By Natalie Veith
In March, German universities are on term break, but it is rapidly coming to a close, so we are all busy getting ready for the summer semester that starts in April, preparing for our research and teaching duties, compiling reading lists and shuffling around seminar schedules. But that is not the only thing keeping us busy these days. In the field of comics studies as well as in the general German-language comics scene, this month in particular has been eventful.
First, from 11 to 14 March, the 8th Hamburg Graphic Novel Days were held at the Literaturhaus Hamburg. Hosted by journalist and comic expert Andreas Platthaus, the Graphic Novel Days consisted of a series of dialogues between German and foreign comics creators on new impulses and developments, this year with Jochen Gerner, Henning Wagenbreth, Nora Krug, Hamed Eshrat, Catherine Meurisse, Mikael Ross, Jason Lutes, Arne Jysch and Volker Kutscher.
The Austrian Next Comic Festival took place from 14 to 23 March, mostly in Linz, but with further associated events in other locations across Upper Austria (Traun, Steyr and Steyrermühl). The Next Comic Festival is the only one of its kind in Austria. The programme included a wide range of book signings and workshops, exhibitions and presentations by more than forty comic artists, creative groups and artist collectives as well as a panel with academic presentations, such as one by ComFor member Bettina Egger on travel narratives in francophone comics.
21 to 24 March were the dates of the Leipzig Book Fair, which is one of the largest German book fairs (second only to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which takes place in October) and hence a crucial event for the publishing industry. Comics play an increasing role there and, since 2014, the Leipzig Book Fair also includes the Manga-Comic-Con, which has become a central event in the manga fan community. Many of the fair’s visitors with an interest in comics have also stopped by at The Millionaire’s Club, Leipzig’s annual Comics and Graphics Festival taking place at the same time as the book fair. This year’s Millionaire’s Club featured a diverse, international programme, including a talk by Georgy Elaev on Russian comics; readings by comic artists Aisha Franz, James Turek, Daria Bogdanska, War and Peas, Elisabeth Pich, Max Baitinger and Anna Haifisch; and a talk by illustrator Lisa Frühbeis on sexism in comics, followed by an open discussion with the Feminist Comic Network.
Regarding this last topic, it is noticeable that sexism and other forms of discrimination and exclusion in the field of comics are still a bustling topic here. This resonates, of course, with the topic of our last annual conference, “Spaces Between – Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics”, that took place at the University of Cologne last September and that you may have read about in Stephan Packard’s ComFor Update for November 2018. I am happy to say that the enthusiasm for these topics has not ebbed away and we are still seeing many lively discussions on the critical engagement with hegemonic constructions relating to categories of sex, gender, ethnicity or dis-/ability: on 5 February, Prof. Elizabeth Wheeler gave a guest lecture on superheroes with disabilities at the German-American Institute Tübingen, in which she addressed the strengths and weaknesses of American culture and how those are condensed in images of superheroes with disabilities, who have become a sign of inclusion in the 21st century. Also the topic of the Berlin Comic Colloquium on 9 February, “Motive von Angst und Wut – Emotionen im und um den Comic” (“Motives of Fear and Anger – Emotions In and Around Comics”), announced in Julia Ingold’s previous ComFor Update, bore witness to how the field of German comics studies increasingly takes up impulses from recent socio-cultural and political debates. The mobilisation of emotions such as anger and fear as well as general insecurities and anxieties have lately become determining factors in broader social and political developments. The aim of the colloquium, which ComFor members Tillmann Courth, Antje Knopf, Anke Marie Bock, Juliane Blank and Matthias Harbeck contributed to, was to discuss not only how these intense negative emotions are depicted in comics, but also how comics can fuel them. On 7 March, ComFor co-president Véronique Sina held a lecture on comics and intersectionality at the Free University of Berlin as part of the lecture programme of the Pathographics research project. Sina explored which possibilities and potentials could be opened up within the field of comics studies by introducing the concept of intersectionality as an analytical tool.
This also leads me to another exciting recent announcement, namely the establishing of the GINCO award, the German Inclusive Comic Award of the Independent Scene, which is currently accepting submissions until 31 March. This award, that is supposed to be an addition and counterbalance to the comics awards we already have in Germany, is specifically aimed at supporting and acknowledging the contributions of artists belonging to marginalised groups who, as the organisers point out, frequently find themselves excluded from established structures and systems. The GINCO award seeks to help these artists to increase their visibility and also honour the work of small independent publishers who often provide them with a first chance to reach public recognition. The award is funded by donations and organised entirely by volunteers, among them ComFor treasurer Lukas R. A. Wilde as well as Eve Jay, a former member of the jury of the ICOM award (another German award for independent comics).
Also in the academic field, we are approaching the submission deadline of a comic-related award (also on 31 March), namely the Martin Schüwer Publikationspreis für herausragende Comicforschung (the Martin Schüwer Prize for Excellence in Comics Studies), that will be awarded for the first time this year. It is named in memoriam of ComFor member Martin Schüwer, whose publication Wie Comics erzählen (2008) has become a basic reference work in German-language comics studies. The prize is a joint venture of the ComFor and the German Society for Media Studies and was announced at our last general meeting in September. It is specifically aimed at young comics scholars, to support those who are still at an early stage of their academic career, but who are making significant contributions to the field.
This sums up most events of February and March, with just one missing that is approaching rapidly as I write this: the workshop “Comics/Fandom”, that will be held on 28 and 29 March at the University of Cologne. Among the organisers are ComFor members Vanessa Ossa and Véronique Sina. It is a collaboration of the German Society for Media Studies’ Committee for Comics Studies and the Committee for the Studies of Fandom and Participatory Culture. Since many ComFor members are also on the Committee for Comics Studies, the workshop is a good opportunity for some of us to get together once more before the lecture period starts again. The interdisciplinary workshop will address the possibilities and limitations of interferences between the fields of comics studies and fandom studies, something that has as of yet been insufficiently explored, so we are looking forward to two productive days.
Natalie Veith is a research fellow at the Department for English and American Studies of the Goethe University, Frankfurt. Her research interests are 19th to 21st century British literature and culture, visual and pluricodal media (comics, film and television, photography), visual culture studies, modes of representation and agency, gender studies and postclassical narratology. She has been a member of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) since 2014 and joined the ComFor’s online editorial board in 2018.
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