Just like my predecessors, Stephan Packard and Lukas Wilde, I will use this fifth column of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) in order to briefly summarize the latest news from the German comics studies scene. While all scholars seem to have been enjoying their summer break in August, September sounded the bell for a highly interesting fall season, full of conferences, festivals, and exhibitions.
Conferences, Workshops, Symposiums
Germany’s capital appears to have become the current hub of comics studies events, starting with the undisputed highlight of this year’s midsummer: the ninth annual conference of the German Society for Comics Studies. For four days (September 25–28), German and international comics scholars from various disciplines gathered at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Under the motto “Drawing Boundaries, Crossing Borders,” they discussed the transgressive potential of comics and their academic study. Whether media or genre conventions, geographical or political borders, the limits of medium or imagination – comics are bound to break them. The ComFor conference featured renowned comic scholars such as Roger Sabin, Neil Cohn or Michael Chaney and numerous established ComFor members, but also young scholars who are only beginning to explore the field of comics studies. Furthermore, participants were able to enjoy an exhibition by the Black Kirby artist group, an open forum that brought academia, publishers and artists together, and they also learned the latest news about Closure, the first German online journal for comics studies. Speaking of Closure, the editorial team announced at the conference that the first issue of the journal will be available on their brand new website by November 5th. Also during the annual conference, the new and improved ComFor website was released. Thanks to the new calender tool and a general bilingualism, it is now easier than ever before to stay informed about the most important events and publications concerning comics studies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
On September 26th, simultaneously to the ComFor conference, two other events took place in Berlin: the symposium “Grenzenlos: Comics im Unterricht”, where participants discussed how comics may be integrated into the curriculum, and the special training “Comics in Bibliotheken” for librarians. Both events are proof of increasing acceptance and acknowledgement of comics, not only in academia but also in the public sphere.
In mid-September, the research group “Digital and Cognitive Approaches to Graphic Narrative,” represented by Alexander Dunst and Jochen Laubrock, hosted the workshop “Empirical Approaches to Comics” in Berlin. Aiming to bring together American Studies and Cognitive Psychology, the workshop included talks by internationally acclaimed comics scholars such as Neil Cohn and Karin Kukkonen. Researchers Alexander Dunst and Rita Hartel also used the workshop to present a browser-based WYSIWYG-editor that allows for the easy commenting of scanned comic book pages on the basis of John A. Walsh’s “Comic Book Markup Language” (CBML). Even more complicated layouts, like those of Chris Ware, seem to work fine with algorithmic recognition of frames, balloons and characters.
Early this October, the “AG Comicforschung” – a research group for comics studies within the German Society for Media Studies (GfM), which Lukas already introduced in his April update – was represented at the annual GfM conference with a panel on “Comics and Law”. Comics scholars Jakob F. Dittmar, Andreas Rauscher, and Hans-Joachim Backe addressed three dimensions of how law and/or justice figure in comics and the discourses surrounding them. Their papers investigated the fine line between plagiarism and appropriation in the process of making comics, the issue of authorship in the comics industry, and the aesthetic dimensions of the discourse(s) on justice in revisionist superhero comics.
Two important German publications in the field of comics studies this summer are an essay collection and a special journal issue. The volume Bildlaute & Laute Bilder: Zur “Audiovisualität” von Bilderzählungen (Image Sounds & Loud Images: About the “Audiovisuality” of Picture Stories), edited by Christian A. Bachmann, collects essays that deal with the intermedial strategies of making sound visible in the works of Carl Barks, Lyonel Feininger, Winsor McCay, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Chris Ware, and many more. In August, a special “Comics” issue of the weekly journal supplement Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (Politics and Contemporary History) was published by the Federal Agency for Civic Education. The 56-page booklet, which features contributions by internationally renowned scholars like Thierry Groensteen and many ComFor members, can easily be ordered or downloaded from the agency’s website.
On September 14th, the fourth Graphic Novel Day took place as part of the International Literature Festival in Berlin. The festival is best known for last year’s release of the “comic manifesto.” This year, the four discussion rounds featured representatives from the German and European comics scene. Only four days later, the International Graphic Novel Salon at the Hamburg Instituto Cervantes invited comic artists Philippe Ôtiè, Gabriella Giandelli, Sohyun Jung, and Alfonso Zapico, who came together to talk about their current graphic novels. Soon after, the Comicfestival Hamburg (October 2–5) took place for the eight time and again focused on European independent comics. Among the special focus areas this year were the Finnish comics scene, Luke Pearson, Till Thomas, Hamburg artist groups, the First World War, and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Last but not least, this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair (October 8–12) eliminated its traditional “Comic Center,” and instead incorporated various comics-related events into the general program. Among them were comic book readings, exhibitions, the finale of the German Cosplay Championship 2014, and the German Cartoon Prize.
Finally, and instead of elaborating on the numerous comics-related exhibitions that took place during the summer or are still ongoing, I would like to draw your attention to an upcoming show. For the first time, the travelling exhibition “Holocaust in Comics” will be hosted by the university library in Bochum. From October 23rd until the end of January 2015, visitors can see examples of comics that grapple with the representation of the Holocaust, as well as numerous original drawings on the topic by German comic artists completely free of charge. The exhibition was originally put together by Ralf Palandt in 2001 and is now curated in Bochum by Nina Heindl and Véronique Sina. It will be accompanied by an interdisciplinary lecture series entitled “Representations of the Holocaust”, which investigates the negotiation of the Holocaust beyond the medium of comics. By the way, an exhaustive overview of past and future exhibitions can be easily achieved by a new German information portal for comics by the name of “Dreimalalles,” which only took off in July and features a very convenient calender tool. More updates from the German Society for Comics Studies in December!
Laura Oehme, M.A. is currently writing her doctoral thesis on “Risk Technologies and Global Catastrophe in Contemporary Science Fiction Comics” in the field of American Studies at the University of Bayreuth, where she also works as a research assistant. She is a member of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor), as well as the AG Comicforschung, and is part of the editorial team of the ComFor website. Together with Jeanne Cortiel, she has written an article on “The Dark Knight’s Dystopian Vision: Batman, Risk, and American National Identity,” which is forthcoming in the European Journal of American Studies.