Call for papers for a guaranteed session at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention on January 5-8, 2023, in San Francisco, California. This panel is sponsored by the Comics and Graphic Narrative Forum.
What can comics tell us about accessibility and visual media? This panel invites papers that consider a range of topics and approaches relating to accessibility and graphic narrative: access needs of comics’ artists and audiences, disability as identity, and the framework of universal design. Universal design, a concept based in architecture and adapted for education, requires that creators begin with the assumption that users have varied access needs rather than make accommodations after the original design. This framework of minimizing assistive technology in favor of designs that accommodate all producers and users has immediate applications for what Casey Brienza and Paddy Johnson call “the cultures of comics work.” Building on scholarship that has explored comics’ representation of disability, such as that authored by Susan Squiers and José Alaniz, this panel trains its perspective on comics produced for and by people with varied access needs, including those who proudly identify as disabled. In other words, we hope to move beyond the implicit assumption that comics represent disability for abled readers, and instead center disabled people who engage in comics as creators, readers and subjects. We particularly welcome papers that take up these questions in view of the 2023 MLA Presidential theme, “Working Conditions.”
Key Questions to Consider:
- How do readers and artists with varied access needs work with comics?
- Who is involved in producing comics for the blind? Are visually impaired people collaborators?
- What are the differences between works conceived as accessible (such as Chad Allen’s Unseen) and those translated from visual formats to audio?
- How can comic forms be accessible beyond sightedness? For instance, what accessibility do webcomics offer for people with motor needs?
- Given the relationships between disability, poverty and precarious employment, how does the cost of comics influence readership?
- How do physical limitations, such as fine motor impairment, shape comics art and production? (potential examples include Emil Ferris’s paralysis after contracting West Nile Virus and Charles Schulz’ hand tremor).
- How do energetic limitations, such as those associated with chronic and invisible illnesses, shape comic art and production? (potential examples include Keiler Roberts’ multiple sclerosis-driven fatigue and Allie Brosh’s depression).
- How do artists discuss their disabilities when promoting their work?
- How do publishers foster equitable “working conditions”?
Please send 250-word abstracts and short bios by March 14, 2022 to Rachel Kunert-Graf (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Kate Kelp-Stebbins (email@example.com). Responses to individual submissions will be sent out by the beginning of April. All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by no later than April 2022.