by Robin-M. Aust
There is an old, often used Lovecraftian saying: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die”. Well, the ComFor Update is certainly neither dead nor has the ComFor been caught up in eternal slumber. Instead, the past few months have been busy and eventful, both for the Gesellschaft für Comicforschung as well as for German comics scholarship in general: the fall semester has started at German universities and the summer break has been filled to the brim with conferences and workshops, proceedings are to be written and read, research groups have been founded, announcements are to be made. That’s why a little bit more time than usual has passed since Lukas’s last update and why we decided to switch things up a bit: instead of a bi-monthly rhythm, we will adopt a trimonthly schedule from now on—which also gives us the opportunity to present you with an even more information-packed column.
Speaking of the beginning semester: as is tradition by now, we compiled a list of comics-related lectures and seminars held at German universities on our website. As you can see, the ongoing semester once again offers a wide range of different courses dedicated to comics studies in different academic fields.
Even if they do not teach comics and their academic utilisation, it has been a busy time for ComFor’s members. We are proud to announce a new publication series initiated by two of ComFor’s chairpersons: Comicforschung transdisziplinär [Transdisciplinary Comic Studies], edited by Stephan Packard and Véronique Sina and soon to be published by de Gruyter, is bound to include both German and English contributions on the study of comics as a medium, as an art form and as a cultural phenomenon. The new series is going to contain monographs as well as anthologies by both established and young scholars working in various disciplines, such as media, literature and art studies or philosophy, cultural studies and visual culture studies.
Similar to the ever-expanding number of classes and publications on comics, the number of conferences and workshops dedicated specifically to “everything comics” keeps on growing. Thus, it is nearly impossible to give you a full rundown of all the national or international events and meetings that took place during the last few months. We’ll thus limit ourselves to events involving one of the two comic studies institutions: ComFor and the AG Comicforschung [Committee for Comics Studies] of the German society for media studies (GfM).
Not only are German comic studies very active on the local scene, but they are branching out on the international scene as well. Thus, it is of no surprise to see the names of quite a few German comic scholars on the schedules of international conferences: the Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN) took place in Pamplona in June—and a whole 5 of its 14 panels were dedicated to comics and graphics novels, one organized by Vanessa Ossa, also a ComFor member, and the Committee for Comics Studies. Noteworthy, but also surely known to the Anglophone comics research scene, was the 10th annual International Graphic Novel and Comic Conference (IGNCC) that took place from 24th to 28th June in Manchester. This year’s topic, “Storyworlds and Transmedia Universes” amassed around 40 presentations, once again with contributions from ComFor members (Lukas R. A. Wilde and Vanessa Ossa). Just one short month later, but on the other side of the globe, Ryerson University in Toronto hosted the 2nd annual conference of Comics Studies Society (CSS). The topic was “Comics/Politics”. Around the same time, ComFor member Jörn Ahrens of Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen (Germany) organized a one-day conference titled “Der Comic als Form” [Comics as Form]—the programmes of both conferences featured speakers from the ComFor and the AG Comicforschung, of course.
While we are on the topic of comic research societies and their annual conferences: September brought the conference “Medien-Materialitäten” [Media Materialities] of the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft [GfM, German Society for Media Studies] in Cologne that also included comics in its programme (The Committee for Comics Studies organized both a panel on comics and the materialities of media borders and an artists’ round table on digital drawings). Comics were also amongst the many topics at the conference “Die internationale und intermediale Thomas Bernhard-Rezeption” (The international and intermedial reception of Thomas Bernhard), organised by Florian Trabert (a fellow ComFor member) and myself. 30 Years after the death of this controversial Austrian playwright and writer, the conference aimed to give an overview of his reception not only in literature itself, but also in music and comics. These two conferences among others once again proved the integration of Comics studies in the wider German academia. In addition, while not (yet) hosting their society’s annual conference, ComFor members Marina Rauchenbacher and Katharina Serles founded the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Comic-Forschung und -Vermittlung [OeGeC, Austrian Association for the Research and Promotion of Comics].
Departing from the strictly scholarly conferences and societies, a variety of events and fairs bringing together fans and artists took place as well: in September, there was the Comiciade Eupen. The fourth edition of this “Comic family fair” brought artists and fans together for workshops, talks as well as a Cosplay contest. In June, the fourth Comiccon Germany took place and with it the first award ceremony of the new GINCO award—but more on that later.
Last but not least, our very own annual ComFor conference took place in November, kindly hosted by the museum Erika Fuchs Haus in Schwarzenbach an der Saale. Organised by Christian Bachmann, Juliane Blank, Alexandra Hentschel and Stephan Packard, the conference included 17 international talks and three keynote speeches by David Zane Mairowitz, Federico Zanettin and Nathalie Mälzer, who have done outstanding work in the field of adaptation and translation. This year, the conference was dedicated to the topic of comparative comics studies and dealt with relations and transformations within the art form that cross and bridge cultural, linguistic, economic, juridical, political and media fields. Sadly, due to the aforementioned busy times, the author of this column was not able to attend the conference. Still, the tightly-packed schedule of the conference included an open forum on current research projects; presentations of comics museums and galleries such as the one in Schwarzenbach and the comic+cartoon showroom in Dortmund; as well as lectures on topics such as Finnish Marvel cutting and pasting strategies; political Taiwanese Popeye translations; scanlations; adaptations of classics such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust or Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; and comics studies’ historiography. The discussions were rich and productive, ranging from questions of queer modes of cultural production/adaptation to the political impacts of references/referentiality. Even after the ‘official’ part of the conference was completed, contributors and guests delved deep into the matter by touring the museum, swimming in Uncle Scrooge’s money bin and eating Donald Duck cookies. Last but not least, this year’s conference also included the first formal meeting of the AG Diversity [Working Group for Diversity], calling for an inclusive, respectful, supportive and empowering comics studies scene—but, once again: more on that later. In conclusion, this year’s conference was a success and those who sadly had to stay at home are looking forward to reading its proceedings.
While one ComFor annual conference is on its way, another one has come to its natural conclusion: the proceedings of the 2013 ComFor conference “Comics und Naturwissenschaften” [Comics and the Natural Sciences] have finally been released by the Berlin publishing house Christian A. Bachmann, edited by Clemens Heydenreich. It offers a great variety of articles on the interplay of natural sciences and comics. And while we are on topic—you can read the full report on the 2018 ComFor conference “Zwischräume – Geschlecht, Diversität und Identität im Comic” [Intermediate Spaces – Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics] here.
Other colleagues did not lazily put up their feet either. September saw the release of the open access issue “Graphic Realities: Comics as Documentary, History, and Journalism” of the journal ImageTexT – Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, edited by ComFor members Laura Schlichting and Johannes C. P. Schmid. ComFor founding member and former chairman Dietrich Grünewald released a monograph about one of the most prolific German humourists: Loriot und die Zeichenkunst der Ironie [Loriot and the Art of Drawing Irony] takes a look at Victor von Bülow’s humoristic and ironic drawings. The volume Geschichte und Mythos in Comics und Graphic Novels [History and Mythology in Comics and Graphic Novels] has also been released again, with a long list of ComFor contributors. For all the other big or small publications on comics and comics scholarship, we refer you to our publication overview section.
Where there is hard work, there ought to be appreciation as well. Thus, with such a number of different contributions in the field of comics studies, there is also a necessity for awards. 2019 brought two new awards to the table (both with the participation of ComFor members), one for comic artists and one for comic scholars. First, we are proud to announce the establishment of a new award for inclusive and independent comic artists: the GINCO award (German Independent/Inclusive Comic and Manga Award). The award, set up by, amongst others, ComFor’s Lukas R. A. Wilde, serves to recognise self-publishing creators working with small, independent publishers, all by themselves, or on platforms for creator-owned content. July 2019 brought us the first ever GINCO winners, selected by a jury of five members (one of them ComFor’s Marie Schröer): Maertens by Maximilian Hillerzeder, Wilhelm will ans Meer by Matthias Lehmann, Grün & Gold by Lisa Brenner and Koukla by Alexandra Rügler. We are no less proud to announce the second award, this time for academic achievements: the Martin Schüwer-Publikationspreis für herausragende Comicforschung [Martin Schüwer Award for Excellent Comic Studies] is now annually awarded by a cooperation between ComFor and the Committee for Comics Studies. It is meant to motivate young scholars not yet holding a permanent academic position. By honouring outstanding publications in the field of interdisciplinary comic research, the award aims to contribute to the promotion and communication of comic-related research work. In September 2019, Dorothee Schneider (now Marx) was awarded the first ever Martin Schüwer-Publikationspreis for her article “The ›Affected Scholar‹. Reading Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts as a Disability Scholar and Cystic Fibrosis-Patient”, available freely (and in English) in Kiel University’s journal on comics research, Closure.
Speaking of awards, German comic artist Isabel Kreitz was recently awarded the Wilhelm-Busch-Preis 2019 für satirische und humoristische Zeichenkunst und Verdichtung [Award for Satirical and Humorous Drawn Arts and Reduction]. Of course, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all winners in the name of all ComFor members!
Finally, we are proud to announce another important initiative: founded by ComFor chairwoman Véronique Sina, AG Diversity aims to contribute to the visibility, promotion and networking of non-hegemonic, queer-feminist comic research both within and beyond ComFor. Thus, AG diversity is a response to a lack of diversity in comic research that is reflected both in research approaches and text canon as well as in the group of researchers and their public representation and networking. AG Diversity seeks to establish a more inclusive research and discussion culture and to anchor new impulses in research to counteract these exclusionary representational relationships. With the founding of AG Diversity, ComFor is taking an important step towards closing this gap and sending a clear signal against all forms of discrimination and exclusion.
That’s it for now. While the days are getting shorter and Christmas, New Years eve (and related dreadful parties) are over once again, a lot of ongoing projects are coming to an end and new ones are getting started—so I guess there is no shortage of talking points for the next ComFor update. Currently, we are concluding our winter break. Our editorial team is collecting our readers’ annual primary literature (i.e. comics) recommendations from our members, which constitutes the first post in the new year. For those interested and in dire need of some additional new reading material, we refer you to the last few years’ recommendations for the time being.
Robin-M. Aust is a research assistant at the Lehstuhl für Neuere Deutsche Literaturwissenschaft (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf). He currently works on his PhD project on the intertextual reception of the works of Thomas Bernhard. His masters thesis on Nicolas Mahler’s comic adaptations of Bernhard’s Alte Meister and Alice in Sussex was awarded the Carl-Wambach-Preis and published in 2016 as the first monograph on Nicolas Mahler. Apart from comics, his research interests comprise intertextuality and intermediality, the interplay between ‘low’ and ‘high’ culture, Austrian and Swiss contemporary literature, as well as digital literature.
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