GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, Talks Winning the 2020 Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper

In this feature interview, GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, talks with GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, about her 2020 Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper, “Political Geographies of Race in James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac’s Little Man, Little Man.”


ZR: Where did you first encounter Little Man, Little Man: The Story of Childhood and what drew you to it?

MU: My advisor, Professor Stephanie Batiste at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had recommended it to me. While James Baldwin is a canonical author, Little Man, Little Man has been largely overlooked by scholars, which I think speaks to the positioning of children’s literature more broadly and picture books specifically within literary studies. After its original publication and somewhat lukewarm reception in 1976, it was out of print for nearly four decades until it was republished by Duke University Press under the editorialship of Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody. It struck me that this book was being picked up by an academic press and I was interested in what that signaled for the field of children’s literature. The text’s publication history is part of what drew me to it and opened up all sorts of exciting ways to think about how we understand children’s literature and what the picture book might have to offer comics studies. I was also just struck by the beauty and complexity of its pages. Little Man, Little Man is a rather experimental picture book that blends stream-of-conscious narrative, semi-abstract sketches and watercolors to examine complex social issues and to portray the dynamism of 1970s Harlem. 

ZR: So, even though Little Man, Little Man is a picture book, or “a child’s story for adults,” your article places it purposefully within the space of graphic narratives and, therefore, comics studies. Throughout your paper, you present such a brilliant argument about how the creators leverage the visual form in really interesting ways. So, I’m curious about what you think comics studies can learn from studying other types of graphic narratives?

MU: That’s a great question, Zach, and one that I’m continuously exploring through this project! I’m really invested in maintaining that Little Man, Little Man is a picture book, and I think that it’s important to hold onto its place within a genealogy of African American picture books, which were really experiencing an emergence in the 1970s. However, I do understand picture books as part of a capacious definition of graphic narrative that comics studies might explore and embrace. Like comics, the verbal and visual narratives of picture books are fundamentally interdependent. However that interdependence often relies less on panel structure and sequentiality, which have tended to be prioritized in comics studies, so I think exploring picture books and other types of graphic narratives can open up alternative avenues for thinking through the relationship between the visual and the verbal. In terms of what Little Man, Little Man specifically can offer, it is very grounded in the architectural space of Harlem, so I see it creatively participating in some of the critical conversations around architecture and comics happening in comics studies right now. 

ZR: Can you talk a bit about your creative journey with this paper? How did it begin and where do you see it going? 

MU: This paper has taken on a few different forms. The idea came to me when I was teaching Little Man, Little Man in a comics course that I taught in early 2019. Inspired by the rich conversation the text had elicited in the classroom, I created an abstract with a rough sketch of the project and its argument and submitted it for consideration for the 2020 International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF). The paper was accepted, but the conference looked different than originally expected because of Covid-19. I first shared the paper as a blog post as part of ICAF’s virtual conference. We often put so much work into in-person conference presentations that are only ever heard by those few people in the room, so the blog post was a great opportunity to think about how to share my work with a wider audience in a shorter, more accessible format. I also have used that link to share my work on my C.V. and social media! I then expanded the blog post a bit for my virtual ICAF presentation and panel discussion, which also featured our former GSC president Adrienne Resha. The dialogue, questions, and feedback from that panel provided a starting place for expanding the conference paper into an article. The various iterations of the project have provided multiple deadlines to hold me accountable as well as space and feedback to really let the project grow and develop. 

ZR: What does being the recipient of the 2020 Hillary Chute Award mean to you? Can you tell us a little bit about your experience winning it?

MU: Receiving the Hillary Chute Award is an incredible honor, and it came at a time when I was really struggling to find the motivation to write while working from home and in relative isolation over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s not a large community of comics scholars at my home institution, so I really just wanted to share my work with peers and experts in the field. It was really incredible to then have that work recognized with an award that is named after a comics scholar whose work I really admire and has really shaped the field in important ways. The award and my experience winning it helped me feel seen during a challenging time and feel like I was part of a wider intellectual community. 

ZR: One of the perks of winning the 2020 Hillary Chute Award was that you got to have a consultation with INKS Managing Editor Qiana Whitted. Can you tell us a little about the highlights of that chat? How valuable was it to you as a graduate student?

MU: Yes, that is a major perk, and I had a great experience talking with Qiana!  Associate Editors Susan Kirtley and Andrew Kunka were also a part of that conversation, so I got multiple perspectives on the publishing process. I felt really supported throughout our conversation, and I really felt that Qiana, Susan, and Andrew wanted to help me find the best home for my work, whether that was at INKS or somewhere else. We discussed where I might submit the article in order to reach the widest and most interested audience and to situate myself within particular fields and conversations. They also discussed when might be the best time to publish the article and kind of gave me permission to set it aside for a bit to focus on the job market and the dissertation, which I really needed to hear. Talking with the INKS team helped me feel more comfortable and confident submitting to their journal in the future and demystified the whole process of academic publishing a bit for me as a grad student and early career scholar. 

ZR: Finally, do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you’d like to share with graduate students who are interested in having their work considered? 

MU: My biggest piece of advice would be to submit it! Regardless of whether you win (and you might!), it’s an opportunity to share your work, get it read, and increase its visibility. I also really felt that, by submitting my work for consideration, I was participating in and contributing to a wider community of comics scholars. 

Meet the Board Members: Katlin Marisol Sweeney-Romero

How long have you been involved with CSS? What brought you to CSS?
I am new to CSS as of 2022. In reflecting on my journey through graduate school, it has become clear how much comics studies and comics spaces have been my academic home, and I felt that joining CSS would be another opportunity to engage with this community. One of the most meaningful ways that I have participated in comics spaces has been through contributing to ongoing efforts to organize comics programming that grows the field, so joining the CSS Graduate Student Caucus has been a great way to learn new ways to do so.

What was the first comic that you remember reading, or the first that really had an impact on you as a reader?
I remember being in preschool when I received one of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon manga for the first time. From then on, I became so enthralled with visual narratives of transformation. Even before I could really read what the words said, the images in the manga kept my attention and motivated me to learn how to read. By first grade, Sailor Moon really became my personality. I was decked out in Sailor Moon-inspired hair clips, keychains, backpack–you name it! Witnessing the “moon prism power” sequence on page and on-screen was so impactful that perhaps it is no surprise that as an adult, I express myself through self-adornment practices like bright makeup, glitter, and accessorizing with big earrings.

What are you reading now that you think others should look into?
I am always bouncing between a few comics at a time, but right now, my recommendations short list is Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner, and Emma Steinkellner’s Quince: The Definitive Bilingual Edition (Fanbase Press), Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath: The Graphic Novel (BOOM! Box), Sharon Lee De La Cruz’s I’m a Wild Seed (Street Noise), and Lawrence Lindell’s From Truth With Truth: A Graphic Memoir (self-published).

What comics scholar has most impacted your current research, and why?
Doctora Fernanda Díaz-Basteris at Cornell College. As someone who is interested in drawing points of connection between film and television, comics, and social media in my dissertation, I have really appreciated learning from her work on Puerto Rican webcomics. In her writing and in her conference presentations, she often talks about Latinx comics creators’ use of social media platforms and how these spaces act as sites of resistance. I especially want to shout out her Forum contribution titled “Traumatic Displacement in Puerto Rican Digital Graphic Narratives” to a/b: Auto/Biography Studies in 2020 (vol. 35, no. 2). Doctora Díaz-Basteris is also so supportive of and engaged with independent Latinx creators at comics festivals. I love learning from her as to how I can bring the comics I collect from exhibitor alleys into my own classes. Overall, she is a big inspiration to me of what is possible as a comics scholar.

Is there any recent shift in the field of comics studies that you are particularly excited about?
I read a lot of comics on Instagram, and I am really interested to see how comics studies and social media studies can come together through scholarship on webcomics. Additionally, I love when comics creators talk about their use of and relationship to social media on panels and in interviews. I am excited to see where the field of comics studies will be in the next 5-10 years, and how we will continue to see social media tools incorporated into our scholarship, reading, and narrative creation.

Who is the comics writer/artist/scholar that has most influenced the way you think about the field?
It’s hard to pick just one, so I have to shout out all of the incredible scholars and comics creators I have met through SOL-CON: The Brown, Black, and Indigenous Comics Expo, The Latinx Comic Arts Festival (LCAF), and MSU Comics Forum. I am so appreciative of how spaces like exhibitor alleys at comics events and panels focused on BIPOC creators have opened up so many new doors to friendships, collaborations, and learning. I am grateful to be in community with so many wonderfully talented people, but also so many fiercely kind people.

If you could choose one comic writer or artist to meet who would it be and why?
My absolute favorite artist is Jen Bartel. The work that she did on the Image Comics series Blackbird is so beautiful and has been so impactful to me on so many levels. I have never connected with a comic artist’s style more than hers. I would really love to just thank her for creating such a beautiful comic series that follows main characters who are Latinas with magic powers and who are healing from generational trauma.

What are you currently working on and do you have plans for future projects?
I am really proud of the work I am contributing to The Latinx Comic Arts Festival (LCAF) at Modesto Junior College as Co-Coordinator of Programming & Marketing Support and an Advisory Board member. I am also working on my dissertation. With this project, I am actively thinking through how Latina girls and women innovatively use the Internet to produce self-mediation methodologies that envision ways of being beyond what is portrayed through legacy media forms. I am excited that some of what I am working through is forthcoming in TikTok Cultures in the United States (Routledge, 2022) and was just published in Latinx TV in the Twenty-First Century (U of Arizona P, 2022).

How can folks get in contact with you to talk more about comics or your research?
I can be reached via email (sweeney.464@buckeyemail.osu.edu), or feel free to say hi via Twitter (@KMSweeneyRomero).

The CSS Extends the Nomination Deadline for its Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Paper

The Comics Studies Society (CSS) has extended the deadline for its Hillary Chute Award for Best Graduate Student Paper until April 15th. The award is named for Hillary Chute, whose critical work as a comics scholar paved the way for feminist and political readings of graphic memoir. The prize is an important way that the CSS recognizes and encourages graduate students’ contributions to the field as emerging scholars. The winner will be recognized at the annual CSS Conference in East Lansing, Michigan, July 28-30, and will receive a plaque and a $300 cash reward. They will also have the opportunity to have a consultation with an editor of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society. Submitting your work for consideration is a great way to increase its visibility, share it with a community of fellow comics scholars, and begin to envision its publication future. You can submit papers 7-15 pages in length that were written in 2021. The paper does not have to be published and could be a conference paper, a seminar paper, a blog post, a cohesive excerpt of a longer work, or anything else you’ve written on comics this year. To nominate yourself or a peer, you can email comicssociety.awards@gmail.com with the title of the work and a means of accessing it, such as an attached .pdf by April 15th. You must be a member of the CSS to accept the award. You can learn more about CSS membership here. The Graduate Student Caucus and the CSS are looking forward to reading and celebrating your work!

Graduate Student Caucus Call for Nominations 2022

The Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) of CSS calls for nominations and self-nominations for positions on its Executive Board. The GSC Board meets virtually once a month, and GSC Board members serve on GSC committees as well as CSS Executive committees.

All graduate students and recent graduate (within 3 years of degree) members of CSS are members of the Caucus, can vote in GSC elections, and are eligible for positions on its Executive Board. To join or renew membership, please consult the Society’s website. The GSC Board will have four elected positions open this spring, to serve May 2022 to May 2023: Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and two Members-at-Large.

GSC Vice President commits to a two-year term of office, serving first as Vice President (one year) then as President (one year) the following year.

GSC Secretary-Treasurer serves a one-year term.

GSC Members-at-Large serve one-year terms.

More information about each of these roles may be found in the GSC’s Constitution.

Please submit nominations and self-nominations to cssgscpresident@gmail.com. Nominees should submit a short bio (100-200 words) no later than April 4th, 2022.

Results of the elections will be announced in early May 2022.

GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, Talks Winning the 2020 CSS Gilbert Seldes Prize for Public Scholarship

In this feature interview, GSC Secretary-Treasurer, Maite Urcaregui, talks with GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, about his 2020 CSS Gilbert Seldes Prize for Public Scholarship winning project, #WelcomeToSlumberland, a social media research project. 


MU: Can you tell us a bit about #WelcomeToSlumberland? In particular, I’m curious to learn more about how you developed your methodology for a project of this scale and why you chose to examine Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo comics?

ZR: Absolutely! In a nutshell, the #WelcomeToSlumberland (@LittleNemo1905) project saw me tweeting, for 549 days, one of the strips that belong to Winsor McCay’s early 20th-century Little Nemo comics (including Little Nemo in Slumberland, In the Land of Wonderful Dreams, and the Little Nemo in Slumberland revival). Since the comics exist within the public domain, I was able to tweet an image of the strip for participants to read and engage with. Each strip was also accompanied by my personal reading and an invitation for others to a) share their personal readings, and b) comment on mine! It was a lot of fun to talk with people over Twitter! 

#WelcomeToSlumberland is a social media research project and that was always one of its defining features. I began the project right at the outset of the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and really wanted to demonstrate that, even though we couldn’t work face-to-face with participants anymore, there were still ways to engage with qualitative research. Social media was perfect because it provided an asynchronous sharing method and bridged divides created by the pandemic (that it also made it possible to include participants from around the world was an added bonus). So, the project’s existence as a pandemic-era project has become really important to me and what I believe to be one of its most important elements. 

Now, initially, I hadn’t even intended for this to be a research project! I had received the gorgeous two-volume Taschen collection of McCay’s Little Nemo strips as a gift and had become enamoured by them. Sure, I’d read some of them before, but I’d never really considered how important they were or where they fit into the history of comics. I remember running over to Twitter to see if there were any accounts dedicated to McCay’s little dreamer (something like a “Let’s Talk” account) and, when there wasn’t, my initial idea was to just start one of those. Thankfully, I went a different route.

My reason for codifying it into an ethics-approved qualitative research project was largely a result of my engagement with the “1001 Comix” project, a education-focused twitter project that my friend and K-12 education colleague, Don Liebold (@patientpyramid), was working on. His model involved tweeting analyses of 1001 comics pages on Twitter and receiving feedback from other community members. I immediately saw the value in this method and decided that I wanted to do something similar. 

From there, it was mostly just about ethics approval and away we went. I received clearance from my University’s research ethics board on May 22, 2020 and completed the project some 600 days later (I missed a day or two here and there for various reasons) on January 27, 2022.

MU: Thanks for sharing a bit about your process. I love that you really embrace it as a pandemic-era project! Why was it important for you that this project be public, and what does public scholarship open up for you, for this project, and for the field more generally?

ZR: I have always been drawn to public scholarship more than traditional academic publishing. I started writing about comics for an upstart comics review website back in 2018 called, POP! Culture & Comics. I used to write a cool feature called “Pages that POP!” where I would choose a page from a new comic that I thought was particularly cool and analyzed/broke it down. I often get excited about cool communication using the comics form and wanted to share that excitement with others! Working on the feature really made me think about how to share what I thought was really special about the page (sometimes involving complicated comics theory) in accessible ways for a general audience. I heard a lot, from people who read the feature, that being introduced to these more theoretical ideas was exciting for them because it gave them terms and language to talk about the things they loved about comics. 

So, for me, public scholarship has sort of become something I’m dedicated to and passionate about. As a simple review of my CV would tell you, much of my publishing has been within the realm of public scholarship and, while that is not unusual for us comics scholars, it is a bit unusual for those within the field of education. As you might expect, educational research in particular tends to be pretty isolated to academic publishing, which can sometimes be open access, but still pretty inaccessible for the general public who will be using the information most readily. That was why I wanted to make sure that #WelcomeToSlumberland was a public scholarship project; I wanted educators and practitioners to see what the project was accomplishing for comics literacy and get excited about either contributing to the work by participating themselves or by thinking about ways that comics could be used in their own classrooms!

MU: Building on this sense of accessibility, part of what I think is most powerful about #WelcomeToSlumberland is the way that it has really fostered a digital community that challenges traditional scholarly hierarchies and divisions. Your followers are also your co-researchers in a sense. What have you learned from this community and from your participants?

ZR: Oh, without question, I view my participants and followers as co-researchers. Though #WelcomeToSlumberland isn’t exactly Participatory Action Research (PAR), I’ve modeled much of the project around the idea of participants as leading the work that we’re doing. Since #WelcomeToSlumberland takes its primary theoretical framework from the transactional theory of Louise Rosenblatt (1978), it was really important for me to acknowledge, incorporate, and privilege the readings of others. Each participant/co-researcher brought their own experiences to the work and those experiences shaped (in many different ways) the interpretations, understandings, and knowledges that we created in collaboration with the strip. I frequently found my perspectives challenged or extended through conversation with participants and often contributed to the same feeling for other participants. 

One of the first stumbling blocks, though, was getting participants talking and sharing their thoughts. This is where my personal thread came in handy (especially at the beginning) as a way of giving people permission to really stretch their interpretive muscles. That said, I really tried to move away from my thread as the starter (admittedly with mixed success) and focus on the participants most directly. One approach that I used throughout the project was to invite “Guest Contributors” to post their readings to start off the conversation instead of always having my own act as the kickstarter. We got a handful of these throughout the project and it was really amazing to get different perspectives to kick off the conversation! Other times, I would do “threadless” posts that were completely open-ended without any personal reading accompanying them. These worked well for some strips and less so for others.

MU: #WelcomeToSlumberland has examined every page of McCay’s Little Nemo strip. What has it been like to study this incredible work in its entirety, and do you have any favorite moments?

ZR: It was really awesome to read these strips chronologically. Again, I’ve read lots of them randomly but to see them all in their original order was really neat. I don’t want to suggest that we experienced the strip the way that McCay’s contemporary young readers did, but we did experience this work in a similar(ish) way. This really plays into the transactional nature of the project because, with each passing day, I never knew what was coming next. For those of us who were reading the series through for the first time, it let us make inferences, and guesses about what was coming next and how the (loose) continuity would play out from week to week/day to day. Even those who had read the series in its entirety often remarked that they had forgotten about a certain strip/event or created some new meaning from their transactions. I always loved when that happened!

I have so many favourites, most of which are pretty commonly loved by many in the comics community! I tend to find myself drawn to the strips that do innovative and experimental things with the comics form. That said, I also have a favourite series that, I think, generally receives less attention than the rest of the Little Nemo strips. At the end of McCay’s tenure with the New York Herald (before relocating and taking Nemo to the New York American) in 1911, there was a series of fifteen strips that were printed in a much different way than the ones that came before it. We took to calling this the “tri-tone series” (Day 288-302) because the strips were black, white, and only one other colour. This is strange since it is a well-known fact that the New York Herald had one of the best colour printing processes of the time. The prevailing thought (I believe from John Canemaker, McCay’s biographer) is that since the paper was losing McCay to William Randolphe Hearst and the New York American newspaper anyway, they no longer cared to spend the time or money printing McCay’s work in full colour. 

I have become somewhat infatuated with these strips and intend to write something on them in the near future, so I won’t give away too much about why I’m interested in them, but I’ll just say that I find these strips a really cool look at McCay’s use of subtlety and allegory. It’s also connected to #WelcomeToSlumberland in a fun way because, had I not done the project and thought so deeply about the strips/collaborated with all my participants, I never would’ve come to the conclusions that I did about the series! More on that in the near future, but if you’re interested, you can check the “tri-tone series” out at the link above.

Finally, I also have a favourite panel! I think this really sums up the project for me (though I was a bad academic and forgot to write down which of the 549 strips it comes from)!

MU: The CSS has recognized some incredible public scholarship with this award. How does it feel to be recognized by this award, and what does it mean to you? 

ZR: I was beyond honoured to receive the Seldes Prize last year. At the time of its nomination, I really believed winning the award to be a long-shot because the project was a bit less-traditional than any that had previously been awarded. That said, I truly believed that the blend of academic research with public, open access scholarship was both innovative and meaningful. I was also really privileged to have the support of CSS colleague, Shawn Gilmore, who published our #WalkingBedWeek Roundtable (which celebrated the most famous strip in Little Nemo’s history by presenting 5 different readings by 5 different scholars) to his edited, semi-scholarly website, The Vault of Culture. This gave #WelcomeToSlumberland a simultaneous existence within the social media and more traditional public scholarship spaces. Seeing the work that I had really poured all of myself into rewarded by an organization that I am deeply committed to was such a meaningful thing for me.

Beyond that though, I am really excited that my project’s acknowledgement has opened up the possibility of other non-traditional public scholarship projects being recognized! My project is not unique or special in the sense that many amazing examples of non-traditional public scholarship have existed before it in spaces that haven’t always been recognized for semi-academic work. This includes other social media projects, YouTube video essays, and a plethora of podcasts that add so much to the conversation surrounding comics and comics studies! That the Gilbert Seldes Prize now considers these amazing types of projects as recipients of the award is incredible. I am not so full of hubris to think that this outcome is a direct result of my efforts with #WelcomeToSlumberland, but I hope that it played a small role in making it possible. 

MU: Do you have any advice for fellow graduate students who are interested in pursuing public scholarship?

ZR: People often ask me why I would publish public scholarship when I could hold onto my paper or my idea and publish in a more “highly-regarded”, academic journal format. The truth is that some of the most meaningful work that I’ve read (and produced) has been public scholarship, aimed not at the ivory towers but at the people. So, the first piece of advice? Don’t hold back; dive right in! You’ll be shocked at how much fun you have and how many people you meet!

I’ve been very lucky to have found a lot of connections through my public scholarship. Shawn Gilmore has become a good friend over the years and a constant supporter at the Vault of Culture (if you have an idea, pitch him; I guarantee that he would love to hear from you) and, while I’ve never published with her amazing Eisner-Award winning website, my friend, Kate Tanski (Women Write About Comics) has been so supportive of my interest and passion for public scholarship. I’m always floored by the incredible work of my friend and fellow Brock University colleague, Anna Peppard (who’s amazing essay (Behold) The Vision’s Penis: The Presence of Absence in Mutant Romance Tales received an honourable mention for the Seldes Prize last year), and she is someone whose public scholarship (both her written and podcast work) has been a massive inspiration to me. There are so many people that I could list here, but the most important takeaway is that public scholarship has really been a positive force for my feeling of belonging within the comics community!

So, if you have an idea to pitch? Check out one of the amazing edited, semi-scholarly websites that exist out there and share your idea! Are you interested in recording video essays? Take that step and put together that first video! Been a long-time listener to one of the incredibly amazing comics studies podcasts? Download that app and start recording! I think you’ll find that the supportive community of comics scholars that we have will support you!


You can find more about #WelcomeToSlumberland on Twitter (@LittleNemo1905) or the project website, which features a digital table of contents collecting all 549 days worth of conversation!  You can learn more about the Comics Studies Society’s annual prizes on their website.

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 (austinheath2017@gmail.com)!

GSC Vice-President, Sydney Heifler, Talks Winning the 2020 CSS Article Prize

In this feature interview, GSC President, Zachary J.A. Rondinelli, talks with GSC Vice-President, Sydney Heifler, about her 2020 CSS Article Prize winning publication, “Romance Comics, Dangerous Girls, and the Importance of Fathers.”


ZR: As a graduate student, can you tell us how it feels to win CSS’ prestigious Article Prize?

SH: Well, it means a lot that my article was considered such a strong contribution to our field. It was, obviously, something I cared a lot about. I had the idea for this article while writing my undergraduate honors thesis and carried it around with me for quite a long time. I worked on it after I finished my master’s program and before starting my Ph.D. program, so it was something that I devoted myself to. I cared about it, and it matters to me that others also cared about it. Also, it’s nice to feel like you’re contributing to your community and this prize made me feel I had offered something worthwhile to my peers. 

ZR: Tell us about your experience publishing with the Journal of Graphic Novels & Comics (JGNC). What did you learn from it?

SH: I worked mainly with Nancy Pedri and Irene Velentzas as they were the editors for this special collection, Sexuality and Mental Illness in Comics. They were fantastic editors. At first, we tackled the main issue of how exactly I was intervening in the field of comics studies. They really helped me make that as specific as possible, which I think is quite essential. You have got to be able to explain why your research is important to the field to even begin to make your argument. And then, we honed in on language and made every sentence and word as specific as possible, which, in turn, made my research and interpretations as honest as possible. They challenged me in the best way. The journal itself is obviously great, many of the comics studies scholars I admire are on the editorial board, and I am happy to have my work there.

ZR: As your article discusses, romance comics (in general) seem to be an oft-neglected area of focus in contemporary comics scholarship. Do you see that trend beginning to reverse itself? Why or why not, and how has your research been a part of that?

SH: They have been neglected, especially when you compare the work that has been done on them to the amount of work that has been produced on superhero comics. Scholars have been interested in them, though, but they’re usually thrown in as a subtopic in a broader study of comics. But the general reception to my work has been proof that the field cares about romance comics. I’ve been very intentional in situating my work within comics studies and within the broader comics fandom, and everyone knows I talk about it quite a lot, for about eight years now, and I think that has helped. I’ve had students reach out to me, telling me that my work has made it possible for them to research romance comics, which is one of my favorite things.

ZR: In my view, one of the most important things that your article offers to comics scholarship today is the way that it positions romance comics as a force within the larger societal structure of the post-second-world-war era. Your paper articulates this by revealing the role romance comics had in reinforcing traditional gender hierarchies. Can you speak to other ways in which romance comics influenced society at that time?

SH: Thank you for saying that. One of my main objectives in my work is to place comic books 

in broader historical narratives. I want people to understand that comics were important to history and that history goes beyond what happened in the comic book industry. Aside from reinforcing traditional gender hierarchies, they also reinforced post-war notions of class, race, and fulfillment, sexual and otherwise. They are also a great way to comprehend how men were trying to understand women and how they felt about what they perceived about these women. For instance, during the 1970s, in women’s lib romance comics, writers challenged dominant ideas within the Women’s Liberation Movement, which reveals much about their potential anxieties concerning masculinity and security within their own lives. 

ZR: Extending this line of thinking, your paper also comments on the ways in which romance comics contributed to the social construct of “fatherhood” and a father’s role in safeguarding his daughter. Without giving too much from your paper away, can you tell us a bit about how the echoes of this influence still exist today?

SH: Oh, I don’t think the father-as-safeguarder for daughter is going away any time soon, but the more sexual and romantic elements of this father-daughter relationship have faded. Unlike in romance comics, when such relationships are depicted today, they are problematized though there are always exceptions to the rule. There are still echoes in both popular media and real life. In popular media, I see echoes the most when there is an older man acting fatherly toward a younger woman and then using the consequent power imbalance they create to date her or instigate sexual relations with her. In real life, we have purity balls, in which fathers take their daughters to formalized dances in order to signify her commitment to remain a virgin until marriage and, by implication, her father. 

ZR: Finally, what advice would you give other graduate students who are looking to publish in peer-reviewed journals?

SH: If you’re currently enrolled in grad school, use one of your seminars as an opportunity to craft the article, or at least the beginning stages of an article–don’t create extra work for yourself if you don’t need to! Really narrow down your topic. In an article, you don’t have as much space as you think you do, and you need to be able to address your topic from every angle, or at least have the room to justify the angles you aren’t examining. There is so much I could have written about teenage romance comics, but I picked one thing that I thought was very important, and I stuck to that one thing, which was rather hard at times (my editors kept me on point!). That is another crucial thing, pick something you care about because the article process is quite long, and I think if I hadn’t cared about what I was contributing to my field, I would have felt beat up by the whole process. 

I would also have a senior person in your field look over your work and offer insights, or at least have someone you trust that you feel comfortable running things by. My person was Michael Goodrum, who I asked many questions regarding historiographical anxieties and framing issues. I also had someone who knew nothing about comics, or post-war history read my article to make sure it was accessible to a broader audience. Not everyone cares how accessible their scholarship is, and they only want to speak to the experts in their field, but accessibility is something I care about, and I think it is something our field generally strives for.

Last thing is, pick your journal carefully. You want to make sure that the journal is a good fit for your work. I responded to a call for papers, so I already knew my work fit nicely within the general project. It’s important to be strategic about where you’re publishing so that you are marketing yourself for the future job you want. I wanted to mark myself as a comics studies scholar, which also has the benefit of signaling that I’m interdisciplinary in my approach to history, so a comics studies journal made sense.. However, as someone who hopes to end up in a history department, I also have to publish in a history journal, which will likely change how I approach my next article. 

ZR: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us all, Sydney!

SH: My pleasure!


Sydney Heifler’s article, “Romance Comics, Dangerous Girls, and the Importance of Fathers,” can be found in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics volume 11, issue 4. Follow this link for more information.

Meet the Board Members: Frida Heitland

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 (frida.heitland@gmail.com)

And my Researchgate profile gives an impression of former (not necessarily comics-related) research https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Frida_Heitland

Meet the Board Members: Maite Urcaregui

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?

I’d love to hear from fellow grad students and support in any way I can! You can reach me via email at murcaregui@ucsb.edu or on Twitter at @MaiteUrcaregui

The Graduate Caucus Welcomes Submissions for a New Logo!

The Grad Student Caucus of the Comics Studies Society is soliciting graduate student artists who are interested in designing our NEW CAUCUS LOGO! The chosen artist will be compensated $250.00 US for their work!
Interested graduate student artists should complete the form (at the link below) by the call deadline (FRIDAY MARCH 4, 2022). Artists will be contacted by the GSC Executive to discuss ideas following the deadline. Though we invite all graduate student artists to apply, preference will be given to graduate student members of the Comics Studies Society.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScGIUXTj9PsK6Znb1UPO22-YnwgbXzXqbRxa5Wc38LjtjV6Fw/viewform?usp=sf_link