The attendees and students of The Center for Cartoon Studies are still reveling in the Post-ICAF glow (a much needed one after Hurricane Irene). The comics scholarship presents a facet of the many-sided comics die we roll around; where appreciation of the art, collection and obviously production of new work are the sides CCS typically holds to. While Steve Bissette’s history class is like one long academic forum AND he requires his students to write many papers on long lost comics, it was a unique experience to hear many out-of-town voices.
The American Comic Strips Panel featured Lara Saguisag’s paper “Fantasies of Childhood” which studied the complex cultural negotiation and construction of childhood as seen through the panels of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo. She proposed, along with McCay, that children and Nemo serve a dual function: links to the past and actively moving to the future or as Saguisag succinctly put “backward turning yet forward-looking.”
Meanwhile, Roy T. Cook, a philosophy professor, led an impassioned talk on metafiction and Charles Schulz. Through the identification of terms like narrative metafiction and self-aware metafiction as well as the Peanuts strips they showed up in, Cook proved that Schulz detested the idea of putting the creator in a strip as cheating their way out of a creative block (authorial metafiction), but did not mind strips that played with the physicality of the page or intertextual strips where the characters recognized their black and white line-ness.
Building Post-Modern Geographies featured a grand assortment of scholars. David Allan Duncan of the Savanna College of Art & Design (SCAD) presented a 180 page slideshow as fast as he could to better define today’s creators and audience. From newspaper strips to comic book reprints to Scholastic Book Fairs to 4Chan, the potentials for input for those who want it is staggering.
Duncan even went to make an example of one his cartooning classes, showing their style influences at the beginning of the semester. Most students drop obvious styles choices or are able to weave those early influences into something wholly original to themselves.
Dynamic scholarly duo, Craig Fischer and Charles Hatfield proposed that comics would not be the same today without the grand wizardry of From Hell, a multinational book in that the creators and multiple publishers lived on many coasts.
David Berona, presented on the Art of the Woodcut Novel, introducing the audience to several known artists like Franz Masereel and Lynd Ward as well as newer woodcut artists like Babette Katz and Brendon Deacy.
The winner of the John Lent Scholarship Award, Lucia Cedeira Serantes, presented her current findings and research on Young Adult Readers of comics. While she had no concrete conclusions as of yet, her audience thus far were dedicated to fan reading (quantity over quality), disliked the word ‘graphic novel’ and do believe that libraries are a ‘place for exploration.’ It will be interesting to see the various levels of research Serantes will explore in her future work.
Meanwhile, the Publishing panel featured Ed Chavez of Vertical and Gina Gagliano of First Second. Chavez translates a lot of the manga published through Vertical from Tezuka’s work to a manga about a sweet little kitty called Chi’s Sweet Home. The panel ended up focusing on why publishers are good for creators but both representatives stressed the good that comes from self-publishing as well. The ‘power to make a book sell’ still depends on the book itself in addition to the amount of money put behind promotional material and marketing.
The Development of the Comics Form panel featured the ends and beginnings of many aspects of comics. Jennifer Babcock argued that Egyptian Ostraca are more like the beginning of comics than McCloud’s Egyptian wall paintings while Peter Sattler focused on the End of Comics. As we idealize the pages as a cohesive unit, what does the final panel of each page say to the reader versus the final panel of an entire graphic novel?
Kate Moody, a CCS second year student, presented her paper on the Rise of the Zinester Amid the Death of Print. On the premise of “out of the ashes of the current system that is wasteful, the zinester arises as the modern incarnation of a centuries old practice.” A theory that we rather endorse at an institution of higher learning and self-publishing production. Moody proved her point with a whopping historical review of the direct market and rarely profitable pamphlet (also known as your weekly floppy comic) is “so embued with magic that it is now a fetish.”
The Comics and Nation panel featured exactly what it promised which was a treat considering the comics shown were all still in their original languages. Pedro Perez del Solar compared two graphic novels on the same subject, Luchin Gonzalez and Rupay, respectively created during the start of the Internal Conflict of Peru (in 1980) and the other twenty years later. Each story activates the war in different ways while contributing “to the construction of a memory.” One of the thoughtful quotes Solar used was Susan Sontag’s: “Photographs do not make us understand. Narratives help us understand.”
CCS professor, Steve Bissette, held his own by presenting a theory on Dread Geometry and its use in comics, especially manga, using Junji Ito’s Uzumaki as his prime example. The three volume series is truly terrifying and one of the few books I’ve ever had to put down while reading to keep the images from staying in my head too long.
The publisher from abroad FRMK (pronounced FRE-mauk), including Anne-Francoise Rouche andErwin Dejasse, thrilled the audience with their own interpretation of outsider art also known as ‘ah, brute.’ Publishing comics made with non-traditional media, they are not unlike Canada’s own Drawn & Quarterly.
American Bande Dessinee Society ended the grand event with a presentation on French-Language comics. Bande dessinée or ‘drawn strips’ (comics, etc.) also known as BD have a rich and illustrious history with an “assigned value” according to Catherine Labio. Learned men and women read comics so BD has an elevated status in places like France and Belgium, unlike the United States until most recently.
Matthew Domiteaux from the Race and Class Panel
The students, faculty and alumni of CCS also held their own miniature Marketplace during the conference, selling their mini-comics, zines and anthologies to a very comics-focused group. It was a rare treat for the town of White River Junction as well, many locals bought comics from their own cartoonist neighbors. And not to get to meta-conference but it was interesting to observe the attendees while listening with eager ears; you could not help but notice the note-scrawling attentive eyes of the scholars versus the listening-but-still-drawing cartooning students, visible only by the tops of their heads.
Librarian, The Center for Cartoon Studies