Emerald City Comic Con

“The message that we send when we don’t represent the broader culture in our stories is that ‘You are other,'” said Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of Marvel’s Captain Marvel title and Pretty Deadly at Image. “… As a community, as an organism, it is a thing that makes us ill. It is actually bad for us.”

-Jefferson M. Robbins “ECCC: Rucka, DeConnick, and More on How Comics can be More Inclusive” at CBR

I recommend you do not read the comments. I never seem to be able to stop myself, unfortunately. Emerald City Comic Con was this weekend, and it was crazy. Several great panels, including this one. I didn’t make it to this panel, but I’d heard about it several times by the time CBR posted its review. I was at DeConnick and G. Willow Wilson’s Carol Corps panel, which seemed very much in line with this. One thing I’m noticing this year is a demand on the part of female fans to be respected and included. A Carol Corp meet-and-greet was the kickoff event for the con. Everywhere I turned I saw a Captain Marvel or Miss Marvel. Female creators were celebrated, and female characters were a lot of the draw. It’s good news, as far as I’m concerned, and about time. Right now Marvel seems to be paying better attention to its female fans than DC, and that seems to be going well for them ($$$). Hopefully, the industry will take notice.

SDCC Sells Out in Record Time

I’ve got some complicated feelings about the news that San Diego Comic Con, the biggest comics convention in the US, and one of the biggest in the world, sold out of tickets entirely in 72 minutes. The con has regularly been drawing over 130,000 attendees. Beware, this meanders a bit!
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Classes Brimming

 

 

I’m excited to announce that the last time I checked, the four classes being offered in Comics Studies for the the Spring 2014 term are full; some even have wait lists! The four classes are Intro to Comics Studies (ENG 280 by Veronica Vold), Superheroes and Beyond (ENG 399 by Ben Saunders), and two sections of Comics and War (COLT 370 by me).

This is great news for the Comics and Cartoon Studies at the University of Oregon and promises many full courses in the future!

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MARCH Discussion Recap

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On Valentine’s Day, we gathered to discuss March: Book 1, John Lewis’s memoir as adapted by Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. We originally meant to meet on the 7th, but this wacky winter hit Eugene with its second big snow storm of the year just in time to get in the CRG’s way.

We all enjoyed March, and could all imagine ourselves teaching it at some point. Considering its general marketing as a “children’s version” of the Lewis story, several of us admitted we did not expect the text to be so nuanced and formally innovative as it was. Below I will list the points of discussion and questions we raised:

  • Formal innovation of the text: extreme close ups on faces, varied and interesting panel transitions, complex page layouts–one particular topic of discussion was the image (on pg 27) of  Bible verse written onto young John Lewis’s body
  • We took note of John Lewis’s picture wall and were reminded of a similar picture wall in Isaiah Bradley’s home in Truth: Red, White, and Black. The picture wall is interesting both as a way to capture history, claim legitimacy, and in the way it mimics a comics page
  • MLK, Jr. presented in a very human light (first image, kind of tubby, in shirtsleeves, working at a desk–not the saintlike iconography we usually see)
  • Lewis has said that March was largely inspired by the 1957 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. We discussed the relationship between the two texts, with particular interest in the choice of medium/audience (comic books) and the use of framing narrative
  • Besides March, we also read the introduction to Howard and Johnson’s Black Comics. A large part of our discussion revolved around the question of what counts as black comics…this is particularly messy because Aydin and Powell are white men telling John Lewis’s story in a new format. Though it’s not connected to our group, this post by Qiana Whitted at the Hooded Utilitarian, along with its comments, presents the questions and concerns we discussed in a clear and concise way.
  • Though we did not have much time to discuss it before we had to disperse, we discussed the ways in which a comic text, and March in particular, formally reflects or undermines the nonviolent resistance espoused by King and Lewis. Josh argued that the encounter with the image is inherently violent in nature, and we are left to mull over how that may affect the text.

We look forward to seeing you next time. Our next text is slated to be Sowena’s Marzi, though we haven’t settled on a date yet.

Big news from the University of Calgary!

In an effort to establish itself as one of the top five universities in Canada, in 2011 the University of Calgary launched a “vision and strategy” called Eyes High, which focuses on “innovative learning and teaching and fully integrated with the community of Calgary” in order to “sharpen focus on research and scholarship” and “enrich the quality and breadth of learning.” One of the ways Eyes High is achieving its goal is by supporting exciting graduate (especially doctoral) research in emerging fields.

Well, it turns out that Bart Beaty is a professor at the University of Calgary. His list of comics scholarship credits includes:

  • Frederic Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, 2005.
  • Unpopular Culture; Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s, 2007
  • Comics vs. Art: Comics in the Art World, 2012
  • Translator, Theirry Groensteen’s The System of Comics (2007)
  • Translator, Jean-Paul Gabilliet’s Of Comics and Men (2010)
  • Various articles and book chapters

Beaty’s work is excellent overall, and I think Comics vs. Art–while not making all the headlines–is a seminal work in the discussion about comics studies’ place in the academy.

And you can get paid to work with him!

The Eyes High Doctoral Recruitment Scholarship will fund students for four years, at $25,000/year for Canadian students and $30,000/year for international students. Students must begin their program in either September 2014 or January 2015…

In addition to this funding, the Department of English offers competitive funding opportunities that include teaching responsibilities. Teaching duties would augment this Scholarship with an additional $16,000 per year (approximately – wages are set annually as a result of collective bargaining).

The successful candidate will be eligible to receive at least $41,000 in funding for four years ($46,000 if non-Canadian) to pursue a PhD in English [pursuing comics studies] at the University of Calgary under the supervision of Dr. Bart Beaty

I’m very jealous of the lucky students who get to take advantage of this excellent opportunity…and I’m also excited about the increasing institutional profile of graduate and doctoral comics studies research!

Lifetime Achievements

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Awards season is upon us, and two of my favorite artists were honored in the past week with Lifetime Achievement awards. We’ll skip over how old it makes me feel to hear that creators who have been cool and hip in my lifetime also being honored for their lifetime achievements and instead celebrate two worthy artists: Katsuhiro Otomo and Bill Watterson.

Otomo was honored with the Winsor McKay Award for lifetime achievement in animation at the Annie Awards. Otomo’s contribution to animation is undeniable–Akira introduced the world to Japan’s marvelous animation tradition like no other. If you haven’t seen it recently, I highly recommend revisiting the film. Newer versions have better dub voice acting (if that’s your thing) and subtitles, the sound has been remastered, and new, clearer prints have been made from the original film. Even without the updating tweaks, though, over 25 years from its debut the film’s animation remains absolutely stunning. It’s in the little things: notice Kaneda’s undershirt waving in response to an explosion, each of the hand painted windows on the building in the background. More than anything, Akira is a testament to the power and capability of hand-drawn animation. Few computer-generated films today look anywhere near as good as Akira does.

Watterson’s award is a little more surprising. Not because he won an award–I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love Calvin and Hobbes–but where. Watterson won the Angoulême Grand Prix for lifetime achievement in comics. For those who don’t know, the Angoulême International Comics Festival is France’s biggest comics festival, and its Grand Prix is possibly the most prestigious award in international comics…on par with, and quite possibly even more prestigious (due to its international reach) than the Eisner. Watterson is only the second American to win a Grand Prix–the first was Art Spiegelman (and he won just two years ago).

Again, Watterson’s excellence as a cartoonist, humorist, and visual storyteller means he deserves just about every award we can throw at him. However, the Angoulême has always favored the European tradition, and generally snubbed American comics. The American comics industry can’t complain too much about its being ignored by Europe–it generally ignores Europe right back. However, the tension seems to come down to a European belief that American comics tend to be childish, formally boring (if not primitive), self-centered, and uninteresting and an American belief that European comics are too mature in content, too pretentious, and too experimental to be truly viable in the American market. (Please note, I am not condoning these views; this is just the stereotype). I think those of us who study comics would rather defend against accusations of being too smart than being too dumb. The market for experimental and independent comics in the US has grown significantly in the past ten years; European artists like David B., Marjane Satrapi, and Jason are popular these days. As such, the European comics elites’ celebration of Watterson could point to an increasing cooperation between American and European markets, one that is only good for comics readers and scholars around the world.

Secondly, comics scholars tend to ignore comic strips in lieu of longer form graphic narrative. Certainly a few very influential artists like Winsor McKay, George Herriman, and Charles Schulz have the academy’s respect. But take a moment to consider the case of Alison Bechdel–she had been working for decades, gaining a huge readership through her strip Dykes to Watch Out For, but she didn’t really become a name in most comics scholarship until she published her memoir Fun Home. Watterson has often been floated as a name worthy of sitting beside the greats, but it’s important to remember he’s not that long ago. His strips were printed in newspapers in most of our lifetimes. Watterson’s award is a reminder to us to remember the breadth of the comics form and not ignore the “gag strips” because we think they’re a lesser form of art.

MARCH receives Coretta Scott King Honor

The American Library Association announced today that our next title, John Lewis’s March: Book One, is one of three Coretta Scott King Book Award’s “Honor Books” for writing. The award is given to African American authors and illustrators of outstanding books for children and young adults. The winner this year is Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be ElevenAlong with March, Walter Dean Myers’ Darius and Twig and Nikki Grimes’s Words With Wings also received honors.  Myers, Williams-Garcia and Grimes are all highly acclaimed writers, so this nomination not only speaks highly of March, but to the depth of quality work produced by African American authors for young adults.