It feels a bit like cheating for me to write this column, taking turns for our bi-monthly ComFor updates on German comics scholarship. July and August have been comparably quiet, due to what must be a holiday breeze, but a regular storm of conferences, festivals and events appears to be looming on the horizon. So consider this more of a teaser trailer for September and October – and most of all for the ComFor’s own annual conference on History in Comics – History of Comics in Frankfurt/M. from September 4–6 (more about that later).
First, as a quick follow-up to Laura Oehme’s last column, and the news about the successful funding of a research cooperation between the University of Paderborn and the University of Potsdam on the subject of Hybrid Narrativity: the research group, combining approaches from the cognitive sciences, digital humanities and narratology, remains prominent in the German spotlight. One of the founders, Alexander Dunst, recently gave a lecture on the topic of Reading Comics – Contributions of Empirical Humanities at the University of Göttingen to present some preliminary results already. There have been some discussions of the project from outside academia as well (notably within regular newspaper columns and in online discussion groups), asking for more information about the aims and methods of the project than can be found on the public website of the group. An extensive and very informative (albeit German-language) interview with Dr. Dunst was published on Christian Meiwald’s comics-newsblog Dreimalalles, while Hybrid Narrativity-member Oliver Moisich of Paderborn University composed a short (Geman-language) project introduction for the ComFor. Since it is sometimes compared to (or contrasted with) Bart Beaty, Benjamin Woo and Nick Sousanis’ What Were Comics? by the University of Calgary and Carleton University, the ComFor editorial board followed up with a short interview with Bart Beaty (in English), in which he explains more about the backgrounds of, and possible connections between, both approaches. On a further note, the Hybrid Narrativity group will be organizing a Master Class with renowned media scholar Lev Manovich in Potsdam on September 23, doubtless deepening these discussions.
If you were browsing through German newspapers and magazines last month looking for news on comic books, you were most likely to stumble across the name of Erika Fuchs. On August 1, a museum in her name celebrated its opening in Schwarzenbach an der Saale, and the event was widely covered beyond local press and newspapers. If you are wondering why you have never heard about this artist, the answer is easy: she wasn’t one (at least not in the usual sense). Dr. Erika Fuchs is a bit of a German curiosity: Working as an ingenious and brilliant translator of Carl Barks’ classic Disney comics for many decades, she not only influenced contemporary German language significantly, but actually received recognition for this (which is, not surprisingly, pretty rare within this invisible craft). So it is only fitting that, after many delays, her hometown of Schwarzenbach will finally welcome visitors to the Erika Fuchs Haus – dedicated not only to her life’s work, but also to the art of language in comics in general. And if that isn’t enough for you, it also features a more or less life-size money bath, Uncle Scrooge-style!
In terms of festivals and conventions, I won’t go much into details about the two upcoming German Comic Cons – German Comic Con in Dortmund (December 5/6, 2015) and Comic Con Germany in Stuttgart (June 25/26, 2016) – that were announced recently (if you include other German-speaking countries, the Vienna Comic Con on November 21/22 2015 should be mentioned as well). A growing commercial interest in comics (or rather comic fans) as a viable business resource is certainly noteworthy from an economic and sociological point of view (and also where practices of transmedia storytelling and marketing are involved). However, other upcoming festivals and fairs that have a larger focus on cultural topics might be of more immediate interest to comic studies as an endeavour of humanities.
On September 5, Leipzig opens its Comicgarten mini-festival; the international literature festival Berlin (ilb) invites its guests to participate in its Graphic Novel Day once more (September 12–13). For September 18–20 we are looking forward to the ever-growing Connichi manga festival in Kassel, organized by Animexx. Vienna will be hosting the Vienna Comix 2015 festival on October 3–4, while Hamburg is preparing for the International Graphic Novel Salon on October 10. Despite some major changes in its presentation of comics, the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair (October 14–18) is certainly going to be an important event again, and finally the MMC, the Anime- and Manga-Convention in Berlin, will be held on October 23–25.
While both these festivals and a number of conferences seem right around the corner, some prior academic events also deserve some attention: First and foremost, on July 3/4 the German Kinemathek Berlin invited us to reflect upon the aesthetic, narrative and technological aspects of Storyboarding: Bild – Text – Bewegung (Image – Text – Movement). Within this dialogue between literature and cinema studies, as well as art history, comics emerged as a special nexus point, critically examined by Kalani Michell’s (Frankfurt) presentation on “Petzold’s Comic Storyboard Constructions” and Jens Meinrenken’s (Berlin) investigation of “Sequential Art: The Relationship between Comic, Storyboard and Film.”
We have already mentioned (twice!) the workshop on the Mediality and Materiality of Contemporary Comics, organized by Jan-Noël Thon and myself on behalf of the AG Comicforschung (Comic Studies Board) of the German Society of Media Studies (GfM), so we won’t bother you with details again. However, Stephan Packard and Christian A. Bachmann composed a detailed English workshop report for ZfM online (online Journal of Media Studies) which can be accessed freely. This includes not only the keynote speeches by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey (Hertfordshire), Ian Hague (Comics Forum), Karin Kukkonen (Turku), Véronique Sina (Bochum) and Daniel Stein (Siegen), but also 10 additional paper presentations, as well as discussions and recurring questions are covered in some depths – thanks for that!
The next event organized by the AG Comicforschung (this time round by Véronique Sina and Hans-Joachim Backe) will be part of the GfM’s annual conference from September 30 to October 3, 2015. Hosted by the University of Bayreuth, the conference asks for mediatised visions of “Utopia” and the possibilities of societal transformation, comprising an impressive amount of almost 50 panels with hundreds of presentations by scholars from all over the field(s) of media studies. Within that context, the AG Comicforschung brought together Jeanne Cortiel (Bayreuth), Stephan Packard (Freiburg) and Véronique Sina herself, to discuss the relations between (post)apocalyptic and utopian visions in Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead (Cortiel), the transgressions (and semiotic irritations) of what can be considered human in Superior Iron Man (Packard), as well as the subversion of gender-images in Enki Bilal’s dystopic La Trilogie Nikopol (Sina).
Now we finally approach the point I can spread some excitement about the ComFor’s own annual conference with our grand anniversary. As the title History in Comics – History of Comics indicates, organizer Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff and his team at the University of Frankfurt/M. will focus on comics and graphic literature with a double perspective. As the conference’s call for paper’s explains: “One field of interest will consist of the historical topics and subjects, ranging from antiquity to contemporary history, that are depicted in works of sequential art from all over the world and attract the attention of a broad readership […] Another field of interest – closely linked to and in correspondence with the aspects mentioned above – consists of the historicisation of the phenomenon ‘comic’, its contemporary varieties and its readership(s) as well as the analysis of its international developments.” The event, held from September 4 to 6, will be the biggest ComFor conference ever, featuring about 55 presentations (many of them in English) in three parallel tracks; participants include Anne Magnussen (Odense) and artist Barbara Yelin (Irmina). So, come and join us in the centre of Germany to celebrate our anniversary of ComFor conferences, which have certainly come a long way from their first instalment 10 years ago.
In the arena of new publications that we constantly struggle to keep track of in our Monitor column, I’d like to highlight two new releases especially. Firstly, Juliane Blank published her dissertation on Literaturadaptionen im Comic (literature adaptations in comics) with the Christian Bachmann publishing house. Blank draws on the methods and concepts of cinema studies, art history and picture theory, proposing an analytical model which considers the source material and the medial transformation into the realm of comics of equal importance. Speaking of ‘translations’, Nathalie Mälzer edited a Frank & Timme volume on Comics – Übersetzugen und Adaptionen (translations and adaptions). Comprising some of the contributions of last year’s international conference at the University of Hildesheim, the collection sheds (interdisciplinary) light on the interplay of linguistic translation and regionalisation on the one hand and medial transcoding processes on the other. Not a German publication at all, I’d nevertheless like to direct your attention towards Daniel Merlin Goodbrey and Jayms Nichols’ special-themed issue of Networking Knowledge: Digital Comics. Out of the six articles focusing specifically on the relationship between comics and digital media two investigations were contributed by ComFor-members: Matthias Bremgartner’s article on the interplay of theatre and digital comics, as well as my own investigation of the difficulty to assess the mediality of [digital] comics.
All things considered, not bad for a summer break fill-in! Enjoy the rest of your holidays, make your way to Frankfurt if you can, and we’ll be back to cover some of it in 60 days!
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), pp. 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: 8.4), pp. 1–14.