by Natalie Veith
Generally speaking, not too much has changed since Stephan’s update in July. Obviously. Most of us are still working from home and we feel the walls slowly closing in on us. Many comic-related events that had been planned for the summer were cancelled or rescheduled. Under different circumstances, the teaching period of the winter semester would start right about now, but most German universities have postponed it for another few weeks to accommodate for the delayed beginning of classes during the summer semester and the difficulties related to scheduling exams. During countless hours on Zoom and other video conference tools over the past months, we have all had ample opportunity to satisfy our voyeuristic drives and take a peek at the interior of our colleagues’ and students’ homes; say hello to various pets, parents and friends interrupting the calls; and realise that there are some students whose name we only know but whose face we have never seen because they do not own a webcam (as opposed to remembering their faces, but not having a clue what their names are, as is usually the case). Maybe it is the knowledge that we are all in this together – though spatially apart – or it is because, given enough time, people get used to anything, but in one way or another, we are all settling into this crazy situation and accepting it as the new normal.
In the middle of all of this, in late July, the general assembly of the ComFor took place via Zoom and we elected a new managing committee: our new president is Christina Meyer, whom many of you are probably familiar with because of her monograph Producing Mass Entertainment: The Serial Life of the Yellow Kid, which was nominated for the 2020 Eisner Award in the category “Best Academic/Scholarly Work”; Lukas R. A. Wilde, who used to be our treasurer, has now assumed the post of vice president; and Vanessa Ossa, who is also my new colleague on the website editorial team, has become the new treasurer. I am very much looking forward to the developments this new committee will bring to the ComFor, however not without being a little bit sad as well to say goodbye to Stephan Packard, who had been our president since 2013, and Véronique Sina, our vice president since 2018, who both have also done an excellent job over all these years, turning the ComFor into the brisk research society it is today.
Another central topic during our assembly and the weeks preceding it was the work of the ComFor diversity initiative. We started this initiative to contribute to a more inclusive and diverse research environment in German comics studies and to support and increase the visibility of otherwise marginalised researchers as well as objects of study and analytic approaches. The initiative issued a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and also drafted a set of guidelines to ensure more equal gender ratios among contributors of ComFor events and publications that our members pledged to commit to during the assembly. I think we are all very happy that we finally managed to take this important step!
Speaking of diversity: the first volume of the conference proceedings of our thirteenth annual conference that Stephan already announced in the previous update are now finally available. They have been published by Springer under the title Spaces Between: Gender, Diversity, and Identity in Comics (eds. Nina Eckhoff-Heindl and Véronique Sina). The volume contains a total of thirteen articles on topics such as gender and superheroism, disability, non-binary identities and the representations of bodies in comics.
Another notable publication that I would like to mention is the special issue 6.5 of the open access journal Closure, “Obszönität und Tabubruch in den Comics der Familie Crumb” [Obscenity and Breaking Taboos in the Comics of the Crumbs], edited by Kalina Kupczynska and Véronique Sina. Several ComFor members have contributed articles (mostly, but not exclusively, in German) in which they critically engage with the comics of Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Robert Crumb and the issue also contains a transcript of Kominsky-Crumb in conversation with Sarah Lightman (original in English).
An event that recently provided a welcome diversion from home-office-as-usual was the annual conference of the German Society for Media Studies that took place from 29 September until 2 October 2020. This year’s topic, “Experimentieren” [Experimenting], could not have been more fitting, considering the fact that the conference took place in the form of several parallel live streams, with the participants jumping back and forth between them, depending on which of the numerous discussions and workshops they wanted to attend. I had the pleasure of attending the workshop “REMEDIATE! Mediale Experimente und Grenzüberschreitungen im Comic” [Media Experiments and Crossing Borders in Comics] during which we had a lively and very interesting discussion on comics by Liv Strömquist, Julie Doucet, members of the OuBaPo, Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Chris Ware. A meeting of the society’s Committee for Comics Studies also took place. Many ComFor members participate in this committee as well and we frequently collaborate with each other.
And, last but not least, there is of course ComFor’s own annual conference, which is – at the time I am writing this – only a few days away (8-10 October, 2020). This year’s topic is “Comics & Agency”. I have heard that registrations have been coming in by the bulk these past few days and it seems that streaming the conference via Zoom has turned it into a much more international event than our previous conferences have been. So even though I regret not having the opportunity to see all those colleagues and friends in person (after all, our annual conferences are usually a nice get-together of people working at different ends of the country or even abroad), I am very excited about this and curious to see the impact this will have on the discussions!
The conference programme is very promising this year: the keynote speakers are Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California), who will talk about “Comics and Stuff”, and Mel Gibson (Northumbria University), whose topic is “Librarians, Agency, Young People, and Comics: Graphic Account and the Development of Graphic Novel Collections in Public Libraries in Britain in the 1990s”. The panels address the agency of comic authors, editors, distributors and fans as well as digital and intermedial agency. A highlight of the conference will probably also be the digital award ceremony of the Martin Schüwer Prize, that the ComFor awards annually since 2019 in collaboration with the German Society for Media Studies’ Committee for Comics Studies for the publication of an outstanding article in the field of comics studies. This year’s laureate is Gesine Wegner (University of Leipzig) with her article “Reflections on the Boom of Graphic Pathography: The Effects and Affects of Narrating Disability and Illness in Comics”. An honourable mention also went to Joanna Nowotny (ETH Zürich) for her article “Repetition oder Revolution? Posthumane Identitätsentwürfe im Superheldencomic der Gegenwart” [Repetition or Revolution? Posthuman Conceptions of Identity in Contemporary Superhero Comics]. My congratulations go to both of them for their remarkable contributions that are a great reminder of the momentum that comics studies have gained in Germany over recent years.
I will close this update with a brief outlook on yet another award ceremony: the GINCO award, the German Inclusive Comic Award of the Independent Scene, which will also be awarded for the second time. The shortlist of nominees has just been released and includes many amazing creators and their works. The award ceremony will take place in late November. My colleagues and I will keep you posted!
Natalie Veith is a research fellow at the Department for English Literatures and Cultures of the University of Stuttgart. 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. In her Ph.D. project, she is working with British neo-Victorian comic books. 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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