t in any way constitute a commitment to ongoing participation. Participants can stop following, delete their past comments, or remove themselves entirely from the project at any time if they change their minds. Honestly, if someone wanted to just follow the account for no reason beyond a daily dose of McCay’s little dreamer, that would be totally fine by me.

Winsor McCay's Little Nemo » MadInkBeard | Derik Badman

GSC: Can anyone participate? If so, how can they get involved?

Rondinelli: Absolutely anyone can participate at any time throughout the life of the project! Even though we’re almost 100 strips in you don’t have to go back to the first strip and catch up; you can join us right where we are now! For those interested in reviewing what we’re done so far, or sharing their insight on the earlier strips (if desired), you can check out the Digital Table of Contents available on the #WelcomeToSlumberland website. This page features quick links to every Twitter thread we’ve done so far throughout the project!

Also, no previous experience with McCay, or his work, is required. In true transactional fashion, every single perspective, experience, and point of view is valid and meaningful. If you want to get involved, all you need to do is follow @LittleNemo1905 or subscribe to the email updates on the project website!

GSC: Any final thoughts or upcoming presentations you’d like to plug?

Rondinelli: Actually, two quick things!

Once we cross the 100th day of the project, I’ll be transitioning into Phase Two of the research. Now that I’ve done the primary thread writing for 100 strips and we’re all more-or-less familiar with the process, I’m going to be encouraging participants to take over those duties as a Guest Curator for a short time. This might mean a participant takes over writing for one day or multiple days (if they’re interested in tackling a whole thematic series). Any of the #WelcomeToSlumberland participants can be a Guest Curator! Just reach out to me on Twitter about your interest and we’ll chat!

Finally, I’ll be presenting on #WelcomeToSlumberland at the Flyover Comics Symposium in September! It’s called “FWIW I think you’re over thinking this”: Cutting the Gordian Knot of Authorial Intention in Transactional Approaches to Reading Comics and will explore some of my first impressions and very early potential implications as they relate to comics pedagogy! I’m really looking forward to it!

GSC: How can potential participants get in touch with you if they have any further questions?

Rondinelli: I’d encourage anyone with questions to reach out to me by direct messaging @LittleNemo1905 or @zjarondinelli on Twitter. Alternatively, they can email me either from the contact form on the project website or at zrondinelli@brocku.ca.

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Meet the Board: Zachary J.A. Rondinelli (Secretary-Treasurer)

Today we wrap up the introductions of our new board members with Secretary-Treasurer Zachary J.A. Rondinelli’s “Meet the Board” interview.

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

I first joined the CSS in 2017 when I began my Master of Arts in Studies in Comparative Literatures & Arts at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON Canada. At that time, I was ravenously consuming as much comics-related scholarship as I possibly could and was desperate to find some like-minded folks who shared my interests in comics (particularly the communicative/meaning making abilities of the comics form). I wanted to have meaningful and critical conversations that could challenge my own thinking.

As my desire to represent graduate students on the Grad Student Caucus may attest to, I certainly found what I was searching for with the CSS! As a result of my joining, I began to “meet” (both online and in-person) many amazing people who have helped to constructively challenge my views and help me grow as a scholar and theorist. I’ve attended conferences and submitted for opportunities promoted through the CSS Facebook page and listserv that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s been wonderful to be a member of this community!

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

Ha! I have two very different answers for those questions!

The first comic that I remember reading was Batman: Hush as a TPB in or around 2007. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a late comer to comics; I never read them as a kid, opting instead for the Animated television Batman, Justice League, Spider-Man, and X-Men series’ and films. To this day, I’m not actually sure why I decided to pick up that first comic book… but I can tell you that I haven’t put them down since.

The first comic that really resonated with/impacted me was Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. I remember meeting Lemire in 2011 at “HEROES: Cards and Comics” in London, ON so that I could get my New 52 Animal Man #1 signed (which, I might add, is still framed and hanging in my office). While I was waiting in line to meet him, I saw Essex County (2009) on the shelf and decided to pick it up on my way through because I had heard great things about it (it had just recently been nominated for the prestigious Canada Reads award) and was interested to see what comics beyond the mainstream were all about. Lemire’s unique signature art style, intensely character driven narrative, meaningful thematic mediations, and True North setting affected me intensely.

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

I need to get in an obligatory plug for Canadian comics here! Michael De Forge is a Canadian comics powerhouse and has recently published some really incredible work. For example, Leaving Richard’s Valley (2019) which is a comics allegory about friendship, belonging, meaningfulness, and the unforgiving nature of life in our “big city” (a.k.a. Toronto). His most recent work, Familiar Face (2020) is an artistic masterclass in comics surrealism that juxtaposes itself against a powerfully grounded narrative about humanity. These are must reads.

Something that certainly isn’t new, but always worth checking out anyway, is Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comic strips. I recently received the two-volume XXL Alexander Braun collections as a gift and it has prompted me to return to Slumberland like never before! I’ve read the strips randomly throughout the years, but never chronologically. It seems to me that any comics scholar interested in formalism should certainly know at least a little bit about McCay’s work. My interest in McKay actually led me to start a Twitter project, #WelcomeToSlumberland, where I’ve been tweeting one strip per day and documenting my own reading experience, encouraging others to share theirs, and opening up discussion for collaborative transactions. If interested, I’d encourage people to follow @LittleNemo1905 and join in on the fun! It’s been a blast!

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

There are a number of scholars that I can easily identify as influential to my own thinking about comics. As a formalist/educator, I’ve tended to rely heavily on scholars that do a lot of theorizing about the comics form; scholars such as Barbara Postema, Thierry Groensteen, Hannah Miodrag, Nick Sounsanis, and Aaron Kashtan stand out for me. While each of these people have impacted my work in numerous ways, Dale Jacobs’s writing about comics and multimodality have truly helped to define it.

When I began my M.A., I was headed down a totally different comics-related road. My thesis proposal surrounded one of the first female superheroes and prominent WWII Canadian comics star, Nelvana of the Northern Lights (introduced about four months before Wonder Woman; eat your heart out, Diana!) and the elusive concept of Canadian Identity. As I began my research and started working on it, I just didn’t feel like it was going where I wanted it to go; my heart wasn’t in it. Then, I stumbled across Dale Jacobs’ article in the English Journal, “More Than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies” (2007) and my world was flipped upside down.

Without exaggeration, I can easily say that “More Than Words” forever altered the trajectory of my post-secondary studies. It irrevocably changed the way that I see and read comics, introduced me to the concept of multimodality (which has since become a primary focus for my work in education), and gave me a new, exciting direction that reinvigorated my M.A. work!

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

There are two that I’m particularly excited about!

The first, which has, admittedly, been ongoing for almost a decade now, is the “multimodal turn” in comics. By this, I don’t just mean the recognition that comics are a multimodal medium constructed with modes like the linguistic, pictorial, spatial, temporal, colour, gestural, (etc.) communicating in relationship with each other and the reader, but also that this recognition has started to inform theoretical work. The application of multimodal analysis to comics is becoming more noticeable each year in texts like Paul Fisher Davies’s recent Comics as Communication: A Functional Approach (2020), which embraces elements of multimodal discourse analysis in its framework. Personally speaking, I believe that the application of multimodal analysis to the comics form opens up many new avenues for investigation into how modal relationships impact the experience of reading comics. This is something that my own research hopes to explore more fully.

The second, a shift related to (particularly K-12) education and pedagogical practice with comics, is the idea of teaching comics not as a tool to be used for the goals of studying other ideas and concepts, but rather studying comics as comics. Using comics to teach other ends has been common practice in K-12 education for years and has predominantly resulted in a conceptualization of the medium as leverage for the instruction of other (loftier?) pedagogical focuses. That comics can be explored as a “fully interdisciplinary endeavor” (Jacobs, 2020) has been previously promoted through work like that of James Bucky Carter’s “PIM Pedagogy: Towards a Loosely Unified Model for Teaching Comics and Graphic Novels” (2015). Other similar research can continue to support this shift in comics pedagogy from a view that sees comics as a means to an end in the K-12 classroom to one that recognizes them as valuable contributors to interdisciplinary knowledge-creation.

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

I don’t know if I would say that he has impacted my view of the field, in general, but Tom King is a writer whose work I tend to gravitate towards.

I recognize that King tends to be a bit controversial, and I totally understand that. His work isn’t without its problems, and I’m all for recognizing and challenging those elements. I also think that a lot of King’s work leans into the formal brilliance of comics. Admittedly, King has been blessed to work with some of the best artists in the mainstream comics business today, including Gabriel Walta, Clay Mann, Joelle Jones, Lee Weeks, and Mitch Gerads. Though not perfect (as nothing ever is), these collaborations tend to really reflect the sorts of powerful formal communication that is possible within the medium. I’ve written about this before, but I appreciate the way that the form is just as much a storytelling agent in his work as are the more commonly recognized “words and pictures”. When I began reading King’s work, it wasn’t something that I felt I’d seen a lot of in mainstream superhero comics, so I think I became that much more attuned to it when reading his work. That isn’t to neglect the other creators out there embracing experimental design and communication in mainstream comics (J.H. Williams III and Brian Michael Bendis immediately jump to mind here), or even ignore the potential publisher impact around allowance/flexibility for experimentation. For me, both The Vision (2018) and Mister Miracle (2019), which I’ve published about in tba: Journal of Art, Media, and Visual Culture, were groundbreaking superhero stories and very impactful for me as a reader.

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

Oh, this is a really easy answer: Chris Ware.

Many scholars that I deeply admire, our own Martha Kuhlman, Shawn Gilmore, and Gene Kannenberg, Jr. chief among them, have spilled gallons of ink (metaphorically, of course) writing about his comics and I’ve read many of them in complete and utter awe at what he’s able to accomplish with the comics form. Truly, I think you can sum up Ware’s contributions in two simple words: next level.

My personal journey with Chris Ware has been interesting. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (1995) was one of the first non-genre comics I bought after I caught the comics bug. Oh, how naïve and innocent I was. I remember reading the first, maybe 50 pages, before putting it down and letting it collect dust for a couple of years. I just wasn’t ready for it at that point. I barely had a vocabulary to describe how comics communicated, but I knew that what Ware was doing was very atypical and I just needed to develop my own understanding of the form before trying to tackle it again. I think that I finally read Jimmy Corrigan in its entirety about two or three years later and loved it!

Fast-forward to quarantine during COVID-19 and I finally bit the bullet and ordered a copy of Building Stories (2012) to occupy some of my time. I’d been tentative to buy the book simply because I was afraid I had nowhere to put it (Aaron Kashtan had made it’s intimidating size very evident during an anecdote in Between Pen and Pixel). The massive box that it comes in certainly doesn’t fit on a bookshelf, and I have limited physical space at my place, but I decided that now was the time to experience it for myself. I’ve had a lot of fun constructing the book’s overarching narrative out of the disparate parts. It is probably the work that demonstrates most for me just how brilliant Ware actually is! That the experience of reading Building Stories can be different for each person, yet still completely unified in narrative, is a major accomplishment

Rusty Brown (2019) is on my shelf, but I haven’t started it yet.

Honestly, Ware’s work is like no one else in the industry and getting to hear him talk about his process and philosophy would, I can only assume, be just as unique an experience.

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

Well, the most current project I’m working on right now is my #WelcomeToSlumberland Twitter Project. The main purpose of the project is to investigate transactional occurrences between myself and the text, others and the text, as well as collaborative meaning-making. I’m hoping that the account will become an archive of diverse readings that I can come back to at its conclusion and interrogate more deeply. I think that there could be something meaningful in there about critical discussion and inspired transactions framed within a digital community.

I chose “Little Nemo” for many reasons. First, they are public domain so I can legally tweet the strips which, I hope, will encourage others to join into conversation because the strip is right there for them to read. Second, I felt as though there was a bit of a void on Twitter for McCay. With all the “Let’s Talk” or fan-related accounts celebrating the work of great artists, there wasn’t really anyone doing anything for McCay, which I felt was a travesty. Finally, discovering McCay’s Northern heritage (he may have been born in Canada) was exciting and got me interested in learning more about his life and other works. John Canemaker’s Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (2018, 3rd ed.) is a really fantastic overview of his life and one of the only biographies on him. He’s just an interesting guy and his work is so incredible; it all came together really well.

As I mentioned previously, anyone can follow the account and join in!

In terms of future projects, I’m really proud to have been given the opportunity to be a part of an exciting National-scale project to celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Canadian Comics! 2021 will see Better Comics #1 (1941) turn 80-years old and we’re hoping to commemorate that by collaborating on multiple projects in order to promote Canadian comics culture across Canada! More on that in the future…

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

I’m pretty active on Twitter as @zjarondinelli and am always looking for opportunities to chat about comics and comics research! If social media isn’t your thing, zrondinelli@brocku.ca!

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Annual Report of the GSC President

Each year, the board of the Comics Studies Society releases an annual report. You can read the full report over on the Comics Studies Society website, here. Below is the report from the current President of the Graduate Student Caucus, Adrienne Resha.

A year ago, I was most concerned with studying for my comprehensive exams and heading back into a new, but not all that different, semester. Now, it’s hard to say what tomorrow will look like, let alone the end of summer. For the last two years, the annual conference has marked, for me, the end of an academic year: I finished my first year in Urbana-Champaign and my second in Toronto. I was, like many of you, looking forward to Arkadelphia. Now, I’m looking forward to a time when it’s safe to see each other in person again. Between now and then, and in my third year on the Graduate Student Caucus Board, there’s still a lot I want to get done, and I am privileged to be working alongside members of the GSC in doing so.

Before I welcome the new Executive, I want to thank the 2019-2020 GSC Board. Biz Nijdam, Hanah Stiverson, Alex Lampp Berglund, and Safiyya Hosein: on behalf of the graduate student membership of CSS, thank you for your service.

I am very proud to welcome Vice President Evan Ash, Members-at-Large Sydney Heifler and Joshua Roeder, and Secretary-Treasurer Zachary Rondinelli to the 2020-2021 GSC Executive Board. I am also proud to continue to work with Web Editor Jeremy Carnes. This Board has met several times this summer and is already hard at work.

In the next few months, Josh and I will be reworking the Hillary Chute Award. In a good year, attendance at conferences is a marker of privilege, much less one in which many conferences — in, around, and outside of comics studies — have been cancelled. The Chute Award will, as it has this year, continue to recognize excellence in graduate student research and writing. It will just look a little different going forward.

Over the next twelve months, Evan will be representing the Caucus on the CSS Conference Organizing Committee. As Josh and I form the GSC’s Award Committee, Evan is joined by Zach on the GSC’s Conference Committee. Having previously served on the Conference Organizing Committee, I know just how much work goes into planning a conference, and I am absolutely sure that Evan and Zach are up to doing their part for it. They will be supported in doing so by the rest of the GSC Board.

You can learn more about the new officers of that Board here on our website, where we’ve been running “Meet the Board” posts. Our website and social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter) fall under the purview of our Website Committee, Jeremy and Sydney. Of everything we’ve talked about at our first few meetings, I am most excited by the ideas that these two have put forward. Speaking on behalf of the entire Board: we’re going to do some good work this year.

And speaking for myself: I am privileged to be in my third year of service on the GSC Board. I have served after or alongside many graduate students and early career scholars who I am lucky to count not just as colleagues but also as friends, and some of them graduated this spring under less than ideal circumstances. My sincerest congratulations go out to them and especially to our own Dr. Jeremy Carnes. Just as much as I am looking forward to being able to see each other in person again, I am looking forward to celebrating this cohort of scholars. Until then, know that I’m rooting for all of you.

To those of you who are dissertating now, like me, I want you to know that you’re not alone. To those of you studying now for your comprehensive exams, I wish you the best of luck. And to those of you just beginning your graduate programs, I want you to know that you have a place here, in this community, whether or not you ever run for a spot on the Board or get to present at the annual conference.

And to those of you who have graduated, whether this spring or long before, I want to remind you that you were once a student and that you likely would not be where you are today without the support of more senior scholars. Soon enough, the GSC will be launching a Mentorship Program, and I ask that you offer your time and experience when called on to do so.

Finally, from the GSC Constitution, which I helped rewrite with Joshua Kopin and Bryan Bove during my first year on the Board, “The purpose of the Graduate Student Caucus is to assess the needs and represent the interests of graduate students and early career scholars within the Comics Studies Society and to provide fellowship, support, and advocacy for such individuals as they pursue their work in comics studies.” Further, “The GSC strives to be an inclusive organization and to build solidarity among all graduate students. It will actively seek out to promote the participation and engagement of marginalized groups and underrepresented persons.” For this term, as President, I am committed to our purpose and especially, as a woman of color, to advocacy for other graduate students of color and marginalized genders, both in my service on the GSC Board and on the CSS Executive Board.

Adrienne Resha
GSC President

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Meet the Board: Sydney Heifler (Member-at-Large)

We’ve heard from half of the new Executive Committee for the Grad Student Caucus. We continue today with our new Member-at-Large, Sydney Heifler!

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

This year is my first year being involved in CSS. I originally became interested in CSS when I heard about the excellent research being presented at the CSS annual conferences. I was thrilled to be accepted to this year’s conference, but that was understandably canceled. When I saw the opportunity to become more involved in the community as a graduate student, I jumped on it.

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

When I was about five, I became pretty obsessed with the various Archie Digest comics you could get at the grocery store. My older sister used to get them and let me read them when she finished them. My mom put an end to that when I started comparing my twin sister and myself to Betty and Veronica (I told her I was the better twin because I was nice like Betty and my twin was mean like Veronica). I hope that I have developed into a more self-aware consumer…

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

I think everyone should read romance comics. These comics were extremely popular when they were published, and many influential comics artists and creators worked on them. They also have a significant influence on popular culture today—the style of romance comics is everywhere! In short, they are important cultural and historical artifacts that are often overlooked or underexplored.

Young Romance Comics (1947-63) Vol. 11 comic books

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

I would say that Michael Goodrum’s work has greatly influenced mine. He’s been very helpful since meeting him while I was studying for my master’s at Oxford. I really appreciate his historical approach to comics research, and he has given me some great mentorship in that area. I highly recommend his article “‘Superman Believes that a Wife’s Place is in the Home’: Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane and the Representation of Women” to anyone interested in how to apply historical analysis to comics.

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

This question is hard to answer because there are so many good things emerging, like the focus on graphic medicine. I would say, as it relates to my research, I love recent studies on the effect of fandom and memory on the development of comics scholarship. I also hope that research on fashion in comics continues to grow. I was recently introduced to this area of research by Monica Geraffo for our chapter on Janet Van Dyne (written for Jamie Brassett and Richard Reynolds’s Superheroes and Excess). It is a gratifying line of research!

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

Honestly, I do not have one person who has influenced me “the most.” At every conference I attend, I make a point of going to at least one panel that is entirely outside my area of expertise or immediate interest. I end up being influenced in ways unexpected. That is how I found Neil Cohn. He presented some of his research at the 2019 Comics Arts Conference at San Diego Comic-Con International. I would never have thought visual linguistics applied to my research on romance comics, but it does!

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

I would love to meet Lily Renée! Not only did she do beautiful work for Fiction House as well as some of my favorite romance work for St. John, but her personal story is also incredible. Those interested should read Trina Robbins’s Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer (2011) or watch Lily (2019). The judges put her on this year’s Eisner Hall of Fame ballot. I hope she gets voted in; she just celebrated her 99th birthday for goodness sake!

Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book ...

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

I’m finishing up my and Monica Geraffo’s chapter on Janet Van Dyne and several romance comics publications. I’ll be starting a book proposal on romance comics soon. In the Fall, I am beginning my Ph.D. in History at the Ohio State University, which I’m sure will keep me busy!

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

I am easily contacted through email ( sydneyheifler [@] gmail.com ) or twitter (@romancecomicbks).

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Meet The Board: Joshua Roeder (Member-at-Large)

We continue along this week introducing our new Executive Board members! This week the focus is on our new member-at-large Joshua Roeder, a Ph.D. student at Drew University.

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

I remember in 2017 my advisor telling me about an upcoming new journal named Inks
and a new scholars society. I was lucky enough to jump on board to become a Comics
Studies Society Founding Member back then and I’ve been following its development
since then.

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

Hellboy by Mike Mignola. Hands down my favorite character and Mignola’s artistry is too
beautiful for us mere mortals. After watching Ron Perlman portray Hellboy on the big
screen back in 2004, I had to get my hands on more material which lead me to comic
books.

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

The Immortal Hulk (2018 – Present). Al Ewing’s writing makes this superhero into a real
monster horror series. The imagery and panels Joe Bennett, Paul Mounts, Belardino
Brabo, Cam Smith, and Ruy Jose create are just as amazing. It really shakes up the
typical superhero formula. I also just started using the Shonen Jump’s smart phone app
to keep up on Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece series.

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

Jean-Paul Gabilliet and his work Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American
Comic Books
, which is a true interdisciplinary study that covers the rise of the American
comic-book industry in the 1930s to present day. I love this multifaceted approach. At
the end of his work, Gabilliet acknowledges the lack of analysis on audience history
through letter columns. This has helped in validating my current research.

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

I’m super excited about the recent connectedness of all us comic scholars since the first
CSS conference! For a long while, being an American historian and comics scholar felt
like being on a small, isolated island. Now, not only have different perspectives become
accessible, but making important connections has been amazingly easier now.

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

Scot McCloud and Understanding Comics was the first piece of comic book scholarship
that opened up the field of study to me. While more nuanced works have come out
since then, his was the one that opened up the theoretical possibilities.

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

Mike Mignola. Again, I love his art style so much and the character writing for Hellboy is
superb. I would like to personally thank him for getting me hooked into reading comic
books.

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

I’m about to be working on my prospectus and then move on to my dissertation phase.
I’m hoping to work on audience reception history of mainstream comic books. With that
in mind, I’ll hopefully have more presentations and articles to give and publish!

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

I can be found on Twitter @joro_89, Facebook, or email at jroeder@drew.edu.

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Meet the Board: Evan Ash (Vice President)

The recent elections for the Executive Board both in CSS and in the Grad Caucus has brought new scholars into leadership roles. We want to continue highlighting the new board members as they step into these roles. This week, we focus on the new Vice President of the Graduate Student Caucus, Evan Ash, who is a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Maryland.

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

I have been involved with CSS since shortly before its 2019 conference. Like many important things in my life, I can’t remember exactly what brought me to CSS. Probably a lucky Google.

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

I started to get more interested in comics after seeing The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. I think Watchmen was the first comic that I can recall reading, but Preacher was probably the first series I read all the way though in the summer of 2014.

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

I’ve been reading some older Justice Society comics, and wrapped up America vs. The Justice Society. I’ve also been reading Ben Katchor’s Cheap Novelties: The Pleasures of Urban Decay. Those comic strips are rich for analysis in many ways.

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

Amy Kiste Nyberg wrote the book (Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code) that pointed me to the eventual topic of my MA thesis. She was influential in the personal development of that project as well, serving as a reader and meeting with me out in New Jersey.

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

I’m eager to keep broadening the historical dimensions of comics studies. There have been a few books recently (for example, by Lara Saguisag and Qiana Whitted) that have interested me, but that I just haven’t had the time to get through them yet.

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

Carol Tilley, without a doubt. Her observations about youth, power, and censorship have been integral in my thinking, writing, and research. I’m very lucky to be able to count Carol as a treasured mentor.

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

I would love to meet Leah Williams. She’s probably the current writer that I’ve read the most, and I really enjoy her social media presence.

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

I’m very busy finishing up Ph.D. coursework, but I’m writing a dissertation prospectus that focuses on American anti-comics criticism, moral politics, and their impact on children set within midcentury America.

I have a paper that I’m hoping to whittle down into an article on the partnership that National Comics (now DC) had with the National Social Welfare Assembly to produce public service comics. I also have an entry in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the American Left on left-wing graphic novels since 2000 and an article on a decent literature group in my hometown of Green Bay, WI coming out Fall 2020/Winter 2021. As long as it is still happening, I will be presenting at ICAF@SPX on my National-NSWA project.

As far as future desires are concerned, I’m plotting a web article on portrayals of the 1950s in modern comics, and far down the road, I would love to start an edited collection that expands historical thinking about the American anti-comics movement beyond Fredric Wertham and the senate hearings that transpired.

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

For serious questions and conversations, my email inbox (erash@umd.edu) is always open, and I’m eager to build working relationships.

If you just want to see what’s up, follow me on Twitter @evanthevoice.

Stay tuned for more Meet the Board interviews in the coming weeks!

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GSC Executive Committee Nominations–EXTENDED DEADLINE

The Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) of the Comics Studies Society (CSS) is extending the deadline for nominations and self-nominations for TWO positions  on its Executive Board. The CSS GSC represents the interests of graduate students and recent grads (within three years of receiving a degree), contingent faculty, and postdocs in the larger CSS, with the GSC President sitting on the CSS Executive Board. 

The GSC welcomes nominations and self-nominations from GSC members from any stage in their academic career (off or before the tenure-track) for the positions of Secretary-Treasurer and Members-At-Large.

Secretary-Treasurer: The secretary-treasurer assumes the responsibility of managing the society’s finances, keeping minutes from all meetings, and keeping a membership list. The secretary—treasurer serves a one-year term.

Members-At-Large: Two members at large provide advice and aid to the officers of the Caucus. Early career scholars holding contingent positions such as postdoctoral fellowships are encouraged to apply for these positions. The Members-at-Large serve one-year terms.
Details about the responsibilities of each position are outlined in the GSC Bylaws, available here. Information for joining the Society is at CSS website. We encourage nominations and self-nominations from comics scholars working in diverse locations and on all aspects of comics studies.

Please submit your nomination and self-nominations to Biz Nijdam (elizabeth.nijdam@gmail.com). Nominees should include a short biography (100-200 words) no later thanMarch 30, 2020. If a nominee is not currently a CSS member, one must join the society by then.

Results of the election will be announced in May 2020.   

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CSS GSC Call for Nominations

CSS GSC Executive Board Nominations Now Open

The Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) of the Comics Studies Society (CSS) calls for nominations and self-nominations for officers on its Executive Board. The CSS GSC represents the interests of graduate students and recent grads (within three years of receiving a degree), contingent faculty, and postdocs in the larger CSS, with the GSC President sitting on the CSS Executive Board. The GSC welcomes nominations and self-nominations from GSC members from any stage in their academic career (off or before the tenure-track) for the positions of Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, and two Members-At-Large.

Vice President: The vice president shall work with and assist the president in various duties, acting as a stand-in if necessary. They shall manage internal committee affairs, such as overseeing and delegating various tasks to committee members working cooperatively on rendering the GSC functions operational (building online presence, delivering news, organizing workshops/events, etc.). Additionally, the vice-president is in charge of recruitment of new grad student members. The vice president serves a one-year term. Upon completion of the term, the vice president will assume the functions of the president for one year.

Secretary-Treasurer: The secretary-treasurer assumes the responsibility of managing the society’s finances, keeping minutes from all meetings, and keeping a membership list. The secretary-treasurer serves a one-year term.

Members-At-Large: Two members at large provide advice and aid to the officers of the Caucus. Early career scholars holding contingent positions such as postdoctoral fellowships are encouraged to apply for these positions. The Members-at-Large serve one-year terms.

Details about the responsibilities of each position are outlined in the GSC Bylaws, available here. Information for joining the Society is at CSS website. We encourage nominations and self-nominations from comics scholars working in diverse locations and on all aspects of comics studies.

Please submit your nomination and self-nominations to Biz Nijdam (elizabeth.nijdam@gmail.com). Nominees should include a short biography (100-200 words) no later than March 15, 2020. If a nominee is not currently a CSS member, one must join the society by then.

Results of the election will be announced in May 2020.

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Comics Studies Society Prizes 2020

The Comics Studies Society (CSS) recognizes outstanding contributions to the study of comic art with five annual prizes: the CSS Article Prize, the Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Conference Presentation, the Gilbert Seldes Prize for Public Scholarship, the Charles Hatfield Book Prize, and the new CSS Prize for Edited Book Collections.

The CSS defines comic art liberally to include all forms of cartooning, sequential art, and graphic narrative: comic strips, comic books, papers, and magazines; albums, graphic novels, and other graphic books; webcomics andS other electronic formats; single-panel cartoons, including editorial and gag cartoons; caricature; animation; and other related forms and traditions.

The CSS is currently soliciting nominations for all five prizes, which will be awarded at the 3rd Annual Conference of the Comics Studies Society at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (August 5-8, 2020). Winners will receive a $300 cash award and a plaque. Please see http://comicssociety.org/conference/ for conference details.

  • Nominations for the CSS prizes may be historical, biographical, critical, analytical, pedagogical, and/or bibliographical in focus.
  • Nominations should draw on original research, acknowledge and advance existing scholarship where relevant, and include appropriate documentation.
  • Reprints of or excerpts from previously published works are not eligible for prizes.

Frequency and time period: Prizes are awarded by the CSS at its annual conference for first-time publications (not reprints or revised editions) or original presentations bearing a copyright date for the previous calendar year. For example, the 2020 prizes will cover publications and presentations © 2019.
 
Nomination process: Peer nominations and self-nominations are welcomed. Nomination letters are due March 15, 2020. The letter of nomination should do the following:

  • Identify the work’s complete title, author(s) name(s), publisher, and original copyright date.
  • Include means of access to a complete digital copy of the work that members of the CSS Prize Committee can access as needed (alternately, for works native to print and best viewed in print, nomination requires three complete physical copies of the published book or article to be sent via mail).

Nominations and inquiries should be sent by email to the CSS Awards Coordinator, Biz Nijdam, at awards@comicssociety.org. Instructions on mailing physical copies will be provided in reply.

Judging and awarding process: Nominees for each prize will be reviewed by a committee of not less than three members of the Comics Studies Society, as chosen by the CSS Executive Board, including the Awards Coordinator or their designee. Prize winners will be notified by June 15th, and announcements will be published on the CSS website and in Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society.

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Collection Spotlight: Washington State University

Continuing our ongoing series highlighting collection of comics and comics-related materials in libraries across the U.S. we turn today to the collection in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) at Washington State University.

How large is the comics collection at WSU?

Approximately 8300 comic books, 2200 mini comics, and 390 comics. In addition, the underground comix collections also contain several hundred trade publications, catalogs, ‘zines, books, and realia.

When did WSU begin collecting comics? How did it happen?

MASC’s Underground Comics collection originated in the mid-80s, when comics artist and editor Steve Willis worked at WSU Libraries as a cataloger. Willis donated his collection of comics to the Libraries and cataloged them. These cataloged titles make up the first Underground Comics collection, SC 3.1. Willis left WSU in the late 80s, but continues to donate underground comix and related materials to MASC.  These ongoing donations are part of the Comics Art and Culture Collection, SC 3.8, which uniquely includes a wide variety of comics-related materials, with particular emphasis on the Pacific Northwest.

Is there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in? Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

The majority of our holdings are underground comix, including rare issues of Zap and Weird Comics, as well as a substantial collection of works by women who – though, still often infrequently credited and cited – were responding to and helping to pioneer the underground scene, including titles like Twisted Sisters, Wimmins Comix, Wet Satin, and Tits and Clits. We’re also unique in that we have a large collection of mini comics, which feature less often in archival collections, as well as a wide array of nuclear comics from the mid-20th c.  The latter are interesting because the messaging about nuclear weapons and nuclear war is positive, at times even utopic, a tone that would shift dramatically after the dropping of the atom bombs.  

We are also in the early stages of processing the manuscript collection of the Real Comet Press – a Seattle-based publishing house founded by arts activist, Cathy Hillenbrand.  The Press began as the Comet Tavern and is credited with publishing many of Linda Barry’s earliest works after it made the transition to a publishing house.  Our collection features early art and book mockups of Barry’s as well as correspondence and print drafts from several area writers and photographers.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

All of MASC’s underground comics content has been donated. MASC does not have a formal underground comics acquisition plan in place at this time.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource? What are some of the courses that have been taught using the collection as a resource?

Nicholas Sammond, a professor at UToronto’s Cinema Studies Institute, has conducted in-depth research on several titles in the Brians collection, especially the underground newspaper The East Village Other.  And Dr. Margaret Galvan, a professor of visual rhetoric at the University of Florida, also conducted research on our underground comix holdings as part of her dissertation work.

Adam Whittier, a student at WSU’s Tri-Cities campus, curated an exhibit on the Steve Willis collections, met Steve Willis, and drew a graphic novel, Born Under a Dark Star: The Lynn Hansen Story, about Willis’s friendship with the late comics collector and reviewer Lynn Hansen, whose underground comics collection MASC also holds.

Several instructors affiliated with WSU’s Digital Technology & Culture program use the Underground Comics collections in their courses every year. These courses cover diverse topics, from font design to metafiction. Faculty from WSU’s English and History departments have also utilized special content from the collections, especially Brians’s nuclear war comics.

How have students at WSU benefited from the collection?

The most common way that students at WSU benefit from the collection is through library instruction. Students enrolled in courses ranging from introductory classes to senior capstones, along with local high school students, have been introduced to these materials, both on their own and as part of a larger context of library and archival collecting.  And some come back to look at materials on their own, or even use the materials for larger projects.

Through these instructional experiences utilizing our comics collection, we’ve had the pleasure of talking with students about topics like: the nature and practice of curation, educomics tackling poverty and the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s, the misogyny and violence of many underground comix and about women’s resistances to it, how different “popular” formats often respond to and are influenced by each other, about social norms and how we determine what is “appropriate”, and many other engaging conversations.  We hope that these interactions with our comics materials make libraries and archives more accessible and interesting sites of research for students from many backgrounds and disciplines and that students feel empowered to push the parameters of what constitutes “academic” research.

What are the available options for accessing the collection? Are there any efforts being made to digitize the collection?

Currently, online finding aids are the primary means of access to MASC’s Underground Comics collections. MASC is not planning to digitize any of these collections in the near future. However, Elizabeth Biggs, a senior at WSU Pullman, is working on a project to spotlight and digitize a selection of underground works by women creators.

Are there any current or upcoming events that you’d like to advertise?

Upcoming events aren’t yet finalized, but we’re exploring the possibility of hosting a speaker series and exhibition utilizing our underground comix collections.  We’re also interested in an exhibition that would showcase the many press-focused collections in our holdings, including the Real Comet Press Manuscript Collection.  Both of these would take place in the 2020/2021 academic year.

Washington State University Libraries
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
Kathryn Manis & Greg Matthews
Address: MASC, P.O. Box 5610, Pullman, WA  99164-5610
Email: mascref@wsu.edu

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