Today’s short update begins a new column at Comics Forum: Every two months, one of the comics scholars in the German Society for Comics Studies, the Gesellschaft für Comicforschung or “ComFor”, will give a brief overview of recent activities and developments from the German comics studies scene as well as an outlook at upcoming events that might be of interest to an international audience. We’re grateful to Ian Hague for the opportunity and will try not to bore readers too much with local issues. These updates will probably draw mostly from the contents of our website, selected, refocused and translated into English.
2014 is ComFor’s ninth year. The society was founded on February 11th, 2005, in Koblenz; its goals continue to be the coordination and promotion of comics scholarship in German (about comics in any language). Since 2006, ComFor has organized yearly academic conferences at various universities and has published near-yearly volumes of the research presented there. Our popular panel at the Erlangen Comic-Salon, the largest German comics exhibition and convention, has become a recurrent institution as well. ComFor also supports the Bonn Online Bibliography on Comics Studies, and is driving plans towards a German Journal for Comics Studies. The main purpose and function of the society, however, remains the advancement of communication and collaboration among comics scholars, whose field is subject to a high degree of dispersion in German-speaking countries: At its best, it produces encounters between scholars from vastly differing disciplines that are brought together by their common interest in comics and continue to learn from one another. At its worst, it can lead to mutual isolation of parallel lines of research – this is what we’re trying to work against. In the last few years, the field of German-speaking comics studies has grown, and grown more densely connected; a process from which the society profits greatly, and that we hope we have supported in our own way.
In September, a group of German comics artists, scholars, and readers published Das Comic Manifest at the International Festival of Literature in Berlin. The manifesto points out that while “German comics are celebrated in the features pages, are translated into numerous languages and receive prizes and awards at international festivals“, “ the comic illustrators, comic publishers and other actors […] have gained recognition of the German comic practically without outside help“. More than 70 of these have signed the manifesto, demanding “that the comic be afforded the same respect as literature and the visual arts and that it receive the corresponding funding”, pointing out that like “all other art forms, the comic depends on state and private support”; they go on to call for “financial support […] granted to comic projects” and most importantly, for “the establishment of a German Comic Institute that brings together artists, carries out academic study of their work and provides cultural education.” Since the manifest’s publication, a smaller group centred on Jens Meinrenken and Stefan Niehaus has founded the Deutsche Comicstiftung, the German Comic Foundation, to further these goals and work towards the establishment of such an institute.
ComFor’s 8th annual conference on comics studies was held at Erlangen on November 15th to 17th, 2013. Through its main subject, “Comics and Science”, Clemens Heydenreich’s team brought together comics scholars, who are typically focused on disciplines from the humanities and social sciences, and scientists interested in interdisciplinary discussions about the didactics of sciences, as well as the depiction of science and scientists, in comics: From Dirk Vanderbeke’s opening keynote on Knowledge Drawn and Told through panels on the presentation of scientific fact in factual comics, (meta)medial experiments, figurations of scientists and sciences, scientific discourses, and utopian and dystopian futures, to comic artist Ulli Lust’s reading from her comic Flughunde, an adaptation of Marcel Beyer’s fantastic novel about a sound-gathering scientist in the employ of Nazi Germany. Also included was the “Forum”, an open workshop and ComFor specialty which allows scholars of all venues to present ongoing projects that they would like to discuss with their colleagues and for which they are looking for help, advice, or further inspiration. The conference was jointly hosted with Erlangen’s ELINAS initiative, a platform intended for exchange between literary studies and the natural sciences. – The conference also saw ComFor’s founding and longtime Presidium, consisting of Dietrich Grünewald, Nina Mahrt and Burkhard Ihme, pass their offices on to a new team of Stephan Packard, Felix Giesa, and Catherine Michel. Catherine, Felix, and I are greatly indebted to Dietrich and his team and will try to continue their excellent work by further increasing communication channels and professional cooperation with existing and new academic institutions.
Factual comics also take centre stage in an edited volume by Urs Hangartner, Felix Keller, and Dorothe Oechslin titled Wissen durch Bilder: Sachcomics als Medien von Bildung und Information (Knowledge through Pictures: Factual Comics as Mediators of Education and Information). The volume collects contributions from comics scholars, art historians and theorists, and colleagues from various cultural studies and pedagogics, as well as psychologists and sociologists. Comics are also included in Guido Idekenmeier’s collection on the topic of Interpriktoralität. Theorie und Geschichte der Bild-Bild-Bezüge (Interpictorality. Theory and History of Relations Among Images).
The two most prominent annual German publications on comics and comics studies also saw new issues this fall: The tenth volume of Eckart Sackmann’s yearbook on Deutsche Comicforschung takes the opportunity to present a review of the preceding decade’s development, as well as new research on comics during the First World War, the history of the Photo Comic, and the life of Rolf Kauka, who published the German comics magazine Fix und Foxi. Meanwhile, the 14th volume of the yearbook COMIC!, once more edited by Burkhard Ihme, focuses on a dossier on comics and football; with further contributions discussing 3D-comics and –movies, U-COMIX, and independent manga. As always, it also includes a large number of interviews and reports on comics and animation.
During fall and winter, the increasingly dense and varied landscape of comics studies in German brought forth a plethora of exhibitions, conferences, and publications either directed at comics, or including some aspects of comics studies among their topics. Current overviews of these are already presented in Martin de la Iglesia’s contributions to the News Review column at Comics Forum, so I won’t repeat them here. But I do want to point out a couple of Calls for Papers with outstanding deadlines: Wuppertal University will be holding its 5th Graduate Forum on Narratology – with an international cast and in English – from June 19th to 21st, this year’s topic of Pop-Narratology. Social, Historical and Political Perspectives on Pop Cultural Narratives practically crying out for some papers on comics studies from international researchers. The deadline for abstracts is April 1st. Meanwhile, Hildesheim University is holding a conference in German on Comic-Translations and Comic-Adaptations– Übersetzungen und Adaptionen von Comics – from October, 31st to November, 11th. Abstracts are welcome up to the deadline of February, 28th.
I would like to especially emphasize, however, the Call for Papers for ComFor’s 9th annual conference, which will be held at Berlin on September 25th to 28th in Berlin. It will once more include panels in English for an international set of contributors and audience. Aside from the open Forum, the conference will focus on various perspectives on the concept of “borders” – between media, between disciplines, as crossed by migration and transnationality and as conceived in the ideas of borders of humanity, which can be crossed by representations and images of the human in comics’ spaces and pages. The Call for Papers is open through March 31, 2014 (scroll down for the English version). Please join us at Berlin – do say hello if you do – or return here for the next ComFor update in April.
Stephan Packard is Junior Professor for Media Culture Studies at Freiburg University; previously, he was Assistant Professor for Comparative Literature in Munich. Interests focus on semiotic and psychoanalytic research into new and traditional media; the semiotics of affect; censorship and other forms of media control; as well as comics studies. He is President of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor), on the editing board of the journal Medienobservationen, and edits the new open access journal Mediale Kontrolle unter Beobachtung on censorship and media control. – Anatomie des Comics. Psychosemiotische Medienanalyse (Göttingen 2006); Poetische Gerechtigkeit (ed. with Donat/Lüdeke/Richter, Düsseldorf 2012); Abschied von 9/11 (ed. with Hennigfeld, Berlin 2013); Thinking – Resisting – Reading the Political (Berlin 2013, ed. with Esch-van Kan/Schulte); Comics & Politik (Berlin 2013, ed.).