#CSS19 Sneak Peek: Francesca Lyn’s “Feels Bad Man: Anxiety and the Archives of Meme Culture” & “Against Universality: Embodiment in Women’s Autobiographical Comics”

The Comics Studies Society 2019 conference, “Comics/Politics” begins tomorrow! As folks are travelling to Toronto for the annual meeting, we wanted to offer one more Sneak Peek into events at #CSS19. This time we get a look at two presentations by former GSC board member and recent winner of the John A. Lent Scholarship in Comics Studies, Francesca Lyn. We can’t wait to see everyone in Toronto!

I am thrilled to be presenting the two research projects. The first “Feels Bad Man: Anxiety and the Archives of Meme Culture” will be presented as part of a roundtable titled Archival Anxieties: The Politics of Comics Preservation. This roundtable broadly centers on the archive and the ephemeral nature of comics. My brief presentation explores the challenges of preserving Internet memes. Examining memes and meme culture presents itself with several practical and conceptual obstacles. Memes are viral and often characterized by there wide dissemination. Additionally they are frequently altered and very rarely attributed. Here I focus on the controversial Pepe memes which appropriate Pepe the Frog, a character originally created by cartoonist Matt Furie. Pepe became a frequent fixture on the image board website 4chan and then became associated with alt-right politics. In October 2017, Furie addressed his own horror at Pepe’s evolution in The Nib. In the comic “Pepe the Frog: To Sleep Perchance to Meme” Furie depicts a somber Pepe first transforming into a soft-serve coiffed Trump surrogate. I also look at the social media campaign #SavePepe launched by Furie and The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), examining why it was a failure, eventually leading Furie to finally symbolically lay Pepe to rest in a 2017 comic strip.

My second project “Against Universality: Embodiment in Women’s Autobiographical Comics” builds on research from my dissertation Graphic Intimacies: Identity, Humor, and Trauma in Autobiographical Comics by Women of Color which examines works of comics art about the lived experience of the comics’ creator. My dissertation considered how the comics form represents the intersectionality of identity and feminism, exploring how the fragmentary nature of comics can embody trauma and identity in autobiographical comics written by women of color. These comics compress reality, representation, and subjectivity. Many of these comics employ the use of simplified forms and draw from an established vocabulary of conventions in comics such as panels, motion lines, and speech balloons.These graphic narratives address racialized difference and the construction of identity while also using humor to negotiate their narrations of traumatic events. Comics can allow for the representation of trauma as being intimately linked to corporeality. The comics medium allows creators to make visible and present fractured versions of the self, a product of traumatic fragmentation. I am most interested in how autobiographical cartoonists depict their embodied selves. Comics represent a collapsing of representation, a flattening of subject and meaning, the autobiographical comic compresses the self and bodily representation in a way that allows the cartoonist to portray complicated states of emotion and how these states can be expressed through the body.

In Understanding Comics (1994), Scott McCloud argues that comics derive meaning from their iconicity, stating that the more simplistic a rendering is the more easily we can identify with it. While comics, including autobiographical comics, do use symbolic language in order to derive meaning, many comics also resist or challenge their indexical nature. I argue that many of the most salient examples of women’s autobiographical comics resist iconicity as a strategic manipulation of the medium. These comics are often perceived as being messy and disjointed. or viewed critically due to their perceived reliance on the primacy of text in the narrative. In these comics the text complicates rather than explain the comic’s imagery, enabling autobiographical comics to perform the difficult task of portraying lived experiences. These comics challenge the dominant discourse on the gendered and raced body, presenting narratives that reject notions of a universal subject position.

Francesca’s roundtable will be Thursday, July 25 at 11:30am and her panel will be on Friday, July 26th at 8:30am.

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#CSS19 Sneak Peek: Safiyya Hosein’s “The American Dream: Representation of Muslim Masculinity in the Green Lantern”

Continuing the countdown to the Comics Studies Society 2019 Conference “Comics/Politics,” here is another sneak peek, featuring the work of the new Secretary/Treasurer of the Graduate Student Caucus, Saffiya Hosein. As always, if you’d like to share your work, reach out to the Grad Student Caucus board at gradcaucus.web@gmail.com.

After reading the CFP for the “Comics/Politics” conference, I was inspired to organize a panel that tackled the question of diversity in comics. This was something atypical for me since I normally prefer to submit an individual abstract and leave it to organizers to place me appropriately. But ComicsGate made its impression on me, and as a visible woman of colour occupying a space in comics scholarship and comics fiction, I wanted to do more. I spoke to my colleague, Erika Chung, and she was on board with the panel idea. I reached out to Kate Tanski from Women Write About Comics with the hopes that she could connect me to someone suitable for the third panel member, and that’s how I met Adrienne Resha (vice-president of the Graduate Student Caucus). After many discussions with Adrienne and Erika, we decided that the panel would more concretely tackle marginalized superheroes. And just like that the “Marginalized Representation and the Superhero” panel was born. I’m especially proud that this panel is an all-woman team.

My research interests are somewhere in the areas of Muslim superhero representation and Muslim fandoms. I decided I’d explore the Green Lantern, Simon Baz, in my paper because there simply isn’t much scholarship devoted to him. This is a shame because there aren’t that many Muslim male superheroes and Simon Baz’s storyline was unique for its confrontation of Islamophobia. As an intersectional feminist scholar, I couldn’t help but question how deeply the representation of Muslim masculinities factored into his storyline and I pondered the point that the writer, Geoff Johns, was trying to make about Baz. I’ll be tackling this very concept in my paper, “The American Dream: Representation of Muslim Masculinity in the Green Lantern.” In general, postcolonial feminist scholars have explored Muslim masculinities in their work and have pointed out the numerous stereotypes of Muslim men as violent and hyper-sexualized. They’ve approached this in tandem with exploring Muslim femininities in relation to White saviourism which are often realized in perspectives of the necessity to rescue Muslim women from Muslim men.

Considering the symbolism rampant in Baz’s debut in Green Lantern #0, my paper will also incorporate a semiotic analysis based on research in ideographs. Having written an entire master’s thesis on visual ideographs in political cartoons, I saw many similarities in Simon Baz’s debut. I’m also excited to conduct ideographical research in superhero scholarship as well because I’ve only seen it used in research on political cartoons.

As a Ryerson PhD candidate and a proud Torontonian, I’m elated to see the Comics/Politics conference take place in my university. Toronto is a beautiful city brimming with more diversity and cultural tolerance than I’ve seen in any other international city I’ve been to. There is no doubt in my mind that many will enjoy their time here. My presentation takes place on July 25th at 4:15. Hope to see interested participants there!

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#CSS19 Sneak Peek: Adrienne Resha’s “‘Part of Something…Bigger’: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Kamala Khan

As we get closer to the Comics Studies Society “Comics/Politics” Conference next month at Ryerson University in Toronto, we are going to be featuring some sneak peeks of some presentations taking place at the conference. Here is a peek at Grad Student Caucus Vice President Adrienne Resha’s presentation:

We’re just a few weeks away from the 2nd Annual CSS Conference!

At this summer’s conference, COMICS/POLITICS, I’m presenting a paper titled “‘Part of Something… Bigger’: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Kamala Khan” on a panel titled “Marginalized Representation and the American Superhero.” I am privileged to be presenting with my co-panelists Erika Chung and Safiyya Hosein (GSC Secretary-Treasurer). In advance of the conference, I wanted to share my proposal and a sneak peek of my presentation.

My paper is kind of a mash-up between my master’s thesis, “The ‘Embiggening’: Marvel’s Muslim Ms. Marvel and American Myth” (abstract), and my CSS18 paper/presentation, “The Blue Age of Comic Books,” which is explicitly referenced in the proposal below.

In the second issue of the digital bestseller Ms. Marvel (2014-2015), the not-yet eponymous character, Kamala Khan, asks, “Could it be that what just happened to me is part of something… more?” Although Kamala’s question is more immediately concerned with the fact that she just emerged from a cocoon, it is also one that co-creator and writer G. Willow Wilson poses to the reader: could it be that this Pakistani-, Muslim American teenaged girl is part of something… bigger? In many ways, Kamala Khan was the first (or, sometimes, most—as in most popular) of her kind, but she is not exceptional as what some might term a “diverse” superhero character. She is exceptional as a superhero character.

Like Clark Kent’s Superman and Peter Parker’s Spider-Man before her, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel embodies so much of what it means to be an American superhero and, by extension, an American citizen, particularly an American citizen of immigrant descent. Understanding superheroes to be exceptional, super-citizens, this paper argues that Kamala Khan is emblematic of the Blue Age of superhero comic books because her origin story synthesizes and adapts Golden and Silver Age origin conventions in a Millennial context, for Generation Y (or, as the series names it, Generation Why). Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker’s creation is only as exceptional as any other American, and that is what makes her so super, what makes her a hero. I’m pretty sure that last line was the result of having watched this Captain Marvel (2019) trailer about a hundred times.

My title slide has the title of my paper, “‘Part of Something… Bigger’: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Kamala Khan,” which is from Ms. Marvel (2014-2015) #2 by G. Willow Wilson. My name, university, and Twitter handle will appear on this first slide and every subsequent slide, and the final slide will include a contact email. The artwork, part of the cover of Ms. Marvel (2015-2019) #1 by Cliff Chiang, used for the background on this slide is credited in the bottom left hand corner. Art will be credited to the artist wherever it appears.

My presentation is on Thursday (full program). You’ll find me there, at the Graduate Student Caucus meeting on Friday or my workshop with Osvaldo Oyola on Saturday (if you’ve registered!) for sure. Otherwise, in Toronto or not, check my Twitter or the GSC’s: I’ll be live tweeting!

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