Collection Spotlight: University of Michigan

Continuing our series on library collections in comics, today we focus on the University of Michigan. We were recently able to speak to the Video Game Archivist and Reference Librarian David Carter.

How large is the comic collection at UM?

Hard to say—somewhere around 20,000 catalog entries (which includes secondary sources as well). Each entry will be for one or more volumes.

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

There have always been comics in the library’s collection, but the creation of a distinct, purposeful comics collection began in late 2004, at the urging of the Dean of the Art School on the occasion of the hiring of Phoebe Gloeckner onto their faculty.

Are 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?

I will call your attention to our collection statement for comics & graphic novels at https://www.lib.umich.edu/mlibrary-collections/collection-area-comics-graphic-novels

“While the comics collection at the U-M Library will strive to be representative of all facets of comics and graphic narratives, it will focus special attention to the following areas:

  • Works that are primarily the product of an individual creator
  • Works that are by, for, and/or about populations that are historically underrepresented in the comics art form (e.g., women, LGBTQ populations, ethnic and religious minorities)
  • Works that are highly regarded in the field (e.g., highly reviewed, winners of major industry awards, etc.)
  • Works of historical significance
  • Works by local/Michigan creators
  • Mini-comics
  • Secondary materials, such as academic studies, reference works, serial publications, historical works, and biographies of cartoonists

The above list should not be taken to be exhaustive, nor is it intended to preclude the acquisition of additional works beyond those enumerated.”

In particular, we have a sizable collection of minicomics (over 1400 items), as well as a robust and growing collection of non-English language comics.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

Most new comics are purchased from a local comics store (shout out to the great folks at Vault of Midnight!) We also purchase from overseas vendors, online stores, and at comics festivals. Donations also play a significant role, particularly in acquiring older material.

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?

Here are a couple of recent examples of curricular support:

Students in “History 195: The Writing of History—Gender and Nationalism” read classic Captain America stories to learn how masculinity and nationalism were portrayed to young readers during World War 2.

Students in “American Culture 311: American Culture and the Humanities—Heroes and Superheroes in U.S. Popular Culture” read comics featuring super-heroes from classics like Superman to modern heroes like Ms. Marvel.

How have students at UM benefited from the collection?

Most students are amazed to learn that the U-M Library has such an extensive comics collection (as well as a librarian charged with supporting that collection). We are able to not only support classes that use comics, but also individual research papers and projects; e.g. last year I assisted a student who wanted to write a paper about the use of Captain America as a national symbol pre- and post-9/11. 

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

Most of the comics collection is part of the library’s circulating collection, on the shelves for users to browse and check out. Some items (e.g. the minicomics collection) are in local storage and available to view on request.

The research guide at http://guides.lib.umich.edu/comics is a good place to start exploring the collection.

(It is not part of any current digitization effort.)

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

Every June we work with the Ann Arbor District Library to put on A2 Inkubate, the pre-conference (for librarians, cartoonists, and educators) to the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival: https://a2caf.com/inkubate.

University of Michigan Libraries Information:
Address and Contact Info: 913 S. University Ave; Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Email: superman@umich.edu

Collection Spotlight: Michigan State University Libraries

Today we are continuing our spotlight on collections of comics in University libraries that are commonly used for research in comics studies. This time we are focusing on the collections at Michigan State University with the Head of Special Collections, Leslie Van Veen McRoberts.

How large is the comic collection at MSU?

350,000 volumes | 300,000 American works, 50,000 international works.

Additionally, the collection features over 1,000 books of collected newspaper comic strips, and several thousand books and periodicals about comics.

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

The collection at Michigan State began with English professor Russel B. Nye, who in the mid-1960s pioneered Popular Culture Theory. Nye was one of the founders of the Popular Culture Association, which blurred traditional ways of thinking, providing value to mass media such as comic books, television, and music.

Nye’s original donation to the MSU Libraries Special Collections of approximately 8,000 comics in 1969 began what is now the most comprehensive collection of comic books in the world.

Is there specific categories of comics and graphic novels that this collection specializes in?

Our collection is vast in content and context, but our growth is centered around North American produced comics; however, recently we have branched outward to international comics. Specifically, we acquire bound or hand-produced first-run comics, but that is not to say we would not acquire multiple editions of a specific comic. The small idiosyncratic parts of each book make them unique. Our collection is comprehensive, and tells the story of comics and comic art, from Archie and Jug Head to Batman and beyond.

Can you talk about one or two noteworthy parts of the collection or archival materials?

Honestly, it is hard to select one or two pieces, traditionally I lean to the original Randolph Töpffer comics from the 1840s, but what I think are some of the most unique items in our collection are the student contributions. MSU Associate Professor, Ryan Claydor, teaches Comic Art Studio courses which provides students with an avenue to not only fulfill their own creative forces but provides guidance on how to navigate the publishing world; the course is a mix of art and literature. Because of these students, we now have unique hand colored, hand silkscreened, embossed one of a kind comic art items that have become the cornerstone of future comic authors and artists.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

The MSU Libraries Special Collections Comic Art collection is acquired through a variety of means. Each year we purchase several comics for our collection, but we also have long-standing relationships with publishers and book dealers who are keenly aware as to what and why we collect. Comics are also acquired through the generosity of donors and estate gifts from patrons who have known and loved our collection so much so that they want to add their own books to the shelves as a part of their legacy.

What are some of the projects scholars have conducted using the collection as a resource?

Annually, we see a variety of scholars who seek many different types of comics; one scholar that comes to mind is a Ph. D candidate who has a specific research focus on the production of comic books, their collective history, and how long-term comic books have developed and transformed over the course of the 20th century.

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

Courses at MSU vary between semester; currently, we have an English professor who is utilizing a vast scope of black comics as a research component of his English 342 course, Studies in Popular Literature. Students in this course have utilized a selection of comics to write a research paper on their choice of topic/character around the scope of Black Comics and Afrofuturism. Some of the titles and their creators utilized by this course include Ajala: a series of adventures by Robert Garrett and N. Steven Harris, Matty’s Rocket by Tim Fielder, and Jaycen Wise by Uraeus. In addition to a research paper, students created a zine around a specific character with a comparison to four other characters to explore theme, character and setting in comics. Students had the opportunity to share their zines with the public at a November showcase held at the MSU Museum.

How have students at MSU benefited from the collection?

All students and scholars benefit from this collection because of its comprehensive holdings. Students not only use the collection for class but may request and come to our reading room to read and enjoy the latest comic that they otherwise may not have access to. Students are welcome to request comics to be purchased for additions to our collection and we do acquire what they suggest. Everyone who is curious about comics benefits from the comic art collection.

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

Currently the collection may be accessed through the MSU Libraries public access catalog. Each of the individual comics are cataloged by item, this includes any additional copies of the comic. Along with the catalog, our bibliographer has created an additional index of all the comics housed in MSU Special Collections, that page can be accessed using this link” http://comics.lib.msu.edu/index.htm.

Currently, there are no plans to digitize the collection. Unfortunately, copyright limitations do not allow us to digitize the collection, or portions thereof. Should scholars find themselves needing portions of comics, they are able to request scans of original comics through inter library loan.

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

Since 2008, the MSU Libraries has hosted the MSU Comics Forum, a two-day event that discusses everything comics. Free and open to the public, the Forum features panel sessions of artists and authors as well as tours of the MSU Comics collection. The upcoming event will be held on February 21 and 22, 2020, and will feature graphic novelist Emil Ferris, as well as comics author and San Francisco State University professor, Nico Sousanis. For more information, visit: http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/about/

[You can also read the GSC’s interview with MSU Comics Forum co-organizer Zack Kruse here!]

For the Summer of 2020, MSU Libraries Special Collections is offering travel research grants, which of course includes scholars of comics. All are welcome to apply. Applications are due January 30, 2020. For more information, visit: https://lib.msu.edu/spc/research/travel-grants/

MSU Special Collections Information:
Address: 366 West Circle Drive, East Lansing, Michigan 48824 USA
Email: SPC@msu.edu

Collection Spotlight: The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University

Beginning today, the GSC Blog will be home to spotlights on comics collections in libraries around the world. We hope to create a repository cataloging the various collections that would be useful to comics scholars across the spectrum, but especially for graduate students. If you know of a library collection that we should be in contact with, please reach out to us at gradcaucus.web@gmail.com.

We start this series with a look into the massive collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University. We spoke with Associate Curator and Assistant Professor Caitlin McGurk about the collection there!

How large is the comic collection at OSU? The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM) houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics, including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings. Our current holdings are:

Original art: 300,000
Comic strip clippings and tearsheets: 2.5 million
Books + Serial titles: 105,000
Comic Books + Mini Comics: 50,000
Archive boxes and archival material: 8,000

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

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum was established in 1977 in two converted classrooms in the Journalism Building with the founding gift of artwork and papers of alumnus Milton Caniff. Its collections of original art and manuscripts have been built primarily through gifts-in-kind. The library has had several former names over the past 40+ years: Milton Caniff Reading Room, (1977); Library for Communication and Graphic Arts; Cartoon, Graphic, and Photographic Arts Research Library; Cartoon Research Library; Cartoon Library and Museum; and finally in September 2009 we became the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon) had donated in multiple installments his entire collection to OSU: 696 cubic feet of original art, correspondence, research files, photographs, memorabilia, merchandise, realia, awards, audio/visual material and scrapbooks. Although there was no structure for collecting such materials from cartoonists, and few (if any) institutions in America were, Caniff was a proud OSU graduate and felt compelled to leave his legacy material with his beloved Alma mater. Lucy Caswell had worked in the journalism library and was hired to catalog the Caniff collection.  Caswell recognized how precious these materials were and saw that they were under-appreciated in academic institutions and museums at large.   She set out to establish an appropriate home for the collecting and preservation of cartoon art, and nearly 40 years later this altruistic goal has grown into the largest collection of cartoons and comics in the world.

Are 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?

We strive to represent collections by women cartoonists and industry professionals, an area that I feel we always getting stronger in. In recent years we also created this Guide To Multicultural Resources highlighting the work in our collection by artists who are African American, Latino American, and Asian American. We hope to add a section for Indigenous cartoonists as well. I would say the most popular collections we have here overall would be the Calvin & Hobbes collection of original art (nearly every single original page from the comics), the Will Eisner Collection which includes vast manuscript materials, and the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. That last collection was amassed by a man named Bill Blackbeard and contains millions of comic strip clippings that libraries across the United States were discarding and replacing with microfilm. In many instances, the pieces in that collection are the only examples of the work in existence.

How does the library typically acquire its comics?

Our collection is almost entirely donation-based, and has largely come to us from artists, family members of artists, or collectors. Our Collection Donation Review Committee meets to make decisions about any individual item or collection we are offered. We consider the research value of the work as well as the costs of preserving, storing, and making it available. In general, our purchasing funds are used for published materials, often bought in support of classes or exhibitions. Original cartoon art is purchased very selectively. The vast majority of our holdings of original cartoon art has been acquired as gifts-in-kind, and this is expected to continue.

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?

Our collection is used by scholars from a vast variety of disciplines, including folks who travel to the Billy Ireland from out of the country for months at a time to conduct research. Examples of research conducted at the Billy Ireland can occasionally be seen featured on our blog, including a post from Dr. Daniel Worden about his research into the oil industry and it’s overlap with comics, or this interview with Professor Nhora Serano about her research into comics and immigration. BICLM’s holdings have inspired and contributed to countless books, articles, exhibitions and more.

BICLM curators work with up to 60 classes per year, both from Ohio State as well as outside – since we are a land grant institution, part of our mission is to serve the public, so we welcome classes regularly from other universities, public schools, etc. Since there is no cartooning or comics department at Ohio State, we do not have a strict tie to a specific department to work with. For this reason, we do our best to connect with any and all departments, and regularly serve students from Jewish Studies, History, Art, Art Education, English, ESL, Early Childhood Education, Political Science, Pop Culture Studies, History, Psychology, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies… you name it! We pride ourselves in connecting with a wide reach of disciplines who want to come learn about their subject matter through the lens of comics and cartoon art.

How have students at OSU benefited from the collection?

Students at Ohio State benefit from BICLM’s free exhibits, access to our collection for their own research (or fun!), and our regular free programming for which we bring in artists from around the world. We often host open house events for students highlighting aspects of our collection such as manga or LGBTQ comics, and we also employ Ohio State students.

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

Anyone can access our collections in our Lucy Shelton Caswell Reading Room during open hours (9am-5pm Mon-Fri), or selections from our collection in our current exhibits (open 1-5pm, Tues-Sun). Our website cartoons.osu.edu offers a wide variety of resources, including a robust digital image database with tens-of-thousands of images, our many collection-specific finding-aids, our Guide to Multicultural Resources, databases dedicated to books and art, and more. Since our collection has over 3 million pieces in it, we are not able to digitize every piece, but records for all items can be found across our databases.

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

We are working on programming for 2020 that will celebrate our exhibit “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art” including a major symposium on Women, Gender, and Bande Dessinée on February 28th and 29th, 2020 for which we will have many international scholars presenting on their work.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum Contact Information:
Address: 1813 N. High St., Columbus OH 43210
Phone: 614-292-0538
Email: cartoons@osu.edu

We hope you take the time to check out the collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum online and in person!

An Interview with Comics History Work Group coordinator Evan R. Ash

The Comics Studies Society prides itself on taking a forward-thinking, interdisciplinary approach to researching, teaching, and understanding the realm of near-infinite possibilities that comics and the graphic medium present to scholars of equally broad fields and interests. One new CSS GSC member took this mission to heart and got to work creating a space for historians of comics to collaborate, share resources, and build working relationships. We “sat down” (as best you can over the Internet) with the coordinator of the Comics Studies Society Comics History Work Group (CHWG), Evan Ash.

GSC: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Evan Ash: I’m currently a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Maryland, College Park. I hold a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay and a master’s degree in History from Miami University. I’m mostly interested in the history of the midcentury American anti-comics movement, which is what my master’s thesis dealt with, and what I imagine my eventual dissertation will as well. I presented a boiled-down version of that master’s thesis at CSS 2019 in Toronto and received one of the inaugural Carol Tilley Travel Grants for that proposal. Outside of the CHWG (pronounced chwug), I also serve on the 2019-2020 CSS Accessibility Committee as a Graduate Student Caucus rep.

GSC: Where did the idea come from to start the CHWG?

Ash: I started formulating the idea while I was still in Toronto. CSS19 was my first conference that wasn’t strictly a history conference, so I kind of had to readjust how I was approaching the whole weekend. Across all the panels I attended, I noticed the awesome diversity of interests, occupations, and fields that the presenters represented, but it was a little harder to glean who had similar interests as me. Near the end of the conference, I talked to a few people and floated the idea of putting together some kind of group that would let people who broadly considered themselves comic historians work together and connect with other interested folks. They all seemed very interested, so I put together a survey of interest as soon as I got home from the conference.

GSC: Can you elaborate a bit on what exactly a work group is?

Ash: So, believe it or not, it actually comes from Wikipedia where I’m pretty active. It’s sort of extrapolated from the concept of a WikiProject, which the site defines as “the organization of a group of participants… established in order to achieve specific… goals, or to achieve goals relating to a specific field of knowledge.” I do a lot of work in the WikiProject Comics, which works to “increase, expand, improve, and better organize articles related to comics.” In a WikiProject, you work together with other people who share your interests and general knowledge of the subject matter with the eventual goal of all-around improvement. I really love that structure, so I wanted to apply it to CSS, which has been really important to me in my professional development.

GSC: What are the professional demographics of the CHWG? What are some of the things that people have wanted to see from it?

Ash: We have a really great sprinkling of people in the CHWG. About half of our members are tenure-track faculty in various fields, and about 20-25% are graduate students. Librarians, independent scholars, and contingent faculty make up the remainder of the ranks. We had a lot of people mention calls for papers and research collaboration, but some of the more specific responses called for banding together and finding resources outside of comics studies, presenting “focused comics history panels” at non-comics conferences, and building a list of books to see what is being used to teach comics history and how they’re being used.

GSC: Any big goals for the future? Or likewise, any big plans?

Ash: I’d love to have a panel or a roundtable at CSS 2020 sponsored by the CHWG. My advisor has been on my case about doing a comics history panel at either the Organization of American Historians or the American Historical Association. Much farther down the road, I’d love to do an edited collection of new approaches to writing about the anti-comics movement.

Those interested in joining the CSS CHWG can join the Slack channel here.

Please also send an email to the coordinator at erash@umd.edu so you can be added to the email list.

GSC Call for Nominations

The CSS Executive Board has created two committees for which they are seeking members: the Accessibility Committee and the Code of Conduct Committee.

As part of the motions to establish these committees, the Board decided that one member of the CSS Graduate Student Caucus should serve on each committee to ensure graduate student representation.

We are still looking for a member of the GSC to serve on the Code of Conduct Committee. If you are interested in nominating yourself, please contact GSC President Biz Nijdam at elizabeth.nijdam@gmail.com.

Zack Kruse on the 2020 MSU Comics Forum

In an effort to amplify not only the voices of graduate students and contingent faculty but also events central in comics studies, it is our pleasure to feature this post by Panel Coordinator Zack Kruse on the 2020 MSU Comics Forum.

One of the great joys of my academic life is being a part of the Comics Forum at Michigan State. Before coming to MSU for my Ph.D. program, I attended the Forum for a number of years as both a comics maker and a nascent scholar. In fact, a major part of my motivation for coming to MSU was that the Comics Forum’s director, Ryan Claytor, asked me to join him on the Forum to develop a more robust slate of academic panels. Since taking on that role in 2015, the academic panels have doubled in number in each subsequent year. I’m really proud of that not because we’ve collected more scholars to populate panels but because I think that we’ve helped the Comics Forum become one of the places where new and interesting ideas in Comics Studies are being incubated and hatched. One of the ways we’ve been able to achieve that is by emphasizing the role of graduate students as generators of those new and significant ideas.

As a part of our aim to develop a sort of critical boutique, incoming-Panel-Coordinator Julian Chambliss and I have shifted the Forum’s attention to critical discourses in Comics Studies that we believe will help amplify the important work being done by emerging scholars, as well as scholarship that may have been on the periphery of earlier conversations. So, for the 2020 Comics Forum, we have made a deliberate effort to draw attention to the foundational work provided by comics librarians through critical librarianship and the absolutely crucial work archival work also being done by librarians. In conjunction with our interest in archival work, we’re also looking towards the Digital Humanities as a place for Comics Studies to flourish by thinking through how collections operate as data. In other underserved areas, we have partnered with MSU’s Graphic Narratives Network to include programming that focuses on the important work being done in non-Anglophone comics and comics in translation—a partnership that emerged, largely, because of the outreach done by current GSC President, Biz Nijdam, when she and I first connected in 2015. We have also been intentional in our panel formation to ensure that we platform some of the most important ongoing conversations in comics studies, particularly those involving race and identity. However, what all these efforts bank on are not our good intentions but the phenomenal work being done by so many of us in graduate programs and contingent positions.

Of course, many of our friends and mentors in tenured positions are doing incredible work that helps sustain the field, and we rely on those voices at the Comics Forum, too. But what I think we’ve been most successful at during my time with the Forum is developing an open and inviting space for scholars who may not have access to larger events. And, in so doing, we have uniquely positioned ourselves to be a forum for young, fresh ideas in the field. To ensure that accessibility, the Comics Forum does not charge registration fees of any kind—even though this may be a relatively small gesture, it’s one that is meant to be in comity and solidarity with those scholars who are most underserved or for whom such fees limit their ability to participate.

The 2020 MSU Comics Forum will be held on February 21-22 at the Michigan State University Library. Our artist keynote will be delivered by Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters) and our scholar keynote will be delivered by Nick Sousanis (Unflattening).The Forum also features a full artist alley, which shares a floor space with our academic panel rooms. The deadline for proposals is Monday, September 23. The CFP can be viewed and proposals can be submitted at: http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/forms/

I hope to see you there! 

Zack Kruse

Zack Kruse is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Michigan State University, and his first monograph, Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity, is in press at the University Press of Mississippi. He is currently the panel coordinator of the Michigan State University Comics Forum, and he previously served as the Managing Editor of The Journal of Popular Culture. With a unique blend of good-natured comity and over-the-top bravado, he will gladly tell you about all of the other comic booky stuff he’s done at the earliest opportunity. He can be found on Twitter at @zackkruse.

#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.

#CSS19 Sneak Peek: Alexandra Lampp Berglund’s “Analyzing ‘The Truth’: An Examination of Gender and (Dis)ability in Wonder Woman”

CSS19, Comics/Politics begins in just 10 days! Continuing our Sneak Peek series is GSC Member-at-Large Alexandra Lampp Berglund on her presentation “Analyzing ‘The Truth’: An Examination of Gender and (Dis)ability in Wonder Woman.” We’ll be back next week with the final installment of #CSS19 Sneak Peek!

The 2nd Annual CSS Conference is fast approaching, and I can’t wait to learn with and from so many of you while there!

At this year’s conference, I will be presenting a paper titled, “Analyzing ‘The Truth’: An Examination of Gender and (Dis)ability in Wonder Woman.” As a part of the panel, “Feminist Theory and Contemporary Comics,” I will be presenting my research alongside Jocelyn Sakal Froese and Miriam Kent. Before the conference, I wanted to share my research with you all, including my conference proposal submission and the title slide of my presentation.

My paper began as a course project in the Spring 2018 and has continued to expand and evolve since I began. As a critical (dis)ability scholar and a lifelong reader of Wonder Woman comics, I knew I had to explore many of the poignant images featured in the Rebirth reboot, specifically the seven-part arc “The Truth.” 

I even include one of these images on the cover slide of my presentation, featured above. In addition to the image, I’ve also included the title of my presentation–a title inspired by the title of the arc itself–my name, institution, and Twitter handle. The latter three elements will appear on every slide in the presentation. Below my personal information, I have also included credit for the image used for the background (Wonder Woman (2017-2019) #15 by Greg Rucka). Each time art is featured, credit will also be provided on the same slide, as shown below. 

This will be my first time attending and presenting at a comics conference, so learning these appropriate presentation conventions before the conference from my peers on the CSS-GSC was so helpful (Thanks, Adrienne!). 

To share more about my research, I’ve included my conference proposal below: 

Wonder Woman and the sense of awe she inspires is in stark contrast to typical depictions of (dis)ability. Readers may find it difficult to associate Wonder Woman and her renowned visual representation with stereotypical characteristics of (dis)ability. Yet, one comic sought to change this. With the latest reboot of DC Comics, Rebirth, the creators of Wonder Woman designed a storyline that features Wonder Woman as a patient within Nightsong Hospital, an apparent asylum, crippled with the knowledge of her origin. The seven-issue arc explores the events that cause Wonder Woman’s admittance, her stay, and later release from the mental health facility.

This paper seeks to examine the ways in which (dis)ability and feminist theories intersect within one particular issue of this arc, “The Truth: Part One,” and how different elements of the comic enforce varying representations of (dis)ability and gender. Through the use of line style, panel transitions, and word picture relations, the writer, artist, and colorist collectively have issued a graphic text that visually depicts these conceptions. Additionally, throughout the single issue, repetitive themes and reappearances of certain elements create a sense of related narrative elements or general arthrology (Groensteen, 1999) that further assert a complex depiction of (dis)ability and gender. Throughout the presentation, these elements of the comic will be analyzed and critiqued using the feminist theory of (dis)ability to explore the myriad ways the creators have sought to portray the lived experiences of both (dis)ability and femininity.

My presentation is on Friday (full program). Come say hi, and let’s chat about Wonder Woman!

#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!

#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!