Comics Forum 2020
Comics Forum 2020 was cancelled and did not run. The original Call for Proposals text is retained here for reference. The published note on the reasons for the cancellation can be seen below.
Comics Forum 2020: Pages of Whiteness
November 2020, Online
Conference Lead: Olivia Hicks
Call for Contributions
In White, Richard Dyer argues that race is something which is only applied to non-white people; and thus white people are allowed to speak from a non-racialised, normalised position of power.1 In Unstable Masks, Sean Guynes and Martin Lund state that whiteness is a set of malleable historical, geographical and cultural values, that is ‘one of the key historical formations of power, surveillance and control’ in the West.2 Drawing attention to whiteness is drawing attention to what is naturalised and/or normally invisible.
The title of this conference comes from Tracy D. Morgan’s essay ‘Pages of Whiteness’, which explores white supremacy in the erotic fantasies of the queer physical culture movement in the American post-war period.3 The essay title refers both to the white paper used to produce physical culture magazines, but also the overwhelming presence of white bodies within, and the suffocating racist fantasies which inform the rare appearances of Black or Latino models. The phrase suggests an intersection of identity, materiality and (comics) production. This essay is one of many exposing how whiteness shapes the media we create and consume. The idea of whiteness as a ‘norm’ and the backdrop against which all other identities are contrasted and controlled, filters into
every facet of the comics we read and study; from the over-abundance of white characters and storylines, the privileging of white editorial and creative voices, to the ‘whiteness’ of the comic’s pages, suggesting a white, blank default, to the inks which are used in production, which privilege white skin tones. As Zoe D. Smith notes in her essay ‘Four Color-ism’, ‘Brown skin in comics of this period fails in part because there’s too much ink. The layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow are unreliable and painfully noticeable. White skin, by contrast, is thoughtlessly stable.’4
Maintaining the status quo of Western society is a thoughtless action; challenging the structuring logic of our worlds is a task which requires engagement and action. This conference is calling for a critical examining of whiteness and the structuring systems of comics and comics scholarship. One could respond to this theme by exploring whiteness within comics and/or comics academia. One could also choose to examine those identities which are marginalised or excluded; exploring creators and characters with marginalised identities. This call also encourages work on the production and materiality of comics; submissions on colouring (which is an underappreciated part of comics production) and zine culture, where creators often deliberately choose colourful paper or a collage effect which disrupts the notion of the white page being the norm.
Some ways Pages of Whiteness could be interpreted are as follows:
- Whiteness and Comics
- Comics and Race
- Comics and Identity
- Comics and Activism/Protest
- Queering Comics
- Comics Production (including colouring)
- Zine Culture
- Colour and Comics
- Comics scholarship; new approaches to studying comics
- Comics Practice as research
- Digital “Page-less” Comics
Comics Forum 2020 will take place online. We invite contributors to submit proposals in the following formats, but we are open to other suggestions if speakers are in a position to offer them:
Pre-recorded videos: This may be a single speaker talk of 10-15 minutes, or a 20-minute conversation between two or more speakers. These can be followed by live Q&As either in a video call and/or via Twitter (please specify which you wish to use when you submit your proposal).
Live Events: These may be workshops, reading groups, demonstrations of practice or research methods etc. Events will be hosted on relevant openly-accessible platforms suitable for large-scale live video calls – if you would like to use a particular platform please specify this, otherwise make clear in your proposal what the format of your proposed event is so we can ensure we have access to a platform that will support it. Please note that time-zones mean that live events can be geographically exclusive, so if you can run your event in a way that includes some asynchronous content this will enable more people to participate.
Digital Zines: Zines on the conference theme can be submitted in PDF format for inclusion in the event via Issuu.
Proposals of up to 250 words in length for contributions in the formats detailed above are now being accepted at the following link: https://tiny.cc/comicsforum20. The deadline for submissions is the 1st of September 2020 and you will be notified of acceptance by or before the 14th of September 2020. Please include a short (100 word) biography with your proposal.
Comics Forum 2020 is part of the Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival. Find out more about Thought Bubble at: https://www.thoughtbubblefestival.com/.
Note: The Comics Forum organising committee asked Olivia Hicks to be a co-organiser for the 2020 conference in 2019. In January 2020, Olivia proposed the call ‘Pages of Whiteness’ which as accepted by the team immediately. The call was an urgent call to action in comics scholarship in January, and recent events have only served to further highlight how necessary this work is.
1: Richard Dyer, White, (London: Routledge, 1997), p.2.
2: Sean Guynes and Martin Lund, ‘Introduction’ in: Unstable Masks: Whiteness and American Superhero Comics (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2019), p.2.
3: Tracy D. Morgan, ‘Pages of Whiteness: Race, Physique Magazines, and the Emergence of Gay Culture’ in Queer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Anthology, edited by Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason (New York and London: New York University Press, 1996), pp.280-297.
4: Zoe D. Smith, ‘4 Colorism, or, the Ashiness of it all’, Women Write About Comics (24 May 2019), <https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2019/05/4-colorism-or-the-ashiness-of-it-all/>
[Cancellation Notice published 14/09/2020]
Comics Forum 2020 Cancelled
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