by Stephan Packard
For comics studies in the German speaking parts of the world, the last two months of this year were dominated by two major conferences.
On the one hand, the annual ComFor conference took place in early December. Hosted for the first time at Bonn University, the conference focused on Comics and their Popularity. With this topic, organisers Joachim Trinkwitz and Rolf Lohse brought the continuously expanding discussion in the German Society for Comics Studies back to some aspects that had almost been neglected in several years of research, as the discipline had moved towards perspectives on advanced, avant-garde and aesthetically unique comics. This year returned our attention to the art form as a decisively popular genre and thus revisited questions of seriality, popularity, ideology and culture industry. Beginning with the by now traditional open workshop for planned and ongoing research, the conference then moved on to discussing practices of identity, political and ideological aspects, discourses of cultural legitimacy, facets of authorship and finally the concept of the popular itself. In their keynote lectures, Julia Round (Bournemouth) and Martin Lund (Växjo/New York) discussed canonicity and aestheticism in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and the popular propaganda of Jack T. Chick’s ‘chick tracts’ respectively.
Next year’s annual conference will see ComFor returning to Cologne for the first time since 2010, when organisers Véronique Sina, Nina Heindl and Christine Gundermann invite us to discuss Gender, Identity, and Diversity in the In-between of Comics. Watch this space as well as the ComFor website for the forthcoming international call for papers.
On the other hand, the research carried out over the last several years by the PathoGraphics group at Berlin culminated in an international conference on Stories of Illness / Disability in Literature and Comics. Researchers discussed transformative relations between both art forms and medical science; the representation of inner landscapes—autobiographical and otherwise—in illness narratives; and the artistic and narrative treatments of various temporalities of pathology, from acute pain through chronic conditions to terminal illness. Further panels focused on more specific topics such as ‘present absences’ dealing with various parts of illness experiences, confessionals and normalizing discourses, as well as the politics of storying illnesses. The keynote from Leigh Gilmore was dedicated to the issue of the Tainted Witness, while a set of poster presentations expanded the field even beyond the more than 30 individual talks. The conference is connected to the exhibition Sick! on Reclaiming Illness through Comics, which can be seen at the Berlin Charité through March 4th next year.
Aside from these two major conferences, the field has been busy with many other events as well. At Hamburg, the symposium on Framing Comics 1900/2000 brought together researchers in a joint effort of two currently active research groups: on media transformations; and on German and American periodicals circa 1900. With a keynote from Roger Sabin and a reading from German comics artist Simon Schwartz, the meeting took a multi-faceted approach to the concept of frames, ranging from the immediate shape on the comic page to its broader hermeneutical and sociological analogies. Meanwhile, as I am writing this on December 15th, Tuebingen has just closed a day-long symposium on Orders and Framings of Visual Satire, which coincided with invited speaker and ComFor founder Dietrich Grünewald’s 70th birthday (best wishes and many happy returns!).
Still ongoing is the weekly Comic Colloquium at Berlin with a multi-faceted and international program of speakers from all parts of comics research that lasts into early February next year; as well as the lecture series on Migration and War in Graphical Narrative at Düsseldorf, which continues into January.
Among innumerable noteworthy exhibitions and popular presentations of research and comics, let me just point out three: at the Concentration Camp Memorial Osthofen, a lecture series discussed depictions of the national socialist regime in comics. Lorenzo Mattotti’s work is on show at an exhibition at the Cartoon Museum at Basel through March next year. And the exhibition Das Parlament at the Deutsche Bundestag showcased 20 comic biographies of German parliamentarians by Simon Schwartz.
Recent publications include Ute Ostkamp’s monograph on biblio-therapeutic work with comics (Bibliotherapeutische Arbeit mit Comics, LIT Verlag); Angela Weber’s and Katharina Moritzen’s extremely rich and voluminous collection on comics as an aesthetic practice of the post-migrant society (Tausend Bilder und eins: Comics als ästhetische Praxis in der postmigrantischen Gesellschaft, transcript); and the new editions of the two German yearbooks on comics and comic studies, the COMIC!-Jahrbuch published by ICOM, edited not least by ComFor member Burkhard Ihme; and the Jahrbuch Deutsche Comicforschung, as ever edited by Eckart Sackmann. The online journal Closure, which is rapidly becoming the central periodical format for German comics studies, published its fourth issue, focusing on the broad topic of old and new beginnings. The next call for papers just closed and promises a fifth issue devoted to forms of failure and failure narratives.
In recent comic art, the publication of Ari Folman’s and David Polonsky’s new comic book version of The Diary of Anne Frank attracted considerable attention. Véronique Sina and Ole Frahm drew a crowd at Frankfurt City Library for a public discussion that framed the new work in the context of the 50-odd existing adaptations and versions from all over the world. Meanwhile, Ralf König, one of the best-known German comics artists, won the Wilhelm Busch Prize for his life work, which was honoured and explored in an exhibition that is still ongoing—until April 2018—at Wiedensahl.
Looking ahead, Lukas Wilde’s graduate and post-graduate Winter School at Tuebingen in late February 2018 will discuss the de- and re-contextualization of characters, focusing, for instance, on Western-style cartoons and Japanese-style kyaras. Two more events will focus on factual discourse in comics: the German Society for Media Studies’ committee on comics research joins organizers Laura Schlichting and Johannes Schmid in inviting an international array of colleagues to discuss Graphic Realities: Comics as Documentary, History, and Journalism at Gießen in February; and Diegesis, the online journal on narratology, is preparing an issue on narrating reality in comics edited by Christian Klein, Matías Martínez and Lynn L. Wolff.
Thus closes an immensely rich, exciting and sometimes exhausting year. And yet the conversation constantly may be, and needs to be, expanded further. Do consider joining us at one of the conferences or symposia in 2018—and in any case, have a great new year.
Stephan Packard is President of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) and Professor for Popular Culture and Its Theory at Cologne University. His research focuses on transmedia narratology, on fictionality and ideology, as well as censorship and other forms of media control; and, of course, comics studies. He is co-editor of the journal Medienobservationen and chief editor of Mediale Kontrolle unter Beobachtung.
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