Archive for Comics Studies

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.

Do the Gods Wear Capes?

Another set of congratulations are in order: this summer Ben Saunders’ book, Do the Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes was published in the UK and US by Continuum BooksSaunders is Associate Professor of English here at UO, curator of the Understanding Superheroes exhibit at the Schnitzer and the accompanying academic conference, the major figure behind the forthcoming Comics Minor here at UO, and an all-around swell guy.

The book itself is academically rigorous and imminently readable (not a common combination). It also has a kickin’ original Mike Allred cover. You can get the book through Amazon, but it is likely available through the campus Duck Store and several local bookshops. Congratulations to Professor Saunders on the new book!

Hey, Comics Scholars! Do you like free stuff?

And I mean the good stuff. Ian Gordon, author of Comics and Consumer Culture, has recently made the whole of the aforementioned book as well as many of his papers and chapters in other books, available for FREE! This is particularly great news as Comics and Consumer Culture has been out of print for quite a while now.

Material are available at Gordon’s academia.edu site HERE.

A Round-Up of Comics, 2010

We all know the criticisms of year-end “Top Ten” or “Best of” lists: they force critics to compare apples and oranges, critical praise and actual quality aren’t necessarily the same thing, and who really knows what makes one thing “better” than another anyway? I know all this. And yet, I read them. All the time. Because despite being flawed, “Top Ten” lists are really useful.

I personally prefer Top 9 3/4 Lists.

Like most of my fellow grad students (and almost everybody these days, it seems) I am busy. I don’t have the time to even keep track of all the titles coming out, let alone the wherewithal to read everything. And yet, as a comics scholar, it’s my job to know what’s out there. So I keep an eye on lists, if for nothing else than to get an idea of what’s making buzz, what titles will be popping up in paper abstracts, and, of course, titles I will add to my Amazon wishlist/ever-expanding reading list.

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