by Stephan Packard
This update was originally planned for May. It would have chronicled a number of spring-time conferences and publications in the German-speaking worlds of comics studies; outlined further plans for this year’s annual ComFor conference; pointed out various courses and lectures on comics in university curricula throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland; and announced a newly elected Executive Board for the German Society for Comics Studies.
And then, of course, a pandemic happened. The ComFor website turned into a chronicle of cancellations and deferments, listing these casualties on a new landing page (but accompanying this with a laconically titled but encouraging international list of comic projects that respond to the pandemic: Comics und Corona). Compromises abound. Leipzig’s Manga Comic Con and the Comiciade at Aachen were both cancelled altogether, as were too many conferences. The joint Bremen and Bydgoszcz conference on empirical studies into language and images in public communication, once planned for May, has been postponed for the fall; organized by Anna Kapuścińska and John Bateman, it is set to continue the first Sprache und Bild in der öffentlichen Kommunikation conference from April 2019. The NEXTCOMIC Festival in Austria originally had to close down most of its events, moving on to planning for 2021; but it did uphold the basic elements of its exhibition – and by now, several new and deferred events have begun to populate its 2020 programme. Stuttgart’s International Trick Film Festival on animation went virtual, as did the Erlangen Comic Salon, Germany’s largest comic convention and conference. It has moved completely online and has now begun a virtual salon on July 10th. Other special events have gone the same route; perhaps most notably, comic artist Ulli Lust presents a ‘coronavirus-safe’ version of her seminar on drawing comics on YouTube.
The Erlangen Salon is also accompanied by the recently founded GINCO Award in its second year. The German Inclusive Comic Award of the Independent Scene celebrates independent comics creators and emphasizes a new direction of inclusiveness, thus complementing – in their own words – “existing awards and structures in the comic scene by creating a common ground, or rather a stage. One where there is no difference made between, for example, digital and analogue, or comics and manga. The objective is amplifying visibility for newcomers, and to create a symbol to invite new readers to discover and support diverse styles and content.”
One of the first academic events to realize the potential of the online format has been the workshop CorpoRealities: Perceptions of ‘Extraordinary’ Time in Literature and Comics, a joint project of the German Society for Media Studies’ Committee for Comics Studies and the long-running graphic medicine project at Berlin, PathoGraphics. The varied programme quickly spilled online, setting a trend for scholarly discussions surrounding so many virtual conferences in the following weeks. At that point, the eleventh International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference, not-at-London, was still to follow; it has now set standards for digital academic conferences with its very nearly seamless combination of recorded open access lectures, lively synchronous online Q & A sessions and extended debate in social media.
A model, then, for ComFor’s annual conference this fall: dedicated to the topic of Comics and Agency, the conference will look at the actors, public spheres and formats of participation involved in various comics and comics scenes. The organisers – Vanessa Ossa, Jan-Noël Thon and Lukas R. A. Wilde – have moved the organisation from the planned venue at Tübingen online as well, taking full advantage of the reduced costs of travel to present one of the most international programmes ComFor has yet seen. Expect more information on this on the ComFor website as the October 2020 date approaches and do please join us. A large part of the discussions will be in English and visiting with German comics scholarship has never been easier than now, when you can do it through your browser!
Meanwhile, the German Society for Media Studies has also moved its annual conference online and that includes two panels organised by the Committee for Comics Studies: a discussion panel on experimental performances of disease, trauma and corporealities in comics, and a workshop on media experiments and transversals in comics. October should also see the forty-fourth Annual Conference of the North American German Studies Association, though it is not yet clear what shape it will take. It too will include several panels on German comics; calls for papers have promised events discussing transnational perspectives on comics as well as German-language comics journalism.
Publications have continued, albeit often delayed, through the COVID-19 crisis. The 2018 ComFor conference Spaces Between: Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics will be published in two volumes: Véronique Sina’s and Nina Heindl’s collection of the same name at Springer, scheduled for August, promises “interdisciplinary perspectives on and theoretical approaches to the notion of ‘spaces between’”, drawing “our attention to the nexus between the medium of comics and the categories of difference as well as identity such as gender, dis/ability, age, and ethnicity, in order to open and intensify an interdisciplinary conversation between comics studies and intersectional identity studies.” Christine Gundermann’s edited volume with publishing house Bachmann is set to follow shortly thereafter – watch this space.
Meanwhile, Jan-Noël Thon’s and Lukas R. A. Wilde’s special issue of Frontiers of Narrative Studies on Characters Across Media discusses “characters in popular culture that are used, re-used, and related to each other for a much longer period of time”. It argues that although “the semiotics, aesthetics, and economics of serial and transmedial narratives have generally been the focus of many studies in recent years, […] less attention has been paid to the crucial role comprised by characters as ‘nodal points’ or ‘currencies’ between converging and diverging storyworlds.” The issue is one of two publications following a winter school on narratively isolated or de-contextualized character depictions, prominently cartoons and similar images, at Tübingen in early 2019, following 2019’s special issue of IMAGE, Recontextualizing Characters.
The upcoming special issue of the Kiel journal on comics studies CLOSURE, The Crumbs: Obszönität und Tabubruch [Obscenities and Broken Taboos], edited by Kalina Kupczynska and Véronique Sina, chronicles a workshop at Cologne from the previous summer. The also upcoming special issue of online journal Participations follows the Cologne workshop, Comics/Fandom: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Intersection of Fan Studies and Comics Studies, held earlier the same year, and is edited by Sophie Einwächter, Vanessa Ossa, Véronique Sina and Sven Stollfuß. All of these are collaborations with the Committee on Comics Studies, as is the upcoming volume on Comics/Games: From Hybrid Medialities to Transmedia Expansions, edited for Routledge by Andreas Rauscher, Daniel Stein and Jan-Noël Thon, which follows the 2018 conference of the same name at Hannover.
The marginally delayed collection of new comics-related seminars and lectures has now materialised, as well. With 12 entries, the COVID-19 edition turned out quite a bit shorter than in previous semesters, but it is clear that comics studies in university teaching continue with several fascinating and often innovative formats. It is also worth noting that comics’ pervasion through German popular culture still continues, one recent symptom of note being the 13th ‘Goldener Blogger’ [Golden Blogger] Award, which went to Nadja Hermann’s uniquely inspiring and acerbic webcomic Erzählmirnix.
Since its inception, this ComFor Update has served in part as a personal reflexion for each contributor and in part as a summary of the plethora of materials collected and published through our German website. A shout-out is in order to the newly assembled team now editing that resource, which publishes a lot of its information in English: Robin-M. Aust, Alexandra Hentschel, Vanessa Ossa, Katharina Serles and Natalie Veith. For me, this will be the last entry in this series, as I am stepping down as ComFor President after eight years. The new Executive Board is set to be elected for the postponed ComFor assembly that will now finally, albeit virtually, take place at the end of the month. Thank you so much for reading my often delayed ramblings; and do come and meet me and all of us at our conferences, events or through our publications, in the real world, or online as needed.
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) 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 Wilde); Comicanalyse. Eine Einführung (2019, with Rauscher, Sina, Thon, Wilde, Wildfeuer).
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