by Stephan Packard
After the traditional summer break, the winter semester has begun at German, Swiss and Austrian universities. A few weeks in, at least 15 courses and lecture series in those regions have begun work related to comics studies: the ComFor website’s staff has edited a useful and fascinating list. In addition to all of these courses, the Comic-Kolloquium in Berlin has started up again as well, boasting no less than ten announced talks from guests and regulars throughout the season. Topics range from Art Spiegelman to Preacher, from Eastern German history to 19th century sequential art, and from literary criticism to quantitative and network analysis. Back in June, the Comic-Kolloquium had contributed a dense series of talks packed with presentations that opened up comics studies for a popular audience at the Comic Invasion Berlin. The Kolloquium is organized by Matthias Harbeck, Linda-Rabea Heyden and Marie Schröer.
If summer had slowed down comics studies at the universities, this was not true for the annual conference of ComFor, the German Society for Comics Studies. Spaces Between – Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics, organized at Cologne by Véronique Sina and Nina Heindl, and conceived in conjunction with Christine Gundermann, set new standards as the first fully international conference from ComFor, by boasting by far the most extensive and varied program – and, far too late but all the more important, by being the first ComFor conference organized by a team of female colleagues, mirroring the topic’s departure in the best possible way. With an artistic lecture from Philip Crawford and keynotes from Tahneer Oksman and Caroyln Cocca (as well as a surprise visit from German TV star and comic reader Hella von Sinnen), and more than 30 speakers, the symposium discussed identity representations, production conditions and reading perspectives regarding comics as a medium with “spaces between”, which the call for papers had interpreted as leverages that “might be used or construed as a reference to a realm of the ‘unshown’, wherein notions of a final, self-contained truth are renounced and alternative worldviews that challenge the social status quo are enhanced.” The conference was accompanied by three exhibitions: a selection of Philip Crawford’s artwork under the title My Noose Around that Pretty’s Neck; a reshowing of the Berlin Schwulen Museum’s SuperQueeroes – Our LGBTI* Comic Heroes adapted by Cologne students; and a poster exhibition from students titled Comics & Disability Studies and focusing on individual comic book interpretations. To precede the conference, the Cologne Comic Haus in conjunction with the self-publishing initiative Comic Solidarity and the Institute for Media Culture and Theatre at the University of Cologne organized a reading and discussion with comic artists Katja Klengel (Girlsplaining) and Lara Keilbart (Troll Control and Bodies), chaired by Marie Schröer. A full report on the conference in English has since been published on the ComFor website.
The Annual Conference was also an opportunity to unveil the newly established Martin Schüwer Publikationspreis für herausragende Comicforschung, the Martin Schüwer Prize for Excellence in Comics Studies. A joint venture of ComFor and the Committee for Comics Studies at the German Society for Media Studies, the prize will be awarded for one essay or chapter from young scholars in the field, recognizing their contributions and hopefully advancing the establishment of the growing discipline and its standards. The prize’s namesake, Martin Schüwer, passed away at much too young an age in 2013. It is not only his highly regarded monograph on comics narratology, Wie Comics erzählen, but also and even more so the example that he set for interdisciplinary, sincere collaboration and public accessibility for scholarship in the humanities that the spirit of the prize sets out to emulate.
A few weeks prior, ComFor had finally been able to present its collection of essays on comics and cartoons in French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Edited by Lukas Wilde and myself, the (much delayed) volume is intended to make a point out of not merely discussing the terrorist attacks on the magazine in January 2015 or the few cartoons that are usually discussed in its context, but to do justice to the breadth and variation of artistic formats and political topics since the magazine’s inception. The title (Charlie Hebdo: Nicht nur am 7. Januar 2015!/Charlie Hebdo: Not only on January 7, 2015!) summarizes this approach. The open access publication with chapters by Barbara Eder, Elisabeth Klar, Marie Schröer and Catherine Michel is joined by a separate publication on Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of God by Martin Wambsganß.
Also this summer, Thomas Nehrlich, Joanna Nowotny and Lukas Etter published their long-awaited Reader Superhelden at Transcript, a tour de force on super heroes that begins with readings from Homer and Apollodorus, moving through the Edda and the Nibelungenlied, and finally joining modernity with Nietzsche, to then launch into a series of analytical as well as historical accounts on old and new definitions, historiographies, mythologies, and self-reflections, as well as considerations of racial and gender stereotypes and the mediality of the genre.
While the ComFor updates for the Comics Forum usually focus on comics studies in German language, I do want to draw attention to three international co-operations: firstly, the hugely impressive collection of perspectives on Empirical Comics Research assembled by Janina Wildfeuer, Alexander Dunst, and Jochen Laubrock and published by Routledge this summer, which promises to “bring together work in the field of empirical comics research. Drawing on computer and cognitive science, psychology and art history, linguistics and literary studies, each chapter presents innovative methods and establishes the practical and theoretical motivations for the quantitative study of comics, manga, and graphic novels,” as the announcement reads. Secondly, from August 9th through to August 11th, the first annual conference of the Comics Studies Society in Illinois included a ComFor panel organized by Björn Hochschild, which dealt with Disregarded Gaps, Blanks, and Discontinuities in the Comics Reading Experience from perspectives of phenomenological comics studies, paratextual examinations of adverts and marketing surrounding comics, and blanks as materializations in comics art. And thirdly, on November 1st and 2nd, the Chicago Conference on Comic Art and/As Remembrance in German Culture and Beyond closed. It was organized by Susanne Rott and opened with a keynote from Wuppertal scholar and Max Kade Visiting Professor Christian Klein.
The topic of history and comics was also central to ComFor honorary member Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff’s talk at Hannover on ‘protest culture, politpop and satire: on comics from 1968s’; and to a workshop on the holocaust in comics organized by Jörn Wendland, Ole Frahm, and Markus Streb on October 25th in Berlin. And on July 2nd, ComFor member Ole Frahm and comics artist Sascha Hommer joined the second workshop of the project Redrawing Stories from the Past at the Goethe Institute in Leipzig. As the organizers put it: “In the second part of the project, ‘Escape and Migration in Europe’, we wanted to explore the history of flight and migration as a consequence of National Socialism. The scope of the project, however, goes beyond the historical events of this period as participants also examine the medium- and long-term impact of escape and migration. These consequences are passed down from generation to generation and are still discernible in today’s societies. This approach will allow us to draw parallels between historic and current events (e.g. refugee and migration flows to Europe) with the aim of fostering a better understanding of history among the participating artists and youth, as well as the general public.”
As I am finishing this update, I am about to leave for Hannover, where the German Society for Media Studies’ (GfM) Committees for Comics Studies and for Games Studies are organizing an event on Comics | Games: Aesthetic, Ludic, and Narrative Strategies, hosted by the VW Foundation. The three-day international program, put together by Andreas Rauscher, Daniel Stein and Jan-Noël Thon, is fascinating to the point of being on the verge of pure intimidation; I am greatly looking forward to the event. It comes on the heels of the publication of the substantial volume from the previous VW symposium on comics and animation in 2016. Within the space of 350 pages, all available in deGruyter’s open access format, editors Hans-Joachim Backe, Julia Eckel, Erwin Feyersinger, Véronique Sina and Jan-Noël Thon have assembled expanded chapters developed from the talks on the artificiality of aesthetics in both art forms: Die Ästhetik des Gemachten. An auspicious and timely challenge to this year’s symposium, no doubt. In further co-operations, the Committee for Comics Studies will join the Committee for Fan Studies for a workshop on Comics/Fandom at the University of Cologne on March 28th and 29th 2019; the international Call for Papers is still open. The workshop will deal with a seemingly obvious intersection that somewhat surprisingly has hitherto been somewhat neglected by fan studies as well as comics, as Vanessa Ossa and Sofie Einwächter have argued before. For the workshop, they are working with Véronique Sina and Sven Stollfuß to change that. As always, do consider submitting a paper! It would be great to meet you there.
Stephan Packard is Professor for Popular Culture and Its Theories at Cologne University. Research interests include semiotics; comics studies; censorship and other forms of media control; transmediality; narratology; as well as concepts of fiction and virtuality. He is President of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor), chief editor of the open access journal Mediale Kontrolle unter Beobachtung and co-editor of the journal Medienobservationen. – Anatomie des Comics. Psychosemiotische Medienanalyse (Göttingen 2006); Abschied von 9/11 (ed. with Hennigfeld, Berlin 2013); Thinking – Resisting – Reading the Political (Berlin 2013, ed. with Esch-van Kan/Schulte); Comics & Politics (Berlin 2014, ed.); Charlie Hebdo: Nicht nur am 7. Januar 2015! (2018, ed. with Lukas R. A. Wilde).
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