by Michaela Schober
This is the first time that I have the honour of penning the Intermittent ComFor Update for the Comics Forum, having only joined the website editorial team last autumn. Stephan wrote a year ago, “[a]nd then, of course, a pandemic happened”: it is still ongoing and I would not presume to offer any projections as to the developments of the near or even intermediate future, given the world at large. Overall, as Natalie said last October, not too much has changed. However, as the vaccination efforts are progressing, the hope for at least a respite over the summer and, dare I say it, perchance even in-person conferences or courses in autumn, is alive. Personally, I must confess that while I do miss seeing colleagues in person, I have come to appreciate the ease, speed and spontaneity with which it is possible to attend talks and conferences halfway across the world. Admittedly, the sight-seeing is limited to various virtual backgrounds and the availability of ‘local’ culinary delights is dependent on one’s own culinary skills (or availability of restaurants offering delivery or click and collect services), but optimism is allegedly all about considering the (cocktail) glass (at the virtual social event with a virtual bar in the virtual background) half-full.
As I was reading through previous updates, Lukas’ from January this year, Natalie’s from October last year, and then, even further back in the year that was and, somehow, wasn’t, Stephan’s from last July and Robin’s from January 2020, I was struck again, possibly even more so in hindsight, by how drastic many of the changes over the last 18 months really have been. At the time they happened, it often felt as if there was too much going on to actually fully process what was going on, in all its implications and ramifications. The lockdowns between countries differed in timing and intensity, something that hasn’t changed, but I still remember the chaos of switching from working completely in situ to completely online in a matter of days, when there was barely any actual infrastructure, neither in terms of suitable software and technology nor in terms of teaching plans and course materials, to do so in the first place. I am honestly amazed by how much things have improved, and both amazed and disturbed by how quickly these things have become normal. I wonder how we will fare going back to the ‘new old normal’—personally, I feel as if FFP2 masks on cramped public transport will stay with me for a long time—and if we will manage to hold on to the good things that have come out of this, including but not limited to streamed and hybrid conferences. In any case, it was heartening to see how many activities and events carried on, and how the pace picked up again as we all grew used to—or at least, as much as it is possible to grow used to—the current status quo.
The last summer term happened online again at most universities. Still, there was a considerable number of events, lectures and conferences, all being hosted on various online platforms, and many being organised or contributed to by ComFor members. Most of these online events were free to attend for everybody interested in comics. In February the International Semiotics Week was hosted by the University of Potsdam, during which one day was dedicated to comic studies. Titled “Kritisch, komisch, kommunikativ – Zum politischen Potential des Comics” [Critical, Comical, Communicative – The Political Potential of Comics], the event sought to provide a platform where participants could explore how comics engage with serious, volatile topics, despite the still widely spread association of comics with the comical due to the term’s etymological origins. The conference boasted a wide array of different formats, ranging from keynotes, through readings and discussions, to online workshops. Speaking of difficult topics and comics, in early March, the managing committee invited all ComFor members to an online workshop as well, namely the first one of the ComFor’s Diversity Initiative. The workshop aimed to approach the complex topic of critiquing caricatures and issues connected to this. It was a great success and sparked so many lively and varied discussions that a second workshop will be planned for later this year.
Later in March, Dr Torsten Caeners, Nicolas Gaspers and Dr Matthias Keidel hosted the colloquium “Moral, Glaube und Religion im Superhelden-Narrativ” [Morals, Faith and Religion in the Superhero Discourse]. The presentations investigated the role these key topics play in the narratives, how they are realised in the comic and the importance ascribed to them. The symposium “Learning by Comics: ein Symposium rund um das Webcomic ‘Pragmatism Reloaded’” [Learning by Comics: a Symposium centred on the Webcomic ‘Pragmatism Reloaded’] presented the results of a graduate course at the Institut für Erziehungswissenschaften at the University of Tübingen, during which a webcomic on empirical social research had been developed and subsequently published. The Comic Kolloquium Nord, organised by ComFor members Sylvia Kesper-Biermann, Johannes C. P. Schmid and Astrid Böger, offered a range of lectures by many distinguished speakers. In April, Johannes C. P. Schmid gave a talk titled “Comics as (Post-) Documentary: Framing Strategies in Graphic Nonfiction” and in June ComFor member Christine Gundermann spoke about Anne Frank as a global phenomenon of the culture of remembrance. In May the conference “Seitenarchitekturen. Architektur und Raum im Comic” [Page Architectures. Architecture and Space in Comics] was held online; it was organised jointly by icon Düsseldorf and the AG Comicforschung. Towards the end of the term, in early June, the Online Discussion Forum Comics Exchange celebrated their fifth anniversary. The topic for the fifth meeting of the Comics Exchange was “Colour”. Also in June, the conference “Crisis Lines – Coloniality, Modernity, Comics”, organised by Dominic Davies (City University of London) and Haya Alfarhan (King’s College London), analysed the connections between coloniality and cartography. The Joint Conference of The International Graphic Novels and Comics and The International Bande Dessinée Societies in (virtual) Cambridge examined the connections and interrelations between “Comics and Their Audiences/Audiences and Their Comics” in almost 100 keynotes and presentations.
Another event in June was a talk with the comic artist Sarah Burrini, part of a lecture series “Pippi Langstrumpf und ihre Töchter” [Pippi Longstocking and her Daughters] organised by the Karl Rahner Akademie Köln. The announcement of this course included the phrase ‘takes place online or in situ depending on the rules and regulations in place at the time’—I haven’t been able to verify where the course finally took place, but it was exciting to see that the overall situation allowed for ‘in real life’ to be considered a possible option at the point of the announcement. The Comics Festival Munich also entertained the idea of facilitating at least a hybrid version of this year’s festival, which they managed to make a reality by getting creative: the Comics Festival became the Comics Museum, but the programme stayed just as diverse and extensive as in the previous years.
Spring has also seen the publication of a number of new books; provided that travelling will be possible again this summer, there will be plenty to read on the beach. Markus Engelns, Ulrike Preußer and Felix Giesa are the editors of the 11th ComFor Conference Proceedings Comics in der Schule – Theorie und Unterrichtspraxis [Comics at School – Theory and Teaching Practice], published by C. A. Bachmann. Over the course of a sizeable 390 pages, the contributors explore the role of comics in secondary and tertiary education and suggest that comics enable an expansion of known discourses on teaching literature and media worlds, while at the same time providing its own approaches to teaching knowledge and other competences. Also published by C. A. Bachmann, but edited by Christian A. Bachmann and Johannes C. P. Schmid, Framing [in] Comics and Cartoons is the ninth volume in the series “Bildnarrative” [Image Narratives] and features a delightful number of articles written by ComFor members. Focussing on the function of frames in the comic, Framing [in] Comics and Cartoons suggests that frames constitute a basic grammar of comics in addition to its communicative aspects. With more than 600 pages, a true behemoth of a book, the Handbook of Comics and Graphics Narratives, edited by Sebastian Domsch, Dan Hassler-Forest and ComFor member Dirk Vanderbeke and published by De Gruyter, might very well become one of the standard works of comics research. The work combines a plethora of different approaches, historical contexts and close readings, covering a truly impressive amount of ground. Many of the contributions have been written by ComFor members as well, including but not limited to chapters on adaptations by Juliane Blank, on life writing by Astrid Böger, on comics focussing on science by Heike Elisabeth Jüngst and a close reading of Richard F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid by Christina Meyer. The new publication series titled SieGN (Siegen Research in Graphic Narrative) by ComFor member Daniel Stein has had its inaugural publication this April. The first publication in the series was Lia Roxana Donadon’s monograph Mafalda: Quinos Comicstrtip als Gesellschaftskritik im Argentinien der 1960er und 70er Jahre [Mafalda: Quino’s Comic Strips as a Critique of Argentinian Society in the 1960s and 70s], which is incidentally the first full-length monograph on Mafalda in German. Another new publication by C. A. Bachmann is the anthology Anne Frank im Comic, edited by ComFor member Ralf Palandt and featuring contributions from ComFor members Ole Frahm, Christine Gundermann and Markus Streb. Anne Frank’s diary has been included in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme and is the subject of many works of theatre, literature, film and music; however, this is the first time that a full anthology is dedicated to the numerous comics from all over the world centred on Anne Frank’s life and her diary.
The submission deadline for proposals for this year’s ComFor conference was at the end of June and some more information on our very own symposium seems like a fitting way to conclude this intermittent update. The conference is scheduled to take place online on 14-16 October. While I’m sure that we would all be excited to see each other again in person, the organisers Elisabeth Krieber, Markus Oppolzer and Hartmut Stöckl have sensibly decided to stay in the virtual space this year as well, as the COVID situation, while at the moment much improved, remains difficult to predict. They also note that an online event will be more inclusive as it will make participation easier for independent scholars as well as for colleagues with family obligations or reduced mobility. This consideration is one of the aspects that I hope will stay with us even once the pandemic has become—knock on wood—a thing of the past. The topic this year will be coherence in comics and all the different ways in which it is achieved and how things are connected. For the moment we remain connected by the video conference provider of one’s choice as well as our intermittent updates.
Michaela Schober has studied English, Spanish and Chinese at Vienna University and is currently working at the Center for Didactics of Art and Interdisciplinary Education at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. She is writing her dissertation in cultural and media studies and has a special interest in intersectionality, gender studies and trans-mediality. As a sinologist, she is especially interested in the interaction between language and image in East Asian comics; in her PhD in English and American studies she focuses on certain narratives tropes and how these are applied. To Michaela, comics are fascinating also from an artistic perspective and it is exciting how different the techniques and styles of various artists can be.
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