Announcing Our MLA 2013 Sessions!

Join us there!

We of the MLA Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives are proud to announce our sessions for the 128th Annual MLA Convention, to be held 3-6 January 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. See below for our lineup—including our first-ever social event, a cash bar on Saturday evening, January 5!

Besides the sessions we’re sponsoring, there will of course be others in Boston devoted to comics (which we’ll list in a future post). Comics studies within the MLA continues to be a robust, very active area. Do bookmark this blog and check back in over the weeks to come, as the convention draws nearer! We’ll be posting abstracts of all the papers in our sessions by Dec. 15.

Note: Only a limited number of MLA sessions are open to the general public (see the MLA website here). That does not include the sessions below, which are open only to registered participants in the convention. For more information about the convention, including registration costs, see the homepage for MLA 2013.

Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel, by McGruder, Hudlin & Baker (2005 ed.)

132. Black Studies and Comics

Thursday, 3 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Back Bay D, Sheraton Boston

Presiding: Qiana Joelle Whitted, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia

  1. “(In)Visible Bodies: Rewriting the Politics of Passing in Incognegro, a Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece,” Christophe Dony, Univ. of Liège
  2. “Birth of an Imperium: Tragedy, Comedy, and the Graphic Representation of African American History,” Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice, CUNY
  3. “A Work of Its Time and a Timeless Work: The Spirit, Ebony White, and Will Eisner’s Legacy,” Andrew James Kunka, Univ. of South Carolina, Sumter

Two panels from Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza (2009)

303. Graphic Lives in Wartime

Friday, 4 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., The Fens, Sheraton Boston

Program jointly arranged by the Division on Autobiography, Biography, and Life Writing and the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Presiding: Linda Haverty Rugg, UC Berkeley; Joseph (Rusty) Witek, Stetson Univ.

  1. “Joe Sacco on Joe Sacco,” Julia Watson, Ohio State Univ., Columbus
  2. “Ethical Obligation in the Wartime Graphic Memoir: Theorizing the Face in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis,” Joseph Darda, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  3. “Atomic Bomb Manga,” Hillary Chute, Univ. of Chicago
  4. “Views from Nowhere: Journalistic Detachment in Joe Sacco’s Palestine,” Marc Singer, Howard Univ.

MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) 2012 poster, by Dan Moynihan

504. New England DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Comics

Saturday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., The Fens, Sheraton Boston

Presiding: Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant Univ.

  1. “Minicomics and the Graphic Nonnovel,” Isaac Cates, Univ. of Vermont
  2. “Comics Culture and Community: Providence,” Martha B. Kuhlman
  3. “‘Like Us Be Free and Bold’: Innovation, Rebellion, and Self-Reliance in Boston Minicomics,” Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State Univ.
  4. “The Illegitimate Sons of Superman: DIY Publishing and the Rutland Halloween Parade,” Craig Fischer, Appalachian State Univ.

Okay, so the mixer won't really be like this, but... hey, it's Hogarth!

657. Cash Bar Arranged by the Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Saturday, 5 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Independence West, Sheraton Boston

Please join us for this informal mixer—and help us chart our future! Members of the Discussion Group’s Executive Committee will be on hand to chat about our programming, our plans, and the further growth of comics studies at the MLA. We invite your input, and hope to connect with all those who are interested in comics scholarship. Not to be missed!

Snapshots: Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books, 7 Jan. 2012

The MLA Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives sponsored three successful panels for the MLA 2012 conference in Seattle, 5-8 Jan. 2012. Make that very successful panels: all three were well attended, lively, stimulating, and innovative. Sadly, we were able to get photos of just one, the last, “Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books,” which took place on Saturday evening, 7 January. See the images below!

This panel was packed, with a SRO crowd, and prompted an excellent discussion, thanks to the provocative work of panelists Perry Nodelman, Phil Nel, Michael Joseph, and Joseph Thomas. The panel was co-sponsored by the Comics Group and the MLA Division on Children’s Literature, and organized and moderated by Craig Svonkin and Charles Hatfield.

Thanks to our wonderful panelists and enthusiastic audience for an important, groundbreaking session. The following snapshots, despite being low-light and high-grain, document the experience.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-02

First up, Perry Nodelman presents on the work of Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, in both picture book and comic form. Joseph Thomas and Phil Nel look on at left.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-01

Perry Nodelman at the podium.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-03

Rapt listeners: from left, Michael Joseph and Joseph Thomas.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-04

Phil Nel looks on.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-06

Phil Nel reflects on the distinctions between comics and picture books and between genres and modes—and in the process he reframes the very idea of genre!

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-11

Phil Nel at the podium.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-08

Perry Nodelman and Michael Joseph look on.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-17

Michael Joseph explains how comics challenge the norms of book culture, and thus the very category of children's literature.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-15

Michael Joseph at the podium.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-19

Joseph Thomas contemplates.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-26

Joseph Thomas examines two different versions of Silverstein's "Uncle Shelby ABZ Book" to show how expectations of genre shape and limit our interpretations.

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books-25

Joseph Thomas rounds out the panel. Is this when he showed the pages from "Savage Sword of Conan"?

Our fondest thanks to our panelists, who made this a memorable and intellectually enriching experience. Proud to stand in your company!

If any of our readers have other pictures of this panel, or from other comics studies sessions at MLA 2012, please let us know. We’d love to be able to document the experience more fully.

2012 Sessions in Brief

We, the MLA Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives, are proud to announce our sessions for the 127th Annual MLA Convention, to be held 5-8 January 2012 in Seattle, Washington. See below for the lineup in brief—or click here to read the full abstracts for all sessions!

Besides the sessions we’re sponsoring, there will be several others in Seattle dedicated to comics. Comics studies activity within the MLA, to our continuing delight, keeps growing! We’ll identify these in a future post. Please bookmark this blog and check in the weeks to come, as the Seattle meeting draws nearer!

Note: Only a limited number of MLA sessions are open to the general public (see the MLA website here). That does not include the sessions below, which are open only to registered participants in the convention. For more information about the convention, including registration costs, see the homepage for MLA 2012.

Amazing Fantasy 15 (Aug. 1962), cover drawn by Jack KirbyAmazing Spider-Man 655 (April 2011), cover drawn by Marcos Martin

The Material History of Spider-Man: A 50th Anniversary Observance

Friday, 6 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Room 606, Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

  1. “Written in the Body: Spider-Man, Venom, and the Specter of Biopower,” Ben Bolling, U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  2. “Out of Character: Traces of the Real Spider-Man,” Samantha Close, UC Irvine
  3. “Tangled Web: Spider-Man’s Discontinuous Continuity,” Charles Hatfield, CSU Northridge

Respondent: Danny Fingeroth, New York, NY

Dog Head (Seattle Sun ad) by Lynda Barry (1979)Roberta Gregory's Naughty Bits 14 (Oct. 1994)Charles Burns' Black Hole (2005)

How Seattle Changed Comics

Saturday, 7 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Room 303, Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: TBA

  1. Ernie Pook and the Emerald City: Lynda Barry’s Seattle,” Susan E. Kirtley, UMass Lowell
  2. “Underground Aesthetics Turned Alternative Critique: Reconsidering Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits,” JoAnne Ruvoli, UCLA
  3. “Serial Trauma: Awaiting Charles Burns’s X’ed Out,” Christopher Pizzino, U of Georgia

Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen (1970)Posy Simmonds' Lulu and the Flying Babies (1988)

Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books

Session jointly arranged by the MLA Division on Children’s Literature and the MLA Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives

Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Room 303, Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: Charles Hatfield, CSU Northridge; Craig Svonkin, Metropolitan State College of Denver

  1. “Picture Book Guy Looks at Comics: Structural Differences in Two Kinds of Visual Narrative,” Perry Nodelman, U of Winnipeg
  2. “Not Genres but Modes of Graphic Narrative: Comics and Picture Books,” Philip Nel, Kansas StateU
  3. “Graphic Novels’ Assault upon the Republic of Reading,” Michael Joseph, Rutgers, New Brunswick
  4. “The Panel as Page and the Page as Panel: Uncle Shelby and the Case of the Twin ABZ Books,” Joseph Terry Thomas, Jr., San Diego State U

MLA 2012—The Material History of Spider-Man

Spider-Man in various guises

Session 371. The Material History of Spider-Man (A 50th Anniversary Observance)

Friday, 6 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m.

Room 606, Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

1. Written in the Body: Spider-Man, Venom, and the Specter of Biopower

Ben Bolling, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Psychoanalytic readings of the Spider-Man mythos may be augmented by considering the nervous preoccupation with biopower that undergirds the Wall-crawler’s fifty-year transmedia history. Considered within the frame of Foucault’s biopolitics, Peter Parker’s famous encounter with the irradiated spider leads not to his individual empowerment, but rather to the co-opting of his body (as he dons the red, white, and blue costume) for the purpose of policing the laws of the state. But if Spider-Man is a somewhat oblique rumination on the animating properties of biopower, then the creation of his villainous counterpart Venom in 1984’s The Amazing Spider-Man #252 (May 1984) manifests the terror of biopolitical subjugation in stark black and white. Although the creation of Venom seeks to alleviate the biopolitical anxieties fundamental to the Spider-Man narrative by displacing the specter of societal control onto a villain—a symbiotic creature that becomes first Spider-Man’s costume, then his antagonist—ultimately the character serves to underscore the force of biopower in shaping the actions of Spider-Man as well as his sinister reflection.

2. Out of Character: Traces of the Real Spider-Man

Samantha Close, University of California, Irvine

How do we know Spider-Man (of Marvel Team-Up) is Spider-Man (produced by the Toei Corporation for Japanese live action television) is Spider-Man (written by adogg5117 in fanfiction.net)? In my paper, I explore why creators and audiences keep coming back to Spider-Man. Through interdisciplinary textual and archival research, I analyze three very different re-appearances by the masked web-slinger and interpret them as embodiments of the trace, in Nancy’s sense—creations not of the author but of an author. I argue that these re-appearances work both to reference and contribute to a virtual cross-fictional level of cultural memory where the real, true Spider-Man “exists.” The death of the author, in other words, is the birth of the character. While some might view this idea with Baudrillardian concern, I argue that this complex phenomena is not historically novel. Looking back to textual-visual practices in medieval Europe reveals both similarities and differences that help explain the trans-fictional, cross-media Spider-Man of today.

3. Tangled Web: Spider-Man’s Discontinuous Continuity

Charles Hatfield, California State University, Northridge

The contemporary superhero comic book’s insistence on intertextual continuity—both within the adventures of a particular character and across a publisher’s entire line—engenders both narrative and ideological contradictions. This paper unpacks such contradictions as they manifest in The Amazing Spider-Man (multiple series, 1962-present), and more broadly in the whole fictive “history” of the Spider-Man character as published by Marvel Comics. Taking as a symptomatic example The Amazing Spider-Man #655 (April 2011), a dreamlike homage to the character’s past, I examine the revision of Spider-Man’s mythos starting in 2007-08, when the character’s twenty years of married life were declared never to have happened—albeit with an explanation that rationalized this change under the terms of continuity! Drawing on Eco’s analyses of serial structure (1962, 1990) as well as current work on superheroes, I argue that the life of the famously adolescent Spider-Man continually reverts to a basic blueprint meant to insure the character’s long-term commercial exploitability. Monthly iterations of the blueprint at once invoke the richness of Spider-Man’s material history and deny the opportunity for genuine novelistic growth in character. Commercial imperatives (from not only comics but also other media, e.g. film) reinforce the comics’ obsession with trauma, guilt, and penance even as the comics seek to offer an ever-renewable semblance of novelty. Ironically, then, Spider-Man’s history simultaneously cancels and reaffirms itself: the character’s traumatic losses and rites of passage are both emptied of force and overinvested with meaning.

Respondent: Danny Fingeroth, New York, NY

MLA 2012—How Seattle Changed Comics

Whiskey © Jim Woodring (from Comics Savants: A Survey of Seattle Alternative Cartoonists, 2009)

Session 399. How Seattle Changed Comics

Saturday, 7 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m.

Room 303, Washington State Convention Center

Presiding: Hillary L. Chute, University of Chicago

1. Ernie Pook and the Emerald City: Lynda Barry’s Seattle

Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State University

Lynda Barry moved to Seattle from Wisconsin as a child, and though she has said she “never was happy” there, she returns to the city time and again in her work, particularly in her long-running strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek and her semi-autobiographical collection One Hundred Demons. This paper explores how Barry chooses to render Seattle through her comic art and how the city influences the lives of the characters, including the artist herself.

Barry moved with her parents and brothers to a “racially mixed, lower-middle-class neighborhood” in Seattle in 1961, and it was there that she spent her formative years. This area haunts Barry’s works as an adult. Ernie Pook’s Comeek, which she penned for nearly thirty years, offers a rich, layered portrayal of a Seattle-based family, including brother and sister Arna and Arnold Arneson and their cousins Marlys, Maybonne, and Freddie Mullens. They aged little if at all over the years of the strip, yet they encountered rape, incest, bullying, neglect, brutality, homophobia, and, sometimes, a modicum of joy as well. Though pinpointing exactly when Ernie Pook takes place is difficult, it seems to occur around the time of Barry’s own childhood, in the late sixties and early seventies, with occasional jumps to contemporary moments. The setting, though it may feel general enough to be relatable to a wide audience, is clearly Seattle, as established by the numerous Pacific Northwest references. Ernie Pook’s Seattle is defined by socio-economic class: the children and their families suffer in rough neighborhoods, unsupervised, while mothers work at dead-end jobs. Fathers are largely absent, and the children do the best they can to be children in a bleak and desolate landscape marked by poverty and despair.

Barry revisits Seattle in her autobiographical strip collection One Hundred Demons (2002). The book focuses on her girlhood as mediated through her memory and her skills as a writer and artist, suggesting an archival record of personal history seen through the lens of time and technology. Demons frames and constructs Barry’s life, revealing a dark, disturbing childhood that the narrator ultimately survives. In this return to her hometown, Barry explores in greater detail the racial and ethnic tensions that marked her as “other,” as a Filipino-Irish-Norwegian girl with pale skin and red hair who could, and frequently did, pass as white. Barry also continues her examination of class divisions in Seattle, and how the scars brought by childhood traumas still haunt her, although she is many years and many miles away. Seattle is, for Barry, the city she can’t quite leave behind.

2. Underground Aesthetics Turned Alternative Critique: Reconsidering Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits

JoAnne Ruvoli, University of Illinois at Chicago

Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits (forty issues, 1991-2004) originated as a parody of the Fantagraphics’ Eros line of “pornographic” comics and evolved into a feminist series that influenced many of the comics by women that followed. This paper will examine Gregory’s roots in the underground comix of the 1970s–including contributions to Wimmen’s Comix and her own title Dynamite Damsels, which chronicled second wave  feminists in 1976–and how she satirized first the Seattle comics scene and then subsequent broader topics. Early issues target the sexist misogyny of Fantagraphics Eros comics, the masculine culture of the alternative publishing scene, and the earlier tradition of male-created underground comix by Crumb, Wilson, and Green in which women are treated sexually in a violent and degrading manner. The first episode of Naughty Bits turns the tables on a comix-reading husband and depicts a wife joined by a group of her angry friends who all participate in sexually mistreating the husband just as the women are treated in the comix he has been reading. The husband’s defensive comments (“This is Classic American Literature”) are countered by the women’s remarks, which range from addressing creator struggles (“Women have a HELL of a time getting into print at ALL an’ this sort of stuff gets reprinted all the TIME!”) to larger societal critique to inter-personal dynamics. Gregory combines feminist social commentary with depictions of graphic sexual acts rendered in a cartoonish expressionist style. The sexual imagery is complicit with the critique. Thus established as cutting-edge commentary, at least in the comics community, Naughty Bits went on to explore many of the topics that have come to dominate the recent comics boom: coming-of-age sexuality; historical periods, particularly the era of second wave feminism; illness management, such as cancer treatment; and even eldercare.

3. Serial Trauma: Awaiting Charles Burns’s X’ed Out

Christopher Pizzino, University of Georgia

Awaiting the next part of a serial is customary for comics readers, and we can differentiate various modes of waiting for various types of comics. Seattle-raised artist Charles Burns elicits a paradoxical kind of anticipation, since his finished serial work has expressed profound narrative ambiguity. Awaiting the second installment of Burns’s current serial, X’ed Out, we anticipate its incompleteness. Key to such anticipation is the way Burns encodes trauma, including the trauma to which US comics have been subject, into his work. Using fragmented memories and dreams about a traumatic experience that has befallen the protagonist, X’ed Out reconfigures the European comics tradition (particularly Tintin) in uncertain, heterogeneous relations to Seattle punk, and to postmodern intermedia art. While new plot details may emerge in the next installment, the fracturing effect of the trauma, and the splintered aesthetics expressing it, are what we anticipate.  In creating this kind of expectation, Burns has brought to serial reading a sensibility that can challenge postmodern/popular modes of expectation typical of traditional comics serials while also resisting canonical/literary modes of closure that even now remain tacit standards against which comics are judged.