Welcome to 2015’s first column of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor). Regardless that ComFor will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, due to holiday breaks and such you’d expect a relatively slow start for comic studies – with the biggest events comprised only of the traditional “must-read” lists and surveys on 2014’s works (you’ll find wonderful compilations of German and international “Top-X” lists on Christian Maiwald’s comic infopage Dreimalalles.info, including ComFor members’ own thoughts on interesting reads). Quite to the contrary, however, the last two months proved to be pretty eventful. I feel obliged to mention the shocking incidents at Charlie Hebdo first; not only because they overshadowed January, but also because they raised a lot of questions regarding the relation of cartoons and comics to politics – a topic that has been critical to some of ComFor’s previous annual conferences. While German scholars were as shocked and speechless as everyone else, some will try to think about a way to honor the contributors to Charlie Hebdo not only as victims but artists.
Despite that tragedy, there has been a lot of other really exciting and encouraging news for comics research. Charlie Hebdo wasn’t the only international topic discussed in Germany, thankfully: All eyes and newsfeeds were fixed on France for a more pleasant reason as well, which would of course be the Angoulême festival. Quite a few German artists and their works (including Barbara Yelin, Jens Harder, Ulli Lust and Till Thomas) enjoyed recognition (and some award nominations) in what is certainly Europe’s most important comic festival. Germany’s own stand was organized by a collaboration of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Deutscher Comicverein and the Goethe Institute Paris. It was also announced that a renowned German prize for merits in literary translations, The Christoph-Wieland-Übersetzungspreis, will focus exclusively on comic book translations this fall. The prize has been awarded biannually since 1979, but this is the first time that comic books have been considered instead of previous genres like lyric poetry (2009), short prose (2011) or world literature (2013). Also worth noting, Paderborn University’s Department of English and American Studies announced a recruitment notice last month which focuses exclusively on comic book research: the sought-for associate is to work within Alexander Dunst’s research group “Hybride Narrativität: Digitale und Kognitive Methoden zur Erforschung graphischer Literatur” (“Hybrid narrativity: digital and cognitive methods for the research of graphic literature”), supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Alongside such growing cultural and academic recognition, one of the largest German newspapers, Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel, published yet another well-researched article on the recent increase in comic scholarship and specialized literature.
Festivals and Fairs
If not in competition with Angoulême, some German festivals nevertheless deserve attention. Already announced in Nina Heindl’s last column, the city of Kassel celebrated its second “Neue Wege” (“new paths”) festival of graphic novels from January 15th to 18th. In Switzerland we can look forward to the 25th installment of the renowned Fumetto festival in Luzern (March 7th till 15th), certainly also one of the most important cultural events for comics in Europe (the exhibition program looks nothing short of spectacular). The Buchmesse Leipzig (a huge book fair from March 12th to 15th), though not limited to comics, nevertheless offers fans a whole exhibition floor and a sensational program – Scott McCloud will introduce the audience to his newest work, The Sculptor, to mention just one (if you are in Berlin, you also have the chance to meet him on March 11th/12th at the house of the Berliner Festspiele). Alongside the Buchmesse, running on the same dates, Leipzig will also be the venue of The Millionaires Club, an annual Comics & Graphics Festival taking place in the Gallery for Contemporary Arts. A wide variety of artists from Finland, Latvia, France, Poland, Slovenia, Germany and beyond will be participating, and many workshops, concerts and exhibitions are on offer! Decisively smaller is the two-day-festival of Comic Invasion Berlin, which will take place in Germany’s capital on April 18th/19th for the 5th time. The Comic Invasion will also present a newly-announced incentive award to support young artists, adding to the exciting news for comics mentioned above. Details about the competition will soon be available online, with the contest theme said to be “Berlin 2055”.
It’s getting increasingly hard to maintain an overview of the numerous comic-themed exhibitions. If you want to stay on top of these, we’d again suggest regularly checking Dreimalalles’ amazing calendar-tool. However, I’ve picked just a few noteworthy exhibitions here: From January 1st until 31st LE MONDE diplomatique and the Reprodukt publishing house celebrated LE MONDE’S (German edition’s) 20th anniversary with the show “Comics zur Lage der Welt” (“Comics on Today’s Situation”) at the Neurotitan Berlin, exhibiting some of the best works of the artists that published in LE MONDE from 2010 to 2014. The Comic Haus Cologne did a beautiful show on 75 years of Batman from November 11th until February 5th. ComFor members such as Martin Frenzel and Lars Banhold participated in presentations and discussions on the Dark Knight’s history. Next up was the “Nothing Special” exhibition in Mannheim (February 7th till March 8th), focusing on young artists’ representations of everyday routines.
Research and Conferences
While the winter was relatively quiet in terms of new publications, a few studies not mentioned before are worth looking into: Holger Wilmesmeier put together a didactic “comic laboratory”, aiming at school use for children age 8+: Kreativ lehren und lernen mit Comics (Creative Learning and Teaching with Comics). Eckart Sackmann continued his impressive work on early German comic book research in volume 11 (2015) of Deutsche Comicforschung (German Comic Studies), featuring original articles on proto-comics before Wilhelm Busch, Lyonel Feininger’s early work, and the role of “comics” in newspaper research pre-1945 (to name just a few). On January 1st, the Transcript publishing house released Stefan Meiers study on the discourses surrounding Superman, focusing on aspects of seriality and media changes: Superman transmedial: Eine Pop-Ikone im Spannungsfeld von Medienwandel und Serialität (Transmedial Superman: A Pop Icon between the Poles of Media Changes and Seriality).
While Andreas Veit, Johannes Noldt, Simon Klingler and Johannes Schmid continued to host Hamburg’s Comic Colloquium, an open and interdisciplinary forum to discuss comic research in all stages, there were no conferences related to comic studies in winter – with the exception of Tuebingen’s Winter School, “Mediality and Multimodality across Media”. Organized by Klaus Sachs-Hombach and Jan-Noël Thon, the three-day-conference featured internationally renowned experts on the theoretical foundation of the buzzword “multimodality”: Covering wide areas of media and discourse – from film, television and the novel to non-verbal and online communication – ten keynote speakers and twelve junior researchers investigated the disciplinary and methodological assumptions of multimodality. Charles Forceville gave an in-depth presentation on the variety of multimodal communicative aspects of comic books, while Benoît Crucifix, Fabian Gregori, Evelyn Chew and myself pursued the concepts in question through specific (print and digital) comic cases and applications.
Tuebingen is additionally going to stay on the radar for a while longer: Jan-Noël Thon and myself are looking forward to organizing the 2nd Workshop of the AG Comicforschung (Comic Studies Board) of the Gesellschaft für MedienwissenschaftGfM (the German Society for Media Studies) with support from the Institutional Strategy of the University of Tuebingen (German Research Foundation, ZUK 63). From April 24th to 26th 2015, we’d like to offer the chance to discuss the “Materiality and Mediality of Contemporary Comics”, focusing on how this relationship has changed in the context of digitalization and an increasingly convergent media culture. The keynote speakers Daniel Merlin Goodbrey (Hertfordshire), Ian Hague (Comics Forum), Karin Kukkonen (Turku), Véronique Sina (Bochum) and Daniel Stein (Siegen) will chair additional paper presentations, which will all be in English. If you’d like to join in, have a look at our Call for Papers which is still open until March 15th.
Until our next column in April, I’d like to recommend some links which might be of interest to stay updated: While ComFor’s Martin Frenzel is still working on the Comicoskop-online journal I’ve already mentioned in my last column , he and his team are also doing a terrific job at the Comicoskop Facebook-installment: Updates on articles, reports and newscasts that are relevant to comics are given almost daily. Of even greater scholarly interest might be the Facebook-group Comicforschung/comic studies initiated by publisher Christian Bachmann some years ago. With over 300 members now, it has become an increasingly valuable environment to discuss questions, ask for educated guesses on current research projects, or just to stay informed on new publications and CfPs. You’d have to ask for registration, but as long as you don’t post (non-scholarly) advertisement, you should be fine. Return here for our next ComFor column in April!
Lukas R. A. Wilde, M.A., is a doctoral candidate at the Department for Media Studies of Tuebingen University; he is on the editing board of the website of the German Society of Comic Studies (ComFor) and a member of the Comic Studies Board of the German Society for Media Studies (GfM). His focus of interest is on picture theory; media theory; webcomics and digital comics; recent publications: Der Witz der Relationen. Komische Inkongruenz und diagrammatisches Schlussfolgern im Webcomic XKCD. (Stuttgart 2012); “Was unterscheiden Comic-‘Medien’?” In: Closure. Kieler e-Journal für Comicforschung (2014: 1), S. 25–50; “Distinguishing Mediality. The Problem of Identifying Forms and Features of Digital Comics”. In: Daniel Merlin Goodbrey / Jayms Nichols (eds.): Digital Comics. A Special-Themed Issue of Networking Knowledge (2015, forthcoming).