Conference 2019 Abstracts and Author Bios

Conference 2019 Abstracts and Author Bios

The following abstracts and bios were provided by the authors and are reproduced here (in alphabetical order) for your reference. Please do not recirculate them without the authors’ permission.

“Comics at Work: Labor, Gender, and Identity in the German Collective Volume Arbeit

Olivia Albiero

As recent scholarship shows (Marc DiPaolo’s Working-Class Comic Book Heroes: Class Conflict and Populist Politics in Comics, 2018), comics open up a creative space to explore questions related to labor, class, and social justice. The fifteenth issue of the German Spring magazinetitled Arbeit (Work, published in September 2018) confirms the role visual narratives play in fueling this conversation. The thirteen women artists, whose stories are featured in the edited volume, use comics, illustrations, and drawings to document the struggles and successes of working women and other characters, as they endure physical labor, attempt to balance personal and professional life, and struggle to take care of their mental health. My paper discusses the ways in which these graphic narratives differently use visual strategies to represent the complex relations between physical and mental labor, productivity and exploitation, as well as visible and invisible work. The red and blue palette, the use or lack of paneling, as well as the multiple combinations of lettering and images accommodate different narratives. Focusing on diverse forms of work, the artists in Arbeitforeground stories that question assumptions about women and underrepresented working subjects and show that, while work relations are still often dominated by traditional power structures and gender roles, imposed boundaries can be pushed. The  voices that emerge creatively address the ways in which physical and mental labor can ultimately shape and transform individual and collective identities.

Olivia Albiero received her Ph.D. in Germanics from the University of Washington and is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at San Francisco State University, where she teaches both in the German and Italian Programs. Her primary research focuses on storytelling in contemporary German-language literature, which she explores through the lens of narratology, as well as on the depiction of individual and collective stories in comics. She is particularly interested in the narrative representation of moments of rupture in literature and graphic novels, which often ensue from crucial experiences of physical and metaphorical mobility or lack thereof.

“Being Swamped: the Eco-ontological Praxis of Swamp Thing”

Tyler Ball

In 1984, Alan Moore first began writing Saga of the Swamp Thing(1984-7) in hopes of rejuvenating the series by reimagining its principle character. Initially Swamp Thing was cast as a human-plant hybrid that resulted from a scientific accident, however Moore reveals that the human, Alec Holland, has been dead all along and that Swamp Thing is sentient plant life instead. With this transformation come a number of significant revelations: first, that Swamp Thing as the embodiment of plant life now speaks with the voice of the green earth; second, that Swamp Thing’s actions may be interpreted as a form of plant-based planetary praxis, one in which the green world acts through its newly anointed champion; and third, that Swamp Thing remains haunted by the present absence of the human in nature, a haunting that speaks to the bonds that tie organic life together in all its forms, and one that bridges the binary distinction between Nature and Culture. With the collapse of these dichotomies, the human is represented not as a separate (elevated) ontological category, but as a single node within a dynamic network.

This paper uses Saga of the Swamp Thingas a jumping off point for theorizing a planetary praxis that is rooted in a state in which Swamp Thing often finds itself, that of “being swamped.” By treating the initial story arc as case study, this paper explores theories from the posthumanist turn: in particular the vibrant materialism of Jane Bennett (2010), the transcorporeality of Stacy Alaimo (2010), and the systems theories of Bruno Latour (2017). Building from these foundational theories, and engagingSaga of the Swamp Thingas rich repertoire of imaginative potentiality, I propose an eco-ontological praxis of becoming swamped.

Tyler Ball is a doctoral candidate and SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier research fellow currently studying English Literature at York University. His dissertation research focuses on representations of oceans in contemporary world literatures, with a particular focus on the Indian Ocean; however, his interests extend to ecocriticism, genre fiction, and comic books.

“Entre Bande Dessinée et Jeu Vidéo: Le Secret de la Licorne d’Hergé”

Haniyeh Barahouie

Les adaptations transmédiales constituent l’intérêt majeur de la « Tintinologie»d’aujourd’hui. En tant qu’une des formes de la transposition, l’adaptation est le processus par lequel une œuvre est modifiée. Cette opération est normalement réalisable à travers le passage d’un genre (langage) à un autre.

L’étude transmédiale de l’ensemble du Secret de la Licorne (2011) d’Ubi Soft soulève plusieurs questions sur le type de narration possible spécifiquement dans le cas d’un jeu vidéo. Cette recherche étudiera la narration dans deux contextes: La bande dessinée et le jeu vidéo. Il serait intéressant de voir comment il est possible de passer d’une narration linéaire et contrainte, celui de la bande dessinée, à une narration éclatée et interactive, propre au jeu vidéo. La mise en compte des reprises fidèles, les détournements du matériau d’origine des œuvres et la part d’invention sont autant de motifs esthétiques qui peuvent jouer un rôle crucial dans l’étude transmédiale du Secret de la Licorne. Lors de l’étude des jeux, nous étudierons comment le joueur s’engage avec le texte à différents niveaux. Comment le joueur comprend les règles, comment les joueurs définissent les objectifs pour eux-mêmes. Les jeux vidéos en tant que textes peuvent être abordés sous deux angles différents: comme des travaux liés à d’autres travaux et comme des œuvres qui peuvent être lues de différentes façons.

My dissertation argues how BD functions in its visual and narrative form in order to loosen the perceived boundaries between mediums.

“Premium Trash: Towards a Theory of Dubble Bubble Funnies”

Neale Barnholden

“It is the ambition of every newspaper cartoonist to get published in something that won’t be used to wrap fish in the next morning, and so, the other day, I was writing a book” (Al Capp, quoted in White and Abel 263)

Despite its prominence in consumer culture, the concept of trash is undertheorized. Anna Chromik-Kryzkawska notes the drive to reclaim trash as useful by granting the material a “mark of order and purposefulness” (106). The observation applies to academic comics studies, most notably in the historic move to read comics as valuable against their original garbage associations in North American culture. In this paper I offer a history and analysis of Dubble Bubble Funnies, a comic strip published in the wrappers of Dubble Bubble brand bubble gum since 1950. Dubble Bubble Funniessuggests a confrontation with the role of “trash” in the history of comics. By reading the comic contents of one particular bucket of bubble gum, I theorize that the way Dubble Bubble Funnies constructs value within their narratives is inextricably bound up in the relationship between comics and the still mysterious cultural category of trash.

Neale Barnholden is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Alberta. His dissertation addresses the relationship between comic book materiality and portrayals of value in American comics.

“What Were Comic Book Advertisements?: Towards a Different Periodization of the American Comic Book”

Bart Beaty

When advertising in American comic books is recalled, it is frequently for its kitsch factor. Advertisements for novelties like sea monkeys, x-ray spex, and plastic toy soldiers that dotted the pages of American comic book periodicals in the 1960s and 1970s are fondly recalled for their ability to construct an adolescent readership coded as playfully naïve. Yet a close examination of the actuality of comic book advertising depicts the American comic book – and its presumed audiences – quite differently, situating it as one part of a complex media landscape in dialogue with forms including film, television, and video games.

Drawing on the data provided by the What Were Comics? corpus of more than 3,000 randomly selected American comic books from 1934 to 2014, this paper will provide a deep dive into the long history of advertising in American comic books. Reading through the more than 30,000 advertisements coded in our corpus, this paper will suggest an alternative historiography of comic book reading based on the periodization of advertisements. The paper will also reflect upon the importance of advertising to the construction of the American comic book, suggesting that advertising plays a central organizing role in the shaping of fandom.

Bart Beaty is Professor of English at the University of Calgary. He is the author, editor, and translator of more than a dozen books about comics, including, most recently, Twelve Cent Archie and The Greatest Comic Book of All Time (with Benjamin Woo). His forthcoming work includes new editions of all four volumes of the Salem Critical Guides to Graphic Novels and the Comics Studies Reader (with Charles Hatfield). He is the principal investigator of the SSHRC-funded research project, What Were Comics?

Editorial Caricatures and Cartoons: How do they support circles of conversation? Middle Eastern Context

Houssem Ben Lazreg

Under dictatorial regimes, to caricature the head of state is deemed a dangerous venture, as if the persona of the ruler is sacred. In Tunisia, the revolution has allowed the emergence of controversial but talented cartoonists. Among them, there is “Z” who was already known for his blog before the fall of Ex-president Ben Ali. Z continues to denounce relentlessly the taboos of Tunisian society but he prefers to publish his drawings online under a pseudonym since he received threats.

In this paper, after giving a brief historical overview of satire and caricatures in both the West (especially of the French tradition), the Maghreb and the Middle East, I will then examine the drawings of “Z” aesthetically, thematically and ideologically. With a corpus of nearly 20 caricatures, I will focus in particular on the pre-Revolutionary Ben Ali regime and the post-revolution political actors such as Islamist Ennahdha party and current president Beji Caid Sebssi. I will also shed light on the influence of the French tradition of caricaturing, notably, Charivari and Charlie Hebdo on the work of “Z”. By drawing on methods from Cultural Studies and Translation Studies, I argue that while Z’s drawings target mainly a French audience and Western-influenced Tunisian elite, they represent an illustrative example of what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “Thick Translation” (1993), a translation “that seeks with its annotations and its accompanying glosses to locate the text in a rich cultural and linguistic context” (427).

Houssem Ben Lazreg is currently a Ph.D. candidate, a translator, and a teaching assistant of Arabic/French in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta in Canada. He was a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant of Arabic at Michigan State University from 2010–2011. His research interests include politics and translation, Middle Eastern graphic novels, and Islamist militant movements.

“The True North Strong and Free? Futuristic Visions of Canada in Canadians’ comics and What It Tells Us about US/Canada Relations”

Ofer Berenstein

Canadian creators have a long-standing place of respect in the annals comics history; mostly, in the mainstreamindustry and its superheroes narratives. There is, however, a growing number of works by Canadian creators, both within the North-Americanmainstream industry and independently, which asks to tell stories about Canadian affairs; a growing number of which about futuristic sci-fi visions of Canada, in particular. Sci-fi stories, as a genre contain more than the sum of their narratives in it. Arguably, sci-fi stories are like hypothetical sand box in which thinkers could imagine realities and conceive new ideas. To that end, this paper asks to have a closer look at futuristic sci-fi visions of Canada in comics by Canadians and draw conclusions from it about how Canadians feel about their southern cousins. Through a review of narratives such as We stand on guard(Brian K. Vaughan/Steve Skroce), USNA: the United States of North America (Allan Stanleigh/Harry Kalensky), and others, a picture emerges of distrust and anxiety of Canadian creators about the prospects of living in proximityto the US. From atomic annihilation to armed occupation, these comics tell another story, of the resilience and strong character of Canadian society and its character. So, is the north truly strong and free? Does it have to be one, in order tohave the other? Perhaps Canadian sci-fi comics has an answer.

“Suburbs, Funnies, Horror: Twisted Historical and Aesthetic Histories in Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina

Sam Boer and Alexa Hawksworth

Nick Drnaso’s Man Booker Prize-nominated 2018 work, Sabrina, presents itself as a potent case study into comics form and history. This work uses sparseness as its central tool in order to create a disorienting suburban world: text and image are unbalanced; panelling is ostensibly familiar but constantly varied; and the mediation of digital screens within panels challenge the reader’s navigation of the narrative in unprecedented ways. Drnaso’s simultaneous affirmation and transgression of comics norms renders this work of subtly horrific suburbia particularly affecting.

This presentation will dissect the interwoven historical and aesthetic histories that led to Sabrina. We will exploit our divergent academic backgrounds and expertise—as a Visual Arts student/scholar and an English student/scholar, respectively—in order to analyze a singular comics work in an unorthodox manner. We will explore how this work is informed by social history (the advent of Suburbia in the United States), media history (horror film tropes) and comics history (specifically in regard to the suburban-infused newspaper comics). Drawing upon contemporary comics scholarship (Chute, Postema, Karasik/Newgarden) and innovative research within our respective disciplines, this presentation will showcase the intersections between the English and Visual Arts scholarship, demonstrating the potential of these cooperative disciplines in studying comics. Ultimately, we will fuse paratextual research with close reading in order to prove how Drnaso’s work is simultaneously a newspaper comic, a grid-lined suburb, a horror narrative, and a precise reflection of modern, technologically-induced isolation.

Sam Boer is a master’s student in the Literatures of Modernity program at Ryerson University in Toronto. His research on sex narratives in the underground “comix” scene was presented at the Canadian Society for the Study of Comics in 2018, and his work on depictions of sound in comics has been recognized by the international Undergraduate Awards. His current research involves graphic narratives/comics and sexuality, specifically investigating how this evolving form can depict innovative narratives around sexuality and its potential as a pedagogical tool. Sam has also published on minimalist composition (Nota Bene, 2015), and creates experimental folk music under the moniker Samson Wrote.

Alexa Hawksworth is an undergraduate Drawing and Painting (BFA) student at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. Her work as an illustrator and painter explores the representational strategies of cartoons, recognized by the jury of the Helene Couture Undergraduate Award. Alexa also co-published the graphic novel Cartons in 2017, experimenting with formal conventions in comics and storytelling.

“Improvising Meanings in Abstract and Experimental Comics”

Mike Borkent

Miodrag and Cohn argue that comics studies continues to struggle with theoretical inconsistencies regarding how images and texts cohere into propositional understandings within and between panels. These concerns are particularly relevant in abstract and experimental comics, where pictorial and verbal cues are often non-representational and conceptually opaque but still prompt temporal, conceptual, and emotional understandings. Bukatman, Lefevre, and Baetens have argued for the significance of materiality and medium-specificity for the conceptual and affective richness of comics. Similarly, Herman, Kukkonen, and Bateman and Wildfeurer show that multimodal and medium-specific analyses benefit from cognitive research into embodied and discursive contributions to meaning. However, these approaches have not sufficiently engaged with the cognitive impact of the severe reduction and manipulation of communicative cues in abstract and experimental comics. Such texts typically stretch our definitions of comics and meaning, and force readers to engage with foundational qualities of comics including dynamism and stasis (Molotiu). I expand on this prior work by proposing a cognitive model of improvisation for when texts push beyond representational norms in “a departure from the reader” (Worden 65) through abstraction and experimentation.

I will develop a model of cognitive improvisation and embodied creativity by drawing on research into the processes of blending (Fauconnier and Turner) and mental simulation (Bergen; Borkent; Gibbs). These processes can illustrate how embodied, sensorimotor experiences and background knowledge can prompt improvisational inferential cascades that build towards propositional and even narrative meanings. I will examine several abstract and experimental comics that employ visual strategies that harness different perceptual cues of gesture, viewpoint framing, and object affordances (Arnheim; Borkent; Hutchins; Mittleberg) to describe the improvisational and interpretive opportunities they present. This model will also articulate how perceptual and cultural variables inform our readings of the abstract, locating aspects of universality and relativity in comics readings.

Mike Borkent holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of British Columbia, where he now teaches in the Arts Studies in Research and Writing program. He recently completed a federally-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary. He specializes in the study of visual poetry, comics, and cognitive poetics and has published several articles and reviews in such journals as Visible Language, Cognitive Linguistics, Canadian Literature, and Literature & Translation.

Gringo Love: The Possibilities and Challenges of Thinking in Image + Text in an Ethno-Graphic Novel Experiment”

Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan and William Flynn

In the last decade, non-fictional graphic novels and comics addressing complex social issues have gained increasing popularity, as exemplified by the emergence and proliferation of graphic journalism, graphic medicine, as well as autobiographical accounts and graphic memoirs. Scholars and teachers have also begun to explore the unique possibilities offered by the medium to communicate academic knowledge otherwise, given the distinctive combination of image + text the medium affords in meaning-making. In this paper, we draw on this emerging interest for the educational potential of comics and graphic novels, and we reflect on the process of making Gringo Love: Stories of Sex Tourism in Brazil. The project is a collaborative ethno-graphic novel experiment that draws on original ethnographic research conducted in Brazil and that follows a group of local women as they negotiate the terms of their intimate relationships with foreign men, or gringos, in the city of Natal. As apprentices with the medium, we reflect upon our first attempt to adapt academic research into graphic form,  including the many practical and academic challenges we faced with the process. In particular, we discuss the potential and limits offered by the medium’s unique modality, namely the combination of image and text in meaning-making which allows to know in different, rather than simpler, ways and to translate across different worlds. In the process of making Gringo Love, we thus became increasingly cognizant of the intricacies, complexities and difficulties involved in meaning-making in graphic form, while also aware of the medium’s unique ability to tell anthropology otherwise.

Marie-Eve Carrier-Moisan is an Associate Professor in Anthropology at Carleton University, in Ottawa. Her research work until now has mainly focused on various scales and spaces of political actions around gender and sexuality, including for her doctoral research, which consisted of an ethnography of global sex tourism in the city of Natal, Northeast Brazil. She has expanded this work into an examination of the campaigns against sex tourism/sex trafficking associated with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

William Flynn is an Instructor in Sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he teaches introduction to sociology and social theory. He is currently interested in exploring the use of multimedia as pedagogical devices with a particular focus on visual and aural forms of knowledge and learning, an area of interest initially broached through his research on travel guidebooks, photo-images, and oral conversational travel stories.

Editorial Caricatures and Cartoons: How do they support circles of conversation? Mexican Context

Lenny Massiel Cauich Maldonado

In November of 2014 a group of journalists led by Carmen Aristegui published an investigation about a case of corruption that involved the Mexican presidential couple. Later, in March of 2015 the group of journalists was fired from MVS Radio. Due to cases like the dismissal of the journalists, NGOs like Freedom House have ranked Mexico with the status of “not-free” regarding freedom of press. Their case shows that without freedom of speech, civil society is being left aside of political participation. One of the spaces that favored circles of conversation in newspapers and social media about the mentioned censored case was political cartoons.

In this article, I argue in favor of the need for an alternative journalism using political cartoons that at the same time create and support political participation among civil society. Interviews with cartoonists and their public show the effects of political cartoons published in newspapers and social media to create and support political participation. This indicates that political cartoons are an effective and needed means of communication to make people aware of political affairs. In conclusion, political cartoonsmay offer an effective resistance medium of conversation to attract citizens’ interest and help them voice their concerns.

Lenny M. Cauich Maldonado is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on political cartoons from Post-Revolutionary Mexico to present days. Lenny has an MA. in Spanish from West Virginia University and an MA. in Latin American Studies from Ohio University.

“Beyond Death, Disability, and Dependence: Depictions of Older Age in Comics and Graphic Novels”

Lucia Cedeira Serantes and Nicole Dalmer

In response to the pervasiveness of aging demographics (World Health Organization, 2015), there are increasing numbers of studies that examine media representations of older adults. These representations, however, primarily focus on film, television, and news sources (e.g. Smith et al., 2017; Rozanova, 2010; Shary & McVittie, 2016), with only one previous examination of older age depictions in comic strips (Hanlon, Farnsworth, & Murray, 1997). Couched within an understanding that representations of older age are socially constructed and are the product of political and economic forces, this session will discuss a subset of works that are part of a larger ongoing American Library Association-funded reading guide that collects comics and graphic novels depicting older adult characters and later life experiences. Complementing previous research on visual representations of death, loss, and illness (Czerwiec & Huang, 2017), and to challenge prevailing attitudes of aging as equated with loss and dependency, we purposively sampled titles that attempt to depict the fullness and complexities of later life. Discussing the findings, we cannot avoid but starting with the problem of delineating “old” in comics and graphic novels. We stay sensitive to stereotypical and ageist narratives that reduce a vibrant (and expanding) part of our population to segmented and marginalized snapshots. Our findings document what roles older adults play and how are they included, how characters “do” older age as narrated and visualized throughout the sample, and how characters learn to age against different societal expectations. This project ultimately seeks to highlight the breadth and richness in older people’s portrayals in comics, paralleling Harrington and Bielby’s call (2018) for further research on comics, fans, and aging.

Lucia Cedeira Serantes, MLIS PhD, works as an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College (CUNY). Her primary research lies at the intersection of young adults, reading, and public libraries, with an emphasis on the reading experience from the reader’s perspective. Her doctoral research received the John A. Lent Scholarship in Comics Studies at the International Comics Arts Forum. She has provided contributions to Plotting the Reading Experience: Theory/Practice/Politics (2016) and Young People Reading: Empirical Research across International Contexts (2018). Her forthcoming publication Young People, Comics, and Reading: Exploring a Complex Reading Experience will be available Spring 2019.

Nicole Dalmer, MLIS PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Trent University, where she researches the capacities of technologies to facilitate social connectedness in older adults. She recently completed her doctorate in Library and Information Science at The University of Western Ontario. Her SSHRC-funded doctoral research examined the invisibility of information work done by family caregivers of older adults living with dementia and the degree to which this work is recognized in aging in place policy and discourse. Nicole also studies and advocates for the development of more responsive public library services for aging populations. Her research has been published in Ageing & Society, Journal of Aging Studies, Dementia, and Library & Information Science Research.

Editorial Caricatures and Cartoons: How do they support circles of conversation? Canadian-Ukrainian Context

Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn

By 1914, there were no fewer than fifteen Ukrainian language newspapers and almanacs being published across Canada. Humour was a popular literary trend at that time and most issues included editorial cartoons, pages of jokes and humorous stories, and comic strips – providing a measure of levity that counterbalanced the challenges of integration and survival. Among them, the work of artist/author Jacob Maydanyk stands out. His characters, Uncle Shtif (Steve) Tabachniuk [Вуйко Штіф Табачнюк] and Nasha Meri (Our Mary)[Наша Мері] were voices of an immigrant minority; often reflecting the humour of embarrassment rooted in ignorance, of being fresh or “new at the game”. This paper examines the ease with which immigrants related to the broken English dialogue as well asmisadventures and ineptness; and how the themes appealed to the community as they, together with Uncle Shtif and Meri, were dealing with similar issues of ‘individual rights’, ‘private enterprise’, ‘gender (in)equality’, and ‘miscommunication’

Larisa Sembaliuk Cheladyn is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, and a lecturer in illustration at The Kings University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The focus of her research is on Ukrainian immigrant cartoons published in Canada during the early 20thcentury.

“#Comicsgate – The Backlash Against Diversity and Inclusion in Comics”

Erika Chung

Comicsgate is an online harassment campaign that targets comic creators and fans that advocate for diverse and inclusive representation in superhero comic books. People who identify with Comicsgate claim to be long-time dedicated fans, but they reject diverse and inclusive representation because it is seen as the politicization of superhero comic books. This is ironic when considering how social, cultural and political landscapes have always influenced superhero comics (DiPaolo 2011), such as how Captain America originally debuted during the Second World War. Therefore, it is worth examining the significance of Comicsgate, its key figures and goals in light of changing attitudes regarding having greater diversity and inclusion in comics.

This paper argues that Comicsgate is a reactionary harassment campaign that aims to silence and exclude women and people of colour from the comics industry and fandom because they do not want their visibility and dominant position as “true fans” to be challenged or questioned. Using the theoretical frameworks of communication (Park 1938; Carey 2008) and community (Dewy 2016), this paper will examine the significance of Comicsgate and its online harassment campaign. Additionally, this paper will engage with the works of Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991), Carolyn Cocca (2016), Ellen Kirkpatrick (2016) and Rukimi Pande (2016) in order to understand how issues of race and gender are situated in Comicsgate, and how important online visibility plays a role in how Comicsgate participants silence and marginalize women and people of colour in comics culture.

Erika Chung is currently a first year PhD student in the joint Communication and Culture program at Ryerson University and York University. She was a recipient of the 2017 Canada Graduate Scholarships-Master’s competition. Her research interests include fan studies, comic studies and intersectionality. She can be found tweeting @erikachung182

“Wakanda Forever: Exploring the Wakandan-ness of Black Spaces”

John Craig

Marvel’s Black Pantheranswered the question of what Africa could have been had it not been underdeveloped due to European involvement and colonialism. The film unlocked people’s imaginations, not just about the future of African culture, but also what can happen when you allow Black people to develop freely from detrimental outside forces.  The beauty of the fictional nation of Wakanda was in its ability to maintain traditional African practices, customs and spiritual systems in the wake of tremendous technological and scientific advancement. Following the release of film, multiple think pieces in academic journals and online newsites reflected on the importance of real Black intellectual, cultural and communal spaces that were safe from oppression and external harm. They claim that Black people currently have no spaces that could possible compare to Wakanda. 

I propose Wakanda is not some mythical place only found in comic books, but exists in actuality throughout the diaspora. Using an Afrofuturist perspective and bell hook’s concept of  homeplace, I assert that there are spaces of Black excellence that appear lackluster to the outside (White) world, but in reality are hidden jewels of thriving Black spaces that encourage survival, creativity, brilliance, and innovation. These “Wakandas” are African American institutions and neighborhoods such as Baldwin Hill in Los Angeles, Cascade Heights in Atlanta, Ooo’s and Aahs in Washington D.C., the Breakfast Klub in Houston, and the numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that produce some of the most accomplished and brilliant Black minds in the Africana diaspora.  By demonstrating the Wakandan-ness of these spaces where Blackness thrives, I reveal that Black people throughout the world do more than struggle against oppression or subversion in these spaces but use them to build advanced Black futures away from the world.  To quote an African proverb, “A farmer who cultivates near the roadside will be always be eyed by the robbers”.

John Craig is a doctoral student at Temple University in the Africology and African American Studies Department. His research focuses on the images and culture of African and African Americans within sequential art. Prior to enrolling in Temple University, he was a middle school social studies teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a master’s degree in Africana studies from University at Albany, SUNY and a B.A. in History with a concentration in Secondary Education from Morehouse College.

“De Tintin au Congo à Maison sans fenêtre : les récits graphiques, fenêtres ouvertes sur l’Afrique subsaharienne”

Pierre Dairon

Tintin au Congo (1930) est reorésentatif des bandes dessinées produites enFrance et en Belgique au début du 20e siècle. Dans ce récit, le jeune journaliste belge Tintin explore le Congo belge et aide les populations locales africaines à régler leurs divers problèmes, qu’il s’agisse de guerre tribales ou de maladies. Il les protègent de bêtes sauvages en les tuants par dizaines, de Blancs sans scrupules venus exploiter leurs ressources, et ils les éduque en donnant un cours d’histoire à de jeunes enfants africains en leur vantant leur mère patrie, la Belgique. Quelques décennies après la publication de cet ouvrage canonique et controversé, les puissances coloniales européennes se sont en grande partie retirées de l’Afrique et l’auteur Hergé a remplacé dans les éditions plus récentes, ce cours d’histoire par un cours de mathématiques. La population africaine y reste malgré tout présenté comme naïve, sans réel pouvoir, non éduquée, non civilisée, et soit sous la protection du Sauveur Blanc, soit à la merci de capitalistes blancs d’Europe ou d’Amérique. Jusqu’à récemment, des générations d’enfants ont vu leurs représentations de l’Afrique et des Africains modelées par ces récits caricaturaux, montrant des personnages aux larges lèvres, maîtrisant le français de manière très approximative, et infantilisés dans leurs paroles et leurs actes. Ces histoires avaient notamment pour but d’attirer les Européens vers les colonies. Plus récemment, des artistes et auteurs de romans graphiques africains se sont réappropriés cet imaginaire et ces représentations de l’Afrique en racontant leurs propres histoires sous le couvert de projets souvent transnationaux et transcontinentaux. Dans cette présentation je montrerai combien l’essor de la bande dessinée dans les pays d’Afrique francophone s’est notamment accéléré au début du 21esiècle pour ne plus seulement s’intéresser à des récits fictifs. Les BD africaines abordent des phénomènes historiques, sociaux, politiques et culturels qui permettent de réécrire l’Afrique en utilisant le médium et la langue des anciennes puissances coloniales. Maison sans fenètre (2018) par exemple, est un projet multimédia transnational sponsorisé par Médecins sans frontières et qui raconte le destin tragique des enfants soldats en République centrafricaine. L’histoire combine un récit graphique journalistique, des photos, des interviews d’enfants et de travailleurs humanitaires et propose un site internet qui offre des vidéos en 3D et des enregistrements audio qui permettent au lecteur de complètement s’immerger dans le récit. Bien que ces récits récents soient destinés à une large audience en offrant des histoires plus facilement accessibles que des livres classiques, ils n’échappent pas aux dynamiques postcoloniales puisque le français reste la principale langue d’usage et que les maisons d’éditions sont pour une grande partie situées en France.

Pierre Dairon est professeur assistant de français à Kenyon College où il enseigne le français et la littérature francophone. Depuis quelques années il s’intéresse en particulier à la bande dessinée et il a enseigné plusleurs cours sur le sujet.

“Navigating the ‘Metapolis’: Boundary Transgressions and Liminal Identities in Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder: Sin-Eater

Alice Drysdale

This paper explores self-identity construction as it relates to liminality and the act of transgressing boundaries (spatial, social, and personal) in the comic series Finder: Sin-Eater. This is achieved through an examination of the interrelations between the boundary crossings inherent to the comic’s form (the boundaries between word and image, panel and panel, and the act of closure that spans such boundaries) as well as the specific visual motifs of this comic, and the characterization of the protagonist Jaeger in his identity, interactions with other liminally-defined characters, and navigation of physical space.

Understanding liminality in Jaeger’s representation makes sense of the contradictions in his identity and actions and reveals a representation of crossing boundaries as a productive act—productive both for the identities and development of the characters who regularly engage with those crossings, as well as productive to the progression and development of the narrative on a formal level. The productiveness of boundary crossings and the liminal space found at the border itself is represented not, however, as a wholly positive act, but rather one rife with personal and social danger. Sin-Eaternonetheless represents boundary crossings and liminality as offering opportunities for the construction of self-identity and engagement with one’s world outside of societal norms and beyond imposed limits.

The paper builds upon theories of geo-spatiality, liminality, and boundary-studies from Gloria Anzaldua, Bertrand Westphal and others, as well as comics criticism from Barbara Postema and David Carrier.

Alice Drysdale is a Doctoral Candidate in the English Dept. at Queen’s University. Her research interests are centered on 21stcentury fantasy narratives with an emphasis on liminality and self-identity construction, and a particular focus on boundary transitions and spaces of the afterlife.

“I’m a Refugee, Draw My Story”

Tamara El-Hoss

The current global migrant crisis has inspired numerous comics artists/journalists to draw and tell the stories of refugees and/or migrants to a Western audience; as a medium, comics cross linguistic barriers, give a voice to the voiceless, and facilitate communication across boundaries. There has recently been an abundance of comics in various languages, published in print or as an e-publication, based on interviews with refugees and/or migrants.  How and why are these stories being drawn/told?  Whose stories and testimonials are being illustrated and narrated?  In other words, whose voicesare drawn?  And lastly, what drawing techniques and strategies are being used to “tell” these stories?

The purpose of this paper will be to focus on three works whose narratives follow the path of African and/or Middle Eastern migrants/refugees, some of which are in movement towards their intended destination, while others lay still in guarded camps.  These works are: Border Crossing – Comics (edited by VilleTietäväinen, 2016), La Fissure (by Carlos Spottorno and Guillermo Abril, 2017), and Drawn to Berlin: Comic Workshop in Refugee Shelters and Other Stories From a New Europe (by Ali Fitzgerald, 2018).  All three are excellent examples of how the comics form is a hybridized mix of images and words that transcends borders and boundaries.

Tamara El-Hoss is an Associate Professor of Francophone Studies in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures, at Brock University, in Ontario.  Her recent research focuses on (im)migrant identity (gender roles, queer identity, trauma, exile and diaspora) in comics, graphic novels, bande dessinée, and the arts.

“Jagged Lines and X’es: A Lexicon of Pain in Comics”

Ariela Freedman and Kalervo A. Sinervo

Comics excel at depictions of violence. From the Yellow Kid being playfully hit by a train to Superman landing a right hook on Metallo’s jaw, comics content is historically rife withdepictions ofgraphic brutality.But it may be harder to make a case that comics are equally robust at depicting the consequences of such action. What language do comics turn to in communicating injury and pain? Cartoonist Mort Walker’s 1980 book The Lexicon of Comicanaoutlines a number of symbolia employed by the comics medium to simulate myriad real-world sensations through metonym and metaphor. From the cross-hatched lines of a bruise in a Calvin and Hobbesstrip to the metaphorical diversity representing deep inner wounds in Georgia Webber’s Dumb,comics have a broad vocabulary when it comes to pain. Though a wealth of comics criticism focuses on trauma (Chute,Chaney, Leone, Doney) a dearth of writing addresses its embodied cousin, pain (Freedman).

This paper presents research underway into the area of comics and pain, arguing that contemporary comics have transformed the pain-language identified by Walker in historical parallel with discursive possibilities in frameworkssuch as art criticism, structuralism, and psychology. What techniques are identifiable and categorical in comics both graphically and narratively when depicting pain and suffering? And how do comics communicate restorative processes like treatment and healing? Even more importantly, can we identify concrete shifts in this lexicon over time and contextualize them? Our presentation solicits feedback on establishing a pain lexicon for comics and examining the semiotics of pain in the historically shifting and generically situated language developed by the medium.

Ariela Freedman is an Associate Professor at the Liberal Arts College, Concordia University, Montreal. She is the author of Death, Men and Modernism (Routledge, 2003) and has published articles on modernism, James Joyce, trauma, representation, and the First World War, and contemporary literature and graphic novels in journals and collections including Modernism/modernityJJQ, Journal of Modern Literature, Literature Compass, Joyce Studies Annual, Partial Answers and TSLL. She currently holds a SSHRC grant on the subject of comics and pain. She is also the author of the Segal-award winning novel Arabic for Beginners (Linda Leith, 2017) and the upcoming novel A Joy to be Hidden (2019).

Kalervo A. Sinervo is a recent graduate of Concordia’s Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD program, where he used Gotham City as a case study in his dissertation on transmedial techniques in pop-culture franchises. Kalervo has published widely on digital comics,piracy,and games in such venues as Loading…Amodern, Widescreen Journal, and the collection Make Ours Marvel: Media Convergence and a Comics Universe. He also previously served as the English Communications VP for the CSSC (2014-2018). Catch up with Kalervo or get in touch on Twitter @kalervideo.

“Comparing Shared Studio Cultures and Career Scripts”

Keith Friedlander

The past few years has seen increasing research into the social worlds that produce comic art. Casey Brienza and Paddy Johnston’s edited collection Cultures of Comics Work(2016) gathered essays examining a myriad of cultural scenes within the larger comics world. Brienza specifically has called on scholars to examine the forms of cultural labour typically overlooked in literary-focused scholarship, and to consider how that labour is shaped by local work cultures. To this end, Benjamin Woo’s contribution to the collection focused on a documentary on the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design (RAID), a Toronto-based artist’s collective. Woo describes how the documentary narrativizes a particular career script, which culminates in one artist’s pitch of a creator-owned project to BOOM! Studios. Woo’s essay raises questions regarding how these communal studios construct narratives of career success and perpetuate ideals of auteurism amongst their participants.

Collaborative work studios play an important role in the career development of comic artists. In addition to creating social spaces for artists to collaborate and learn from one another, they are increasingly becoming sites of training and professionalization. For instance, in addition to providing communal studio spaces, Helioscope studios (based in Portland, Oregon) and Cloudscape Comics Society (based in Vancouver, BC) each run mentorship programs and promotional services for artists. In light of the questions raised by Woo, it is worth considering how these studios might construct and perpetuate narratives of success amongst their artists.

I propose to write a conference paper that compares the way different shared studios foster (or limit) concepts of career trajectories for their artists. Drawing upon primary interviews and promotional materials, my paper would report on the functions and supports provided by these three different studios, as well as compare and contrast their respective work cultures.

Keith Friedlander is a communications instructor at Olds College in Alberta, Canada. In 2016, he completed his doctoral thesis on authorship in the Romantic era writer’s market through the University of Ottawa. His research focuses on concepts of public and private agency in both nineteenth-century print culture and the modern comic book industry. His work has appeared in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics.

“Public-Facing Feminisms: Subverting the LetterCol in Bitch Planet

Brenna Clarke Gray

In a 2017 article published in JGNC, David Wright and Brenna Clarke Gray argue that Issue #7 of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s feminist exploitation comic Bitch Planetradically revises assumptions about the reader of comics by opening with a trigger warning that both acknowledges the woman-identifying reader as primary and grants permission to skip the issue entirely, thus challenging the completionist ethos of comics fandom. This re-envisioning is part of what has made Bitch Planetwildly successful with so-called non-traditional comics readers.

This paper builds on the significance of Bitch Planet’s use of trigger warnings to argue that the reimaging of the LetterCol as a space not for gatekeeping and critique but for feminist community and education is perhaps the most notable radical innovation of the comic. Bitch Planetnot only demands space for feminist conversation on the shelves of comics shops, but it aggressively insists that the feminisms it showcases be inclusive, diverse, radical, and plural. Franklin E. Morris III has argued persuasively that LetterCols in mainstream comics often gave marginalized fans an opportunity to feel they had influence on comics, encouraging them to be more progressive socially or politically; here, however, the creators expressly craft that space to do progressive social justice work and invite underrepresented voices to speak on issues raised with the comic. The Bitch PlanetLetterCol is a radical reimagining of the role of comics and their interactions with fans.

Along the way, this paper will strive to unpack what it means to call some fans “non-traditional comics readers” and reconsider what assumptions we unwittingly reify when we do.

Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature from the University of New Brunswick, where she was a Canada Graduate Scholar. She is a faculty member in the Department of English at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia. Her research interests include Canadian superheroes and representations of Canada in mainstream American comics. She can be found on Twitter @brennacgray.

“Bound for the Promised Land: Pursued by Darkness in Kleist’s Johnny Cash”

Justin Harrison

Reinhard Kleist’s mythic novel Johnny Cash: I see a Darknessis a dark biographical account of the famous rebel country singer. In Kleist’s portrayal, the singer is in constant motion, forever pursued or engulfed by a darkness that impels Cash across cultural boundaries of family values, lawfulness, and popular music. Cash’s life is always on the move, at the chaotic edge, an interpretation of the singer’s life enhanced by Kleist’s choice to illustrate his panels with an inky, dynamic energy, never at rest.

In a visually arresting black and white style, Kleist’s life of Cash is imbued with literal darkness, dramatically enhancing the figurative darkness of the biographical narrative. The text portrays Cash as a restless outlaw personality propelled by a need to keep moving, an angular ball of frenzied energy running up against boundaries he didn’t know were there.

Kleist’s powerful brushwork certainly provides the text with its main appeal and energy, and serves to support the dark life he portrays. Yet at the same time the triumph and tragedy text is at times problematic due to a somewhat hollowed narrative core. The reader is at times left wondering what at heart is driving Cash to rebelliously cross boundaries. This paper seeks to explore how, in creating a biographical visual narrative focused on dark rebellion, Kleist demonstrates the singer’s anti-authoritarian impulses as an expression of his uncertain fate. Will it be to the promised land of liberation and salvation, or to somewhere darker?

Justin Harrison has been an academic librarian for 15 years, and is currently the Coordinator, Learning & Research, at the University of Victoria Libraries. He has an ongoing interest in media literacy and graphic novels. During his career he has presented a number of papers concerning graphic novels, from the learning and teaching of graphic novels in university to the cinematic qualities of Lucky Luke bandes dessinées.

“How to Be a Hero in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: Understanding Trauma Through Dismantled Hero Re-Constructions”

Shoilee Khan

This paper examines hero re-constructions in the graphic novel Persepolisas a method of accessing and processing collective experiences of trauma by bystander witnesses. It pinpoints the young protagonist Marji Satrapi’s fascination and hunger for a tangible connection to a battle-scarred hero as a signifier of the ways in which great social unrest yields an urgent desire in the populace for representational figures of fortitude and triumph. Through an analysis of the ways in which the archetypal world of the monomyth informs Marji’s conceptualization of the hero as someone who has endured great suffering and, as the archetype dictates, returns home beleaguered and forever changed (but triumphant!) this paper demonstrates how Marji’s hero ideation simultaneously fulfills and disrupts this heroic framework.

This research demonstrates the ways in which a child-witness accesses trauma through conceptualizations of the hero figure and functions as an intermediary for negotiating and processing extreme instances of trauma. As Marji progresses through her own narrative, she bears witness to the onset of the Islamic Revolution, its immediate effects on the socialist-secularist circles that her family actively associates with, and the eventual onset of the Iran-Iraq war that results in a pivotal moment of rupture in her life. Throughout these social and historical upheavals, Marji attempts to gain access to trauma through the ideation of heroic figures that embody the trauma she does not and cannot encounter directly. Her position as child-witness necessitates a processing of trauma by first negotiating the lackof direct traumatic impact on her life, body, and family. Ultimately, this research shows that for Marji and by extension, for removed witnesses, that is, witnesses who are not directly impacted by trauma, but are privy to its effects through exposure to story, accessing trauma through intimate connections is a necessary stage in processing and understanding its impact.

Shoilee Khan is a doctoral student in English Literature at York University. Her fiction appears in the short story collection The Unpublished City (BookThug, 2017) as well as in a diverse collection of magazines and journals, including Adbusters, Room Magazine, The New Quarterly, and Other Voices. Her academic work most recently appeared in Confluences 2: Essays on the New Canadian Literature (Mawenzi, 2017). She was long listed for the 2017 CBC short fiction prize and is serving as a member of the Planning Committee for the Festival of Literary Diversity. She has also taught English in the School of Communication and Literary Studies at Sheridan College.

“Fire in the Jungle: Genocide and Colonialism in Russel and Pugh’s The Flintstones

Orion Ussner Kidder

DC Comics’ The Flintstones(2016 – 2017) is part of its “Hanna-Barbera Beyond” series, extreme reimaginings of extremely tame cartoons of the sixties and seventies. It is the kind of mixture of an iconic entertainment property with a scathing (if blunt) social critique that corporate American comics are specifically positioned to produce. DC Comics, in particular, is a thoroughly mainstream publisher that, nevertheless, has a small and ever-falling readership, which means that odd experiments like this one are allowed to exist because they little to lose and much to gain. They are, in a word, stunts. This particular Flintstonescomic book is a cross-media adaptation—i.e., a remediation—that significantly alters the visual universe of the original cartoons rather than replicating it, which signals a  critique of the values that underlay the original, specifically the projection of middle-class American consumer-capitalism into the pre-historic world. The implication of the cartoon was, then, this (consumer-capitalism) is as it ever was, every where, especially so coupled with its sister show, The Jetsons, which had the exact same premise but projected into the future.Russel and Pugh’s The Flintstonesexaggerates this premise by supplying a context around middle-class American consumer-capitalism, thus acknowledging violent displacement of indigenous people, self-destructive militarism, exploitation of labour, and most of all, the sheer emptiness of consumption. By doing so, The Flintstonessteps outside the obliviously American-centric bubble of the original show. However, in another adaptive move, it includes a science-fiction element—a judgmental alien species testing humans for their fitness to survive—that once again presupposes Americanness to be universal, this time projecting it into space rather than across time. Thus, while the book forcefully condemns many elements of American society, it is still not quite able to think outside of it, to recognize that it is not as it ever was, every where.

Orion Ussner Kidder was born on Vancouver Island, and the memory of being surrounded by wet trees has never left him. He grew up in Vancouver where he attended Simon Fraser University, obtained a Masters in Ontario from Queen’s at Kingston, and a Doctorate from the University of Alberta. He currently teaches at Columbia College and SFU in composition, drama/Shakespeare, and comics. He has published several articles on comics and writes reviews for the “American Comics” section of The Year’s Work in English Studies. He now lives in North Vancouver with his wife, their two children, and a very fluffy cat.

“‘Esteemed Mr. Forward Editor, Give Us Advice’: Comics as Graphic Stage for Letters Jewish Immigrant Experience of Old New York”

Walter Lai

Amidst the ongoing practice of artists adapting texts of life-writing for comics, A Bintel Brief(2014) by Liana Finck stands distinct for being an adaptation of epistolary. Meaning ‘A Bundle of Letters’ in Yiddish, A Bintel Briefwas the advice column of the Yiddish newspaper The Forwardin the early 20thcentury, where Jewish immigrants of old New York anonymously wrote letters asking ‘esteemed’ editor Abraham Cahan for advice regarding various struggles of their new lives. As she reads through the letters, Finck converses with Cahan’s ghost and later talks to her grandmother over why she sent Finck the notebook of column clippings.

Drawing upon Rikke Platz Cortsen and Erin La Cour’s joint thought of comics enacting Edward Soja’s concept of ‘thirdspace’, the first part of this paper explores how comics functions as a stage whose visual space can enable destabilized and productively blurred boundaries between real and imagined spaces, and between the present world and the historical past’s departed reality. Within this space, Finck ‘draws out’ the epistolary communication between anonymous writers and Cahan and the subjectivities as originally relayed in writing, to stage her ‘panorama’ of what Finck remarks as the ‘timeless’ daily realities of ‘raw desperation and hopefulness’ of past Jewish immigrant experience. The second part of this paper analyzes Finck’s conversations with Cahan’s ghost and her grandmother in context of the relationship between fictional reality and truth. Invoking Slavoj Žižek’scritical insight of fiction as an excuse to stage and better enact who and what we truly are, Finck’s conversation with her conjured ghost serves to affectively frame the past as embodied and voiced through Cahan within the poignancy of Finck’s present, while underscoring the author’s own subsequent subjectivity.

From A Bintel Brief’s example, this paper overall discusses how, bringing image to text, comics contribute new dimensions to past epistolary dialogues and can foster new intercultural dialogue with regards to topics being critically renewed and how we express subjectivities and auto/biographical truths.

Walter Lai is a PhD student of the Ryerson-York joint Communication & Culture graduate program, and holds a MA from Ryerson University’s Literatures of Modernity Program. His interests cover topics of the subject, narrative culture, intersections of image and text, and psychoanalysis in comics, video games, film, literature, and science-fiction.

“Soldier of Silence: Larry Hama and Marginalized Americanness in ‘Silent Interlude’”

Miriam Libicki

Like Jack Kirby, Larry Hama was a jaded combat veteran, who injected his personality, his experiences, and his planet-sized imagination into something designed to be corporate-extruded trash for kids. Blessed by the freedom of editorial neglect, both made groundbreaking art. In this paper, I argue that Larry Hama, the Japanese-American writer of the G.I. Joe monthly comics from 1982-94, remained invisible as an artist for the same reasons as Kirby, while he infused his comics with new metaphors of marginalized Americanness.

Hama was responsible for writing backstories and personality traits for new G. I Joecharacters, that were incorporated into the comics, the cartoon and toy lines. Hama has revealed, “I never really gave much thought to the characters of Duke or Hawk. They were authority figures, and I was concerned with the grunt’s POV” (Chen 1998). This point of view is grounded in his upbringing as a child of U.S. internment camp survivors, and his front-line service in the futile Vietnam war. Hama’s cynicism proved subversively relevant to bring to a corporate franchise glorifying war. It remains relevant today, as internet “troll campaigns” manufacture backlash to diverse or progressive reboots.

Hama’s response to these campaigns has been firm: “I have always been a Social Justice Warrior”. Nevertheless, his status as a creator of colour in a work-for-hire corporate setting meant he had to be circumspect. I argue that Hama used silence as a metaphor and weapon throughoutG.I. Joe, particularly with Snake Eyes, the hero Hama identified with most. Focusing on “Silent Interlude” (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero21; March 1984), I will examine what Hama’s visual strategies show about his motivations, and investigate the comic’s legacy to see in which ways his subversive message was disseminated, but also misapprehended.

Miriam Libicki is a cartoonist and illustrator concentrating on narrative nonfiction, with a BFA in Visual Art from Emily Carr University and an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She is currently a sessional illustration and humanities instructor at Emily Carr University. Her work has been published by Fantagraphics, the Journal of Jewish Identities and Rutgers University Press. Her book of drawn essays received the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature, and she was the 2017 Writer in Residence at the Vancouver Public Library. Libicki exhibits at galleries and comic conventions, and lectures on cartooning in Canada, the US and overseas.

“When Disability Turns Comics into a Research Process”

Isabelle Mahy

Academics are expected to do research, publish papers and teach in environments that are now fully digitalized, from the simple search done using a library database, to the analysis of data, to uploading and downloading papers to and from the cloud storage. Most of our academic time is spent online, looking at a screen. These tools have become irrepleaceable and changed the main activities of every academic.  In this fully digitized work environment, the use of  these productivity and communication tools is a must. So what are the impacts when suddenly a person finds themselves unable to use them? Or if their use triggers painful physical reactions? What happens when a complex interaction between optical-muscles and the vestibulary system interact to make screen watching painful, and thus, impossible, forcing you to un-digitize yourself while society is becoming fully digitized? How does one redefine her work to remain a fully capable academic? What does working become when un-digitized in a fully digitized environment? More specifically what does research become? Can comics, in a broad sense, be part of a redefined practice of research and if so, how?

From this main question, I will explore the challenges and issues of communication as well as the place and influence of this disability on this practice of research redefinition. The focus on communication will be addressed through examining critical questions including: what is the actual concrete possibility of still being part of any ‘research conversation?’; Is it possible to take part in co-creations? As the cause of this whole initiative, this increasing, but uncommon disability will find its place across the whole process as the reason for changing a practice, a technique, or a tool.

This paper will report on my exploration of trying to find answers to these broad questions/issues unfolding before my eyes, in action. I will proceed at each step of the research process by using comics (graphic novel, visual recording, etc.) as my main ‘voice’ to report on this study. Many different practices of research exist and are well documented and art-based methods have entered the vast field of qualitative research over the years but apart from performative practices, most of these methods have provided innovation in specific activities only, that are limited to generating data or disseminating results to audiences broader than the academic community. Could comics be a vehicle for more? This paper will take up that challenge and shed light on the potential of comics as a mode of research.

Associate professor in the department of Social and Public Communication at Université du Québec in Montréal, Isabelle Mahy works on the phenomenon of change, from the perspective of complexity sciences, studying human systems and their transformations, in participatory action and art-based research contexts. She teaches methodology courses at the graduate level and among her publications, is an analysis of Cirque du Soleil practices, which although an academic publication, includes a novel. She maintains a visual art practice.

“Apolitical Political Cartooning: Alois Negrelli, Otto Bittner, Soccer Fandom and Austrian Identity during the Anschluss

Paul Malone

In the Anschluss of March 1938, Nazi Germany absorbed Austria; overnight, the Austrian press became a mouthpiece for Adolf Hitler’s propaganda. Writers and artists who before 1934 had contributed to left-wing newspapers and magazines were now faced, after four years of Austro-Fascism, with an even more repressive regime. Their choice—if they were not already National Socialists, or under arrest—was exile, unpaid silence or accommodation; many chose the last.

However, even convinced Austrian Nazis came to resent the arrogance of party officials from Berlin who treated once-imperial Austria like the backwoods and people who were now officially fellow Germans like hicks. Other Austrians chafed even more, particularly in “Red Vienna”; but resistance was dangerous—except on the supposedly apolitical soccer field. When top Viennese teams such as Admira and Rapid played German teams like Gelsenkirchen’s formidable Schalke 04, the games became genuine grudge matches, eventually erupting into fan violence.

Two newspaper comics artists, Alois Negrelli (1900-1944) and Otto Bittner (1897?-1941), whose careers extended from the left-wing papers of the 1920s until the Second World War, each briefly developed soccer-related comics with particularly Viennese themes from 1938 to 1940: Negrelli’s comic was called Willi, Wulli und Walzl, and Bittner’s untitled comic chronicled the life of passionate local soccer fan Herr Mayer. While Negrelli and Bittner drew vicious propaganda cartoons on one page, on another they asserted an Austrian identity, separate from the Germans, and communicated it to the readers under the cover of sports humour. In doing so, they alternated very visibly “between manipulation and resistance,” as sports historian Matthias Marschik describes this period of Austrian soccer, and managed at least in part to evade the rigorous gatekeeping of the Nazi censors.

Paul M. Malone is Associate Professor of German in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is the author of Franz Kafka’s The Trial: Four Stage Adaptations (Peter Lang, 2003), and has also published on performance theory; Faustian rock musicals; German film; and German-language comics and comic books from the 1920s to the present.

“Coloring Superheroes: A comparative analysis of the comic series Ms. Marvel: Kamala Khan and the Annual Batman Detective Comics”

Suhaan Mehta

It is by now a truism to say that sympathetic cultural representations of Muslims in Western popular culture focus on their conflicted identity and cultural dislocation. However, what is distinctive about reading a comic as opposed to, say, watching a television show featuring Muslim subjects? In this paper, I attempt to answer this question by focusing on the role of color in the construction of two comic book characters that made their debut three years apart: Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan in 2014 and Nightrunner, Bilal Asselah in 2011. Khan is a Muslim-American from New Jersey, and Asselah is a Sunni Muslim born in Clichy-sous-bois Paris. They are both second generation immigrants coming to terms with their hyphenated identities in America and France respectively. Given Khan and Asselah’s cultural backgrounds, the emerging critical commentary has focused largely on thematic issues and not paid sufficient attention to the visual elements of storytelling. Furthermore, as Jan Baetens has argued, within the constellation of the visual color is understudied by comic book theorists. Rather than downplaying the significance of identity-based readings, I scrutinize how color contrast achieved through saturation and through warm-cool colors can be used to visually represent themes of cultural/religious marginality and dislocation. I draw on concepts articulated by pioneering scholars of color theory such as M.E. Chevreul, Johannes Itten, and Faber Birren. I also rely on contemporary comic book colorists such as K. Michael Russell, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, and Scyra Yasin who demonstrate many excellent applications of color theory to comic books.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Dr. Suhaan Mehta is currently an assistant professor in the English Department at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He works on postcolonial literature and cinema with a particular focus on South Asia. He has published scholarly articles on Indian and Pakistani Anglophone novels and comics. He has taught previously at Case Western Reserve University, the Ohio State University, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

“Gothic Girlhoods: The Vulnerability of Girls in Emily Carroll’s Webcomics”

Kaarina Mikalson

In her webcomics, “The Hole the Fox Did Make” (2014) and “The Groom” (2015), artist Emily Carroll uses gothic elements to represent the ways in which girls are particularly vulnerable to trauma–whether it is the everyday violence of patriarchy or the haunting recurrence of past violence. I read these comics as examples of what Shelley Kulperger calls the “postcolonial feminist Gothic,” which “materialize[s] and familiarize[s] motifs of trauma and haunting….by focusing on the hidden stories of women as objects of fear, violence, trauma” (Unsettled Remains 98). My analysis builds on that of Julia Round in Gothic Comics and Graphic Novels, in which she argues for comics’ unique approach to portraying the gothic. I argue that Carroll’s uses the spatial potential of the “infinitive canvas” (McCloud, Reinventing Comics 222), as well as conventional comics techniques of colour, pacing, and braiding, to represent the lives of girl protagonists Regan and Monica as essentially gothic. I argue that in these comics, young girls are haunted by the real-life trauma of compulsory heterosexuality and patriarchal violence. This haunting is woven into the girl’s everyday life, particularly their playtime and their home-life. The home–represented by the physical space of the bedroom, and the allegorical space of the dollhouse­–is not a site of safety for the girls, instead playing host to gothic tropes like the uncanny and the recurrent. Carroll makes a gothic and graphic argument in support of Heather O’Neill’s claim that “A young girl’s body is the most dangerous place in the world, as it is the spot where violence is most likely to be enacted” (The Lonely Hearts Hotel 28).

Kaarina Mikalson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Dalhousie University, where she studies the mundane and banal in contemporary Canadian comics. She is also the project manager and co-director of Canada and the Spanish Civil War, a recovery and digital humanities project, the host of the research podcast Listen In, and a recurring guest on the feminist scholarly podcast Secret Feminist Agenda.

“Pimitamon: Conceptualising Contact in the Canadian North
through the Graphic Narratives of Jeff Lemire”

John Moffatt and David Beard

We propose to discuss “Contact in the Canadian North” by engaging a close reading of the graphic narratives of Jeff Lemire.

Lemire’s Roughneck is set in the fictional town of Pimitamon, Ontario, where Pimitamon is the anglicization of a Cree word for “crossroads.”  We propose crossroads as a governing metaphor for understanding how Lemire’s work responds to and recasts a tradition of Canadian narrative constructing the North as a transformative space in the Southern Canadian imagination.  Across several narratives under consideration in this essay, Lemire constructs a tragic history, a contemporary struggle, and a future fantasy for the Canadian North as the crossroads where indigenous and settler-colonial cultures meet.

Tragic History:  Settler-Colonial and Indigenous Cultures at the Crossroads in A Secret Path

Lemire collaborates with the late Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip to tell the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishnaabe boy who died while fleeing a Northern Ontario residential school in 1964.  A Secret Path visually re-imagines iconic Canadian images of Northern development, notably images of the railway, to show unexpected connections between key tropes of Canadian popular culture and the damage done by the imposition of “mainstream” Canadian culture on Indigenous peoples. Lemire’s work implicitly challenges the “technological nationalism” that Maurice Charland (1986) identifies as a key rhetorical driver of the Canadian imagination, depicting the same impulse as cultural and environmental disruption inherent in the act of imagining the North in Canada.  Secret Path also establishes a visual template for Lemire’s further explorations of these questions in the other works we consider in this essay.

Contemporary Struggle:  Settler-Colonial and Indigenous Cultures, and Urban-Rural Canadian culture at the Crossroads in Roughneck

In Roughneck, the story of washed-up NHL enforcer Derek Ouellette and his sister Beth unfolds in a visual universe which is sufficiently iconic to be recognizable to anyone who knows Northern Ontario.  Lemire’s aesthetic here combines the tensions between space, rupture, and enclosure that characterize Secret Path with a somewhat nostalgic if pointed depiction of small-town Canadian life familiar to readers of his seminal  Essex County.  The intersection of these visual worlds makes the fictional town of Pimitamon, “ known as “ the Pit” a symbolic landscape of confrontation. Derek and Beth must navigate conflicts between  indigenous and non-indigenous values, between rural and small-town identities on one hand and the intrusion of destructive urban realities from the south on the other, and also between their own past and future.

Jason Blake [in the American Review of Canadian Studies] reminds us that the First Nations are the place of respite for the hybrid figures of Ouellette and his sister — the place where they return to roots, in a cabin in the forest.  In Secret Path, the iconic railway tracks along which Chanie makes his doomed effort to return to his family lie like a scar across the boreal forest, the geometry of the rails and ties woven into a broad imagery of boundaries and restrictions (metal bars, brick walls, rows of desks in residential school classrooms). The imagery externalizes the extent to which Chanie is trying to escape not a place, but a cultural and social condition imposed on him which he has already internalized to a fatal degree. In Roughneck, Lemire similarly sets the winter forest and its paths against the angular main street of Pimitamon, the highway North where Derek and Beth’s mother died, the bridge beneath which drug dealers ply their trade; this visual landscape is the arena, or perhaps rink, where Derek and Beth’s return home plays itself out, a kind of “home game” against the ghosts of the past, which constantly transforms the forest landscape into a configuration of the violence they have experienced at home and in the outside world to which they once believed themselves to have escaped.  Derek’s path away from their abusive father promised fame and fortune with the New York Rangers before returning him in disgrace to “the Pit”, an act of self-destruction which locks him in a cycle of alcoholism and violence that can only be broken by a confrontation with his own conflicts over where he belongs and who his people are. By contrast, at the end of the novel, Beth goes to visit their mother’s reserve, completing the journey their indigenous mother wanted the family to take, away from the abuse that had been normalized in their lives. The road North is no longer a becomes a journey back to the crossroads, but, possibly, the path home that Chanie Wenjack had sought.

Future Fantasy:  Miiyahbin [Equinox] of the Justice League as Dreams for the Future of the Canadian North

Lemire worked with Cree communities in Ontario to build a super-heroine fantasy figure within his work-for-hire on DC Comics’ Justice League United.  As Equinox, Miiyahbin “Mii” Marten uses the power of the Midayo [embodiment of the seven pillars of Cree life, love, humility, bravery, truth, respect, wisdom, and honesty]  to protect her people from the Whitago [the embodiment of the seven dark pillars of dominion, control, aggression, deception, greed, selfishness, and fear]. Mii lives in remote Moose Factory in Northern Ontario.  Equinox serves as a symbol of First Nations given full expression, unconstrained by settler-colonial power or ideology. And yet she operates within a narrative genre founded on Euro-North American ideologies about heroism, and one of the challenges that Lemire faces in this context is that of positioning Mii/Equinox as having the agency to bridge the traditions on her own terms.  One could argue that her primary “super-power” is her capacity to embody a distinct tradition of justice and ethical behaviour rooted in the Northern space from which she comes, a living tradition, which exists in the real world, and which offers an alternative cultural understanding of what it it means to be a “superhero”.

In some ways, the presence of Equinox on the Justice League is a reinstatement of what Jack Granatstein calls the “Canadian multicultural fantasy” — First Nation voices become one among many in the team of costumed heroes.  Lemire, self-conscious about appropriation, hopes to inspire future Cree to express themselves in comics: “If … 10 years from now some kid from James Bay ends up writing or drawing [his or her] own comics, then … the project was worth it.”  Lemire is right, and Equinox, as a fantasy, does much to address the damage visible in A Secret Path and in Roughneck.  By creating an alternative space where an Indigenous protagonist’s agency is unconstrained by the damage that marks the earlier works that we analyse.  A focus in the comic’s visuals on the Northern context is essential to the creation of this alternate space, which is at once linked to a kind of transcendence in the Canadian imagination, while also being an ecological/environmental space where the scars of colonialism are still fresh, and the mainstream society hasn’t altogether taken root. Mii/Equinox is thus positioned to be a defender of this kind of space, in a way that is both accessible to the “mainstream” Canadian imagination, and yet capable of introducing a new understanding of indigenous agency to those more conventional acts of imagining the North.


As historian Elena Baldassarri puts it, “In Western culture the North is not just a matter of geography but a place where humans are forged and strengthened” — in the popular imagination, in the contest between human and nature.  Jeff Lemire reconfigures the North as a different site of tragedy, struggle, and of fantasy. The North is the space where indigenous and settler-colonial cultures make contact, and humans forge themselves in the power of his stories.

“When Drawing Is Encouraged in a Narrative Research Group”

Carol Nash and Evi Tampold

The University of Toronto Health Narratives Research Group was initiated Fall 2012 through the History of Medicine Program in the Faculty of Medicine.  Support for participants’ written narratives related to their health research has been the common thread throughout the years of this two-hour group that meets weekly in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai Hospital during the academic year.  Fall 2016, one of the participants introduced a new aspect to the group’s activities—drawing. Often, a drawing prompt was provided that group members could work on when while they listened to the discussion, when not writing or asking questions of the others to develop their narratives.  Other times, group members—provided with pencils, pens, pencil crayons, markers and pastels—doodled when they felt the urge.  Two positive results were found from encouraging drawing in collaboration with written narratives, (1) participants who had rarely drawn in their lives were able to recognize and demonstrate their latent ability, and (2) being given permission to draw in an academic setting that normally scoffs at such behaviour allowed those who drew to be much more relaxed in what they shared during the group and more in touch with their values in relation to creating narrative. One negative result was that those who had built long careers in medicine distant from drawing felt more inhibited in expressing themselves, less comfortable, and saw themselves as having less in common with the group members who felt liberated through drawing.  The participant who first initiated drawing at the group, graphic medicine artist Evi Tampold, will provide the rationale for why she considered drawing a meaningful addition to the group’s activities. The group’s facilitator, Carol Nash, will then present examples of drawings from the group demonstrating the positive results and the negative result.

Carol Nash PhD is Scholar in Residence in the History of Medicine Program, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.  Open to all members of the University of Toronto, since 2012, she has facilitated the weekly Health Narratives Research Group at the Mount Sinai Hospital through its Department of Psychiatry as part of the Health Arts and Humanities initiative.

Evi Tampold is a twice published graphic medicine artist in her third year at Goddard College, Vermont, pursuing a BFA in Socially Engaged Art.  Since 2016, she has been a member of the University of Toronto Health Narratives Research Group in which she originated the idea of drawing prompts as an addition to the group.

“Graphic Memoirs as Good Feminist Praxis”

Alex Nelson

From Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006) to Ellen Forney’s Marbles (2012), graphic art (in the form of both novels and memoirs) has long offered women, queer, and gender non-binary folks an opportunity to write and share their narratives and experiences of navigating societal norms (and the often rigidly enforced boundaries of cultural, social, and political being) while communicating these thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a manner accessible to a broader public audience.

Similarly, ethnography—the genre anthropologists employ to write about their long-term fieldwork—is also distinctive in its capacity to translate and disseminate experiences and ways of being to a broader audience. Newly minted, ethnoGRAPHIC is a series of graphic novel ethnographies published by University of Toronto Press: the first, Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution, was published in 2017. The graphic form in which these ethnographies are presented fosters a space for dialogue and critical engagement with difficult content, in a way that would otherwise be obscured through standard written text. Anthropologists working on feminist issues (particularly those pertaining to gender, sex, race, class, ability, and other intersecting social locations) is such that popular storytelling genres are required to reach audiences outside academia—opportunities abundantly present in graphic form.

This paper will consider the lessons anthropologists working with graphic form can glean from feminist graphic novels, memoirs and memoirists as they continue forging new connections and conversations though graphic narrative; further, this paper proposes that graphic novels offer such a space for multi-faceted dialogue and productive interdisciplinary collaboration. Drawing on the work of feminist thinkers like Hillary Chute and Sara Ahmed, this paper explores comic-based narratives and the flexible feminist form they afford; graphic art holds the potential to fundamentally transform the impact anthropological work has on a societal scale.

I am a first-year PhD student in Anthropology at Western University (London, ON). I’m from Victoria, B.C., but have been studying in London for several years. I live there with my partner, and our wonderful dog, Murphy.

My research is on homelessness, gender, and housing policy in Whitehorse, YT. I am particularly interested in the role of lived experience, narrative, or the sharing of stories in creating more effective and inclusive public policy—and I believe that graphic art offers a unique and potentially transformative medium for those stories to be mobilized.

My background and training is in feminist theory, and I am pursuing a specialization in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction during my PhD.

“‘Morpheus’ as a Mouth Piece for Politics and Melancholy in Dream Country

Ayça Oral

Within the concept of Melancholy, which is known as the sacred illness of gifted people and heroes in ancient Greece, Dream Country’s visual imagery and content as an example of a graphic narrative integrate the concepts of graphic narratives and theories about melancholy. In a complex plot inspired by several mythologies and dreams, Dream Countrydiffers from traditional comic, and thus is evaluated from the many perspectives of melancholy such as acedia, temptation, grief, self-imprisonment, and genius. This paper addresses Dream Countryfrom a politically intertwined melancholic perspective, especially through its main character Morpheus. It also broaches the hybrid form of the graphic novel and the varying views of melancholy, and their significant interaction in Dream Country. Thus, Dream country, and the graphic novel in a broader sense, is a political move which questions “to what extent” the graphic novel is literature, exposes the reader to a complex and rich notion of melancholy and defies established norms and rules of reading. This paper analyzes the intricate features of the graphic novel and melancholia, which enables multiple interpretations to interconnect not only with personal politics through self-conscious criticism and the criticism of one’s surroundings, but also a counter-hegemonic resistance to canonical forms in literature.

Ayça Oral received her B.A. degree in the Foreign Language Education Department of Marmara University in İstanbul in 2005 and her M.A. degree, which was awarded a scholarship, in Comparative Literature at Istanbul Bilgi University in İstanbul in 2013. She was a private Phd. student in the department of sociology in Koç University for a year and an exchange student in University of Vienna. She is currently a PhD student in Sociology at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, İstanbul. She had been an instructor at Istanbul Bilgi University and Nişantaşı University until 2018. Her research interests in sociology are in the areas of popular culture, fandom communities, youth studies and visual sociology.

“Tintin and the Retrofuturism of Space Travel”

Grace Anne Paizen

The genre of literature and science explores how “science shapes literature to the same degree that imaginative literature shapes science” (Rousseau 587). Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moonand Explorers on the Moon(1952-53) contributes to literature and science’s mandate by not only determining that space travel in literature has not evolved past a military model from the nineteenth-century imaginings of Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865) and H.G. Wells (The War of the Worlds, 1897), Hergé’s comic magazines forecast an enterprise where, in essence, life would imitate art. In Destination Moonand Explorers on the Moon, space travel is explicitly linked to a military model and implicitly steeped in an uncomfortable history of fascism that would be later reflected in the real-life NASA space missions, particularly the Apollo 11 mission where the ex-Nazi rocket technologist and aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun’s space craft made possible Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. My paper, then, argues why it is important to extend the literature and science genre to the comic magazine form. By doing so, the complex interweaving of literature and science influencing each other can be analyzed through a literary form that transmits an immediacy of symbolism: Professor Calculus’ moon rocket in Hergé’s comic is an immediately recognizable reworking of Braun’s Axis V2 rocket, visually preserving the uncomfortable history of space technology. Paralleling the rocket as a preferred form of space travel in literature and in science, my paper also proposes that space travel is a retrofuturistic imagining of Verne’s and Wells’ artillery space travel form, as well as determines that all space travel is a heavily militarized endeavour.

Grace Anne Paizen is currently a PhD student in the English, Theatre, Film & Media Department at the University of Manitoba. She specializes in scientific masculinities in literature and science of the long nineteenth century. Her other academic interests include fashion, the fashion model, cultural studies, popular culture, and celebrity.

“Spirou4Rights: A Critical Perspective on Promoting Human Rights through Comics”

Chris Reyns-Chikuma

Comics have been used for propaganda and for promoting different ideas by various institutions, including educational ones. Spirou4Rights is an exhibition made of 30 panels explaining the 30 articles of the Proclamation of the Human Rights sponsored by the UN. This is not the first time the UN decided to use comic characters to promote a political ideal, sometimes provoking a backlash (e.g., Wonder Woman controversy in 2016). Taking advantage of the fact that this exhibition would celebrate two anniversaries at the same time (the 80thanniversary for Spirou–1938 and the 70thfor the Declaration–1948), the UN surprisingly chose a character which, although cute, generous and courageous, is unknown outside the French and Francophone world. After presenting the interesting process through which this exhibition came out (context, dates, people involved, reasons for the choice, …) and acknowledging the good will of every participant, I will show how, at a macro-analysis level, illustrations are somehow problematic specifically in terms of ethnic and gender representations.

Chris Reyns-Chikuma is professor at UofA. He teaches comics (Superhero and graphic novel), and bande dessinée. His research focusses on “comics” in general (including bande dessinée and manga). His recent publications are articles on: “Etienne Davodeau” (CFC, 2018), “The French Superheroes” (M&CF, 2018), “Manga Transmedia World” (Texas U.P, 2019), “La novellisation du superhéros en France” (Academia, 2019), and in collaboration with Jean Sébastien, “BDN-French e-comics” (McFarland, 2019).

“Narrative Mandates in Educational Indigenous Graphic Novels”

Sylvain Rheault

In the recent offering of Indigenous graphic novels, many titles are designed and tailored to fit the needs of the education sector. This should not come as a surprise. If we take a look at the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, completed in December 2015, we find references to education for Indigenous children in the “Legacy” section (Calls to Action numbers 6 to 12). And there are also demands for non-Indigenous students living in Canada to learn about Indigenous history and culture in the “Reconciliation” section (Calls to Action numbers 62 to 65).

Usually, when there is a specific demand on a creator for a specific purpose, it is called a “constraint” by literary critics. Instead, let’s call this kind of demand a “mandate”, for a more positive tone. I propose to explore how Indigenous creators of graphic novels weave together the following two mandates: to create a narrative that meets the criteria of education and to create a narrative with an Indigenous content. Many books have been written on the value of using comics in the classroom. These books will be re-opened with, in mind, the particular mandate of proposing Indigenous content to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The question of the creators’ identity will also be studied, as well as the question of the various Indigenous Nations living in Canada.

Sylvain Rheault is associate professor at the University of Regina since 1998. His fields of research include 20th Century French literature, rhetoric, stylistics and comics from all cultures.

“‘Girls Celebrate Life’: Challenging the Politics of Mourning in Skim

Braidon Schaufert

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s 2018 Skim is a graphic novel told as a series of diary entries written from the perspective of a teenager Kimbery (Kim) Keiko Cameron as she navigates her way through a Canadian high school in 1993. The comic makes use of bleeding panels and black and white images to depict Kim’s mindscape as she navigates spaces of discomfort due to her school’s heteronormativity and racism. Kim is a melancholic and disaffected student who contrasts with the performative mourning her school undergoes after the suicide of a closeted teenager named John Reddear. The school channels mourning into in-class therapy exercises, meetings with councilors, and the creation of a peer-support club named Girls Celebrate Life that is ironically made up of members of the student body that have a history of bullying Kim. While the events of Skimpredate campaigns like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” by a decade, the graphic novel was published at a time when suicide prevention efforts began targeting gay teens. Dan Savage has long been critiqued for centering and ensuring the privileges of the white, neoliberal, and homonormative subject at the exclusion of intersectional identities. This presentation works with intersectional queer theorists including Cheng (2001), Ahmed (2010), and Puar (2017), as well as comics scholars such as Chute (2017) and Aldama (2010), to situate Skim within the “It Gets Better” campaign. As a story about a queer and racialized teenager, Skimprovides an account of an individual lost in the optics of “It Gets Better” and similar campaigns. I argue that the black and white bleeding panels and splash pages depict the flat unravelling of a mind that neither participates in being a productive neoliberal citizen nor protests I through performative political strategies.

Braidon Schaufert is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta and has a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory from McMaster University. His research focuses on technologies of memory that maintain and counter homonationalism.

“Slashing into Superhero Sexual Politics”

Breanna Simpson

In the superhero renaissance of today, there is a growing call for a wider diversity of representation in comics and film. Yet the result has been mixed: slow change in the official works, mirrored by explosive change in the wider fandoms. In particular, the fan works produced often queer the characters and narratives they are inspired by, subverting the prevalent heteronormative coding of the source material. Originating in the 1970s, the most common queer recoding of these narratives was via works of fan fiction, a genre commonly referred to as “slash.” Slash has become a space for the expression of an increasing diversity of identities and sexualities, within a wider fan culture often dominated by ideals of patriarchal superiority and heteronormativity.

As this presentation will explore, however, the use of fan works to present non-heteronormative relationships often reveals the same glaring issues of who is visible and who remains silent and invisible. Women, people of colour, transgender individuals, and other minorities have long been largely excluded from popular fan works. Slash frequently serves to queer the sexuality of mainstream superheroes such as Superman and Batman, or Captain America and Iron Man, while also perpetuating a lack of diverse representation. While there is an observable rise in the diversity of gender, sexual, and racial identities in recent fan works, a distinct preoccupation with relationships between able-bodied, gay, white men continues.

How fan works both critique and reinforce dominant narratives of patriarchy, white privilege, and heteronormativity common to superhero comics and film remains an understudied aspect of sexual politics in the superhero genre. In the 2000s, Marvel Comics’ Civil Warslash works focused almost exclusively on Captain America/Iron Man. A decade later, while fan works of the MCU’s Civil Warencompass a notably wider range of genders and sexualities, this reading remains largely prevalent. This paper focuses on the role of slash fiction in coding non-heteronormative sexualities into the superhero genre, and the legacy of exclusion and lack of representation these fan works embrace and challenge in equal measure.

Breanna Simpson is a doctoral student in the Department of English Literature at York University in Toronto. Her research interests include gender politics and popular culture, particularly examining the development of new forms of electronic literature through a world literature lens. Her work explores the role of internet and fan cultures in developing, reinforcing, and challenging gender and sexual identities.

“The Opposite of Daredevil”

Travis D. Smith

In Dinosaur Comicsdated June 15, 2018, Ryan North’s T-Rex raised awareness regarding aphantasia—a condition in which someone lacks the ability to visualize in their imagination. Given its clinical name in only 2015, research into this condition remains relatively nascent. As T-Rex says, “many don’t even realize they have aphantasia.” This was true in my case.

Discovering that I lacked a capacity taken for granted by most people was revelatory. I wondered if it explained my lifelong love of the comics medium. I never had the experience of visualizing fictional worlds the way other people tell me they do when reading prose.

Within the superhero genre, Daredevil suddenly seemed less super to me. Previously, I thought the very power to visualize was what made his “radar sense” a superpower. I didn’t understand that he only has an especially extraordinary ability to do something most people do ordinarily. Daredevil can visualize but he cannot see; I can see but cannot visualize. A character celebrated for overcoming one disability unexpectedly taught me something about a related but distinct deficiency.

Reviewing depictions of Daredevil’s powers, I explore assumptions that are made about normal human abilities, and the limits of the imagination, given that we cannot know what we do not know. To examine the political relevance of the power of visualization, I consult sources from Aristotle to Hobbes to contemporary theorists of the imagination. I’m particularly interested in whether the presence or the absence of the power to visualize is relevant for either the susceptibility of an individual to manipulation, especially with respect to fears—the thing Daredevil is said to be without—or with respect to hope, something all heroic types draw on for inspiration.

Travis D. Smith is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University and the author of Superhero Ethics (Templeton, 2018) and “Comedy and Comic Books” published in Flattering the Demos (Lexington, 2018).

“‘Let’s Do This One Last Time’: Character, Adaptation, and Nostalgia in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Tracey Thomas

In December 2018, Sony releasedSpider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, the animated origin story of Miles Morales and his journey to becoming Spider-Man. What makes the narrative of this origin story different and unique is the tackling of a multiverse where different Spider-Mans (or, as the characters confusingly dub themselves, “Spider-People”) appears in Miles’ universe after Kingpin and Doc Ock use a particle accelerator to reach across different parallel universes. Into the Spider-versetherefore provides a unique entry point for new and old fans to enjoy by bridging the characters graphic to screen adaptation through nostalgia.

To use Matthias Stork’s term, the “re-genrification” of these multiple Spider-People creates an interesting and new engagement of not only the Spider-Man character beyond the traditional male figure (with the inclusion of Spider-Gwen, Peni Parker, and Peter Porker), but also by doing so in focusing on PoC Miles Morales as protagonist. Each character establishes and maintains the Spider-Man origin story as a universal constant in how they received their powers, but the movie subvertsportions of this through miniscule changes that provide “new strategies in character, plot […]” (Stork 89). Furthermore, the differing art styles of the multiverse characters reflect the overarching narrative, allowing numerous nostalgias to exist at once in a single story or cinematic medium. The visual medium of the film in its animated form plays with the traditional comic book format by mimicking traditional panels and full-page splashes, captions, dialogue/thought bubbles, and sound effects.

Ultimately, my paper will demonstrate that the nostalgia remembrance — or as Jenkins’ might say, the “repisodic” nature — toward Spider-Man is not limited to a particular iteration, but can exist across different versions and mediums while maintaining core elements that make these “Spider-People” inclusive to all.

Tracey Thomas is a PhD candidate at York University, Toronto and part-time professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. Her research explores links between the CW superhero television shows of the “Arrow ‘verse”through the title characters, their relationship with other characters and their associated cities, and explores how superheroes developed over time and across different mediums, utilizing nostalgia as a framework to explore these changes. She spends much of her free time watching TV (live action, cartoons, and anime) and films, focusing on sci-fi and fantasy, reading both academically and leisurely, and catering to the whims of her cats. Ironically, she prefers Marvel over DC.

Priya’s Power, Shiva’s Rage: Representing Gender-Based Violence in Priya’s Shakti

Ayesha Vemuri and Sailaja Krishnamurti

This paper offers a critical analysis of a comic book called Priya’s Shakti (2013), which tells the story of a victim of gangrape who becomes an unlikely “superhero” in a crusade to end sexual violence. The comic was a response to the horrific, widely mediatized gangrape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi in 2012 (the Nirbhaya case). Following this case, several media and public education campaigns were created to address gender-based violence in India (Dutta and Sircar 2013; Kotiswaran 2013). Priya’s Shakti was created by an Indian-American filmmaker, Ram Devineni, and went viral in Indian and American news media. The comic, which was distributed for free and is available online,  integrates “augmented reality” technology and embeds the stories of real-life survivors. It was touted as a unique and powerful means of drawing attention to the problem of sexual violence. Positioning a rape victim from rural India as a protagonist with power, it was widely applauded as a means of changing the discourse surrounding victim-survivors of sexual violence (Mullin 2015; Pandey 2014). However, as we argue, the comic does not actually center the protagonist Priya’s experience.  Instead, drawing upon paternalist themes and imagery in  Hindu mythology and in the action-driven comic book genre (Chandra 2008; Scott 2010) the narrative undermines Priya’s agency by representing her ‘superpowers’ as mediated by the gods. This raises questions about what model of social change the comic’s creators envision, and about the underlying message of the comic as a whole to its readers. In this paper, we offer a critical analysis of Priya’s Shakti as a comics text. Identifying the transnational discourses about religion, popular culture, and sexual violence that flow through it, we discuss the ways in which the comic actually reproduces rather than opposes tropes about the passivity of Indian women and the dangers of brown men, and plays into nationalist claims about Hinduism’s dominance in India.

“I Know How This Ends: The Douglas College Dementia Care Comics Project. Comics in Professional Practice”

Peter Wilkins

The Douglas College Dementia Care Comics Project is an extension of a partnership with City University of London and Chester University that produced Parables of Care, a collection of four-panel strips in Yonkoma manga style that told the stories of UK caregivers’ ingenuity in solving dementia crises. The strips, drawn by comics artist and scholar Simon Grennan, were adapted from entries in City’s Share ‘n’ Care app for dementia caregivers.

The Douglas Project is based on interviews with professional caregivers and students from the College’s Health Sciences faculty and other members of the college community. One of our most interesting discoveries has been the tension between professional and familial roles in Health Sciences faculty who have family members experiencing dementia. Our team, which includes Nursing faculty, Student Research Assistants, and an artist, has evaluated these interviews for structures and motifs in the dementia situation and we have begun the process of producing pages.

While the earlier project was modeled on the literary form of parable, the Douglas project emulates Greek Tragedy because of the way the interviews reflect on the inevitability of dementia’s progress once it has been diagnosed and the stratagems caregivers employ to forestall that inevitability. Because dementia is a family systems condition, we cast the primary familial caregiver as the tragic hero and the non-caregiving family members as the chorus. The prologue and exodus, meanwhile, are delivered in the voice of an experienced psychiatric nurse who is up to date on current techniques of working with dementia.

In my talk I will discuss our process and decision making, the rationale for choosing tragedy as a genre, and how this relates to theories of comics, remediation and adaptation, and graphic medicine.

Peter Wilkins is the Research and Innovation Office Coordinator at Douglas College. As a comics scholar, he is an editor at The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, co-founder of the blog Graphixia: a Conversation about Comics, and is the author and co-author of several essays on comics theory and texts, including “The Question Concerning Comics as Technology: Gestell and Grid” (with Ernesto Priego), and “An Incomplete Project: Graphic Adaptations of Moby-Dick and the Ethics of Response.”

“Swipe for More Content: A Study of Instagram Comics”

Jess Wind

Instagram, the popular social media platform most people associate with selfies and food pictures, is also the home of many new comics series. In 2017 Instagram launched an album feature, which allows users to post up to ten photos in a single post, allowing comic artists to post short strips in one post, rather than in a few sequential posts which run the risk of either spamming their audience, or being lost to the algorithm.

With this new feature, popular webcomics — PhD Comics, Adam Ellis, Cyanide and Happiness — began posting their work on Instagram to reach new readers. More interestingly, the album feature allowed comics artists to design content specifically for the platform, engage their audience directly, and find new ways to tell stories.

This paper addresses a gap in current research, which largely does not explore Instagram as a publishing platform or the ways in which creators cross boundaries of webcomics publishing by producing comics and other content specifically with Instagram’s constraints in mind.

Specifically drawing on Paddy Johnston’s exploration of webcomics as labour (2015), I analyze three comics that publish on Instagram as their primary platform: Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World (2017), Nekoama’s Lil’ Char and the Gang (2017) and Catana Comics (2016). I examine how these artists use Instagram to benefit the narrative and visual elements of their work, how they use the platform to reach and engage with their audience, and how this new framework affects conceptions of success.

Jess Wind teaches Communications at University of the Fraser Valley. Her research interests include most geeky things and the fans who love them. Most notably she spent a good deal of time researching zombie media to try to figure out why they’re still popular and why they suddenly want to fit in.

“The Wendy-verse: A Global Exchange Between North American Comics and Japanese Manga in the Work of Walter Scott”

Amelia Wong-Mersereau

This essay was written in the context of a Masters seminar in Concordia University’s Art History program, titled “Curating Global Asian Indigenous” and instructed by Dr. Alice Ming Wai Jim. In it, I look at the work of interdisciplinary artist Walter Scott (b. 1985) and his graphic novels Wendy (2014) and Wendy’s Revenge (2016). Drawing on the comics scholars and cultural theorists, I argue that the world Scott creates in his comics and graphic novels – hereinafter referred to as the ‘Wendy-verse’ – participates in the global exchange between North American comics and Japanese manga. While there is some emerging scholarship on the exchange between North American comics and Japanese manga – and more recently examining Asian diasporic comics artists who work in the Japanese manga style  – there is little written about Indigenous comics artists doing work in the manga style. Through his use of the manga style, Scott’s Wendy-verse disrupts the white, North American English-speaking readership to insert Indigenous stories. The essay also examines concepts like politics of translation (Gayatri Spivak), the toys and products of the manga media mix (Marc Steinberg) and drawing raced or raceless characters (Monica Chiu). The complexity of the Wendy-verse, in its use of language, style, manga influence and content, defy any preconceived notions of graphic narratives as simple or basic. Scott creates a world in his graphic novels that circumvents colonial binaries, using and participating in the global exchange between North American and Japanese comics culture.

Amelia Wong-Mersereau is currently in her first year of the MA art history program at Concordia University. Her research centers around notions of cultural identity and critical discourses of representation. From 2015-2017, Amelia was the Editor-in-chief of Yiara Magazine, a feminist art and art history publication. Returning to Montreal after a year in Toronto, this passion for critical art publishing has lead her to a brief internship as editorial assistant for the magazine Esse Arts + Opinions, where she will continue on as a member of their editorial board.

“The Killer Cure: Venom in Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man

Dorothy Woodman and Reginald Wiebe

Unlike Marvel Comics’ Amazing Spider-Manseries (1963- ), in which the enmity between Spider-Man (Peter Parker) and Venom (Eddie Brock) results from an alien entity takeover of Brock, the Ultimate Spider-Manseries (2000-2009) develops the origins of their conflict through complex intersections of cancer research politics, individual moral capacities, and social forces. Each character represents an oppositional force resulting from their divergent experiences: Parker overcomes a corrupting weaponized “cure” for cancer through his strength of will, whereas Brock, although warned of its paradoxical empowerment/malignancy capacities, voluntarily exposes himself to it, creating a shadow aspect to Spider-man’s persona. Through the battle of bodies and wills as the cure exerts a malignant power through Brock-as-Venom, the narrative develops a set of interlocking doublings: the disease/cure is a site of moral contestation; its cure a weapon, simultaneously attacking cancer and enhancing physical capacities; the two spiders as interacting psychic energies battling within Marvel’s diagetic universe. Susan Sontag’s iconic 1978 essay “Illness as Metaphor” argues for expunging medical science of its metaphors to remove moral associations with which disease, most notably cancer, had become associated, to dissociate cancer from moral narratives. However, Marvel’s series offers a complex reading of cancer as metaphor, making it a means by which to explore a superhero’s psychic battles intersected by external moral contestations.

Dr. Dorothy Woodman is a contract instructor in the Department of English and Film Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta. Her primary focus is medicine and literature, with special interest in gender, race and class issues.  She works in interdisciplinary research on projects with medical professionals and faculty, with primary interest in representations of breasts.

Dr. Reginald Wiebe is an assistant professor in the department of Literature and Languages at Concordia University of Edmonton. His teaching areas include graphic literature, Canadian literature, and postcolonial studies. His ongoing research projects include the intersection of comics and the medical humanities, role modelling in superhero comics, and the role of cancer in Marvel’s fictional universe.