MLA 2022 Non-Guaranteed Session CFP: Comics on the Border

(DEADLINE: 3/15/2021)

Call for Papers for a proposed non-guaranteed roundtable sponsored by the Comics and Graphic Narratives Forum to be held (if accepted) at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, Jan. 6-9, 2022, in Washington D.C.

Comics are defined by borders in formal representation and structure, in the boundaries between word and image and generic categories, in the networks and communities of mainstream and alternative production and circulation.

Beyond questions of form—borders created by panels and gutters—and audience—borders around communities of readership—borders materially contain, constrict, and dominate identities.  In Disaster Drawn, Hillary Chute considers the lines drawn by comics artists as shaping the space of witness; Chute’s intervention could be extended to examine who draws the borders containing and constructing subjects, and how do comics artists respond to such border-drawing with their own? Borders expose difference, hybridity, and processes of marginalization. This topic has been explored broadly by scholars including Pascal Lefevre (“The Construction of Space in Comics”) and more locally in works like Brenna Clarke Gay’s “Border Studies in the Gutter: Canadian Comics and Structural Borders” and Frederick Luis Aldama’s and Christopher Gonzalez’s edited volume Graphic Borders: Latino Comic Books Past, Present, and Future.  Comics exploring the concept and implications of borders, including through comics that cross genre borders, can be found in examples such as “Real Stories from Life Inside the Migrant Caravan,” by Gerardo Alba and Alice Driver published on The Nib, and in Mauricio Cordero’s anthology BorderX: A Crisis in Graphic Detail.

This proposed panel responds to the 2022 Modern Language Association Convention Presidential Theme, “Multilingual US,” which seems to affirm and reinstantiate troubling borders and identity categories. What makes the United States an important or coherent boundary? How does the framing of multilingualism define linguistic communities? How can comics engage implicit biases in the logics of literacy?

The session will critically examine texts, artists, collaborations, audiences, and means of production addressing borders in comics.  We emphasize the ways borders in comics allow for the thinking through of marginalized or hybrid identities, the material constraints on communities, as well as how comics might contribute to the creation of identity and community through production, circulation, and the making of audiences and networks.

Proposals are encouraged which consider representations and/or audiences that are on the border, beyond the borders of academic comics studies, of standard English, of national identity, of citizenship.  Papers that work to theorize comics through borders are especially welcome.

Topics to consider might include:

  • Porosity of borders
  • Barriers to border crossing
  • US borders: mexican/canadian
  • Sovereign borders of First Peoples; indigenous nations
  • Borders of communities (eg, barrio, “hoods”)
  • Respectability politics
  • Representations of borders
  • Cross-border collaborations between comics artists
  • Borders in and around communities of audience
  • Borders in and around material production and circulation
  • Generic borders/border-crossing in service of theorizing borders
  • Borders and race in comics
  • Borders and ethnicity in comics
  • Critical race theory: theorizing in/application to borders in comics
  • Comics as a form of activism related to borders, migration, detention
  • Affect and emotion
  • Linguistic “borders” and linguistic expression
  • Multilingual comics; cross-language collaboration
  • Hybrid languages, non-standard Englishes (eg, Spanglish, Indigenous languages)

Please send 250-word abstracts along with biographical note to Rachel Kunert-Graf ( and Janine Utell ( by March 15, 2021.

Please note: this is a proposed, not a guaranteed, session at MLA 2022. It is contingent on approval by the MLA Program Committee. All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by April 1, 2021.