Unfortunately, we have decided not to run a Comics Forum conference this year. The cancellation of Comics Forum, an event series that has run for ten instalments without interruption is not something we take lightly. In brief, the reasons we have made this decision are as follows:
- The original theme proposal and CFP text were produced early in 2020, before a wide range of globally significant events took place. We are not confident that the focus of the event as written is adequate to respond to these events in a meaningful way. The questions were being asked in a very different context to that in which answers would have been given.
- Recent events in the field of comics-scholarship specifically have compounded this problem and made clear that any attempt to respond to deep-rooted structural problems in the field would need to proceed from a broader base than was incorporated into the CFP as written.
- Given that some of these recent events have highlighted the ways in which (in particular) more junior academics might be penalised for speaking out about structural inequalities, we have a responsibility to ensure that the spaces we create for discussion do not perpetuate such harms. Our plans for digital presentations do not do enough to ensure this type of safeguarding is possible, and we are not prepared to rush through an alternative approach.
- Similarly, although the move to a digital context presents many opportunities, it also creates more general areas of risk around safeguarding and moderation. Given the theme of the conference and the possibility of harm coming from these areas, we are not confident that we could adequately protect participants from or prepare participants for adverse consequences arising from the event (we are including the organising team as participants here). To be clear: this is not an indication that we regard any of the proposals we received as particularly problematic, but we are aware that interpretations vary widely in online interactions and this presents some risk.
Comics Forum has always sought to offer an open and productive space to start and continue conversations on important topics, but its greatest impact has been outside the event itself in the relationships that persist. We have no doubt that these relationships will continue to prosper without an event this year.
Over the next year, we will be keeping a close eye on events both within Comics Studies and beyond and considering how we can best engage with the important work of developing the field in future.
The Comics Forum 2020 Organising Committee
Harriet Kennedy, Ian Hague, Maggie Gray, Olivia Hicks