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Symposium Report for “Drawing Gender: Women and French-language Comics”

by Morgan Podraza

French Comics Poster

During the weekend of 28–29 February 2020, scholars from France, Belgium, the United States and the United Kingdom came together for “Drawing Gender: Women and French-language Comics,” a symposium presented and sponsored by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in partnership with the Department of French and Italian at the Ohio State University. Framed by the events surrounding the 2016 Angoulême International Comics Festival in which the nominations for the Grand Prix included all men and happening in coordination with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s exhibit “Ladies First: A Century of Women’s Innovations in Comics and Cartoon Art,” the symposium was dedicated to the representation of and contributions by women in comics within the Francophone world. Thus, central discussions during the symposium were concerned with not only bringing the work of women to the foreground but also calling attention to the ways that women’s experiences and identities are conveyed through such work. Importantly, these conversations also highlighted and engaged with artists and works that expanded beyond the boundaries of any one identity—including a range of languages; nationalities; sexual and gender identities; and social and cultural backgrounds—in order to further emphasize the incredible contributions of creators who have not been historically canonized.

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Reading Correspondences through the Virtual Feminist Museum by Dan Smith

In the folded concertina pages of their book Correspondences (2013), artist Bernice Eisenstein and writer Anne Michaels have collaborated to adapt and put to use a multifaceted temporal dimension inherent in the medium of comics. Michaels and Eisenstein explore the potential that comics have to interrupt processes of consumption through phenomenal engagements with image, text, narrative and temporality. (Smith 2013) Correspondences changes through reading, offering new connections and configurations, made possible by the choice of directions in which the book can be read, and the page arrangements chosen by the reader upon any particular visit. The book opens as an accordion, the edge of each page attached to another. Read it this way, it is a poem. Read it a different way to look at Eisenstein’s portraits. When arranged conventionally, they are accompanied by a text on the facing page. As voices in a gallery of conversations, situated in the shadow of the Holocaust, Eisenstein’s portraits show us the faces of connected figures, from Paul Celan to Nelly Sachs, while the fragmented text of the poem sets up associations and relationships across time. There are echoes of the image/text combinations of Eisenstein’s previous graphic novel I was a Child of Holocaust Survivors (2006), which prodded the boundaries of the medium, resisting a more conventional approach to graphic memoir. Miriam Harris describes how Eisenstein illuminated “a vanished world of family members, shtetl culture, and Jewish intellectual inquiry and art, to identify what had been lost.” (2008: 132) Harris points out that “the union of words and images” (2008: 141) enables a reanimating of the dead through yoking together past and present in the corporeal form of the graphic novel. Correspondences performs similarly, but with an even greater sense of corporeal engagement, and moves even further away from standard image/text relations as found in comics.

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Talking Sense(s): A Review of Montreal’s first CRAS Comic Forum by Marilyn Lauzon and Mathieu Laflamme

CRAS Image 1

CRAS [1] (an acronym for Colloque de recherche en arts séquentiels, which roughly translates as Sequential Arts Research Forum) is an organization set up by three Quebecer students pursuing their master’s degree in French literature at Université de Montréal. The forum aims to provide francophones with a platform for scholarly exchanges on comics and graphic novels and, by doing so, to contribute to their cultural legitimacy in the province of Quebec, where their production is thriving, but research on their subject, still marginal. CRAS’s first event, called “Au sens figuré: esthésie et bande dessinée”, took place at the La Quincaillerie bar on May 30, 2013 as part of the side events presented by the FBDM (Festival BD de Montréal). The event brought together ten speakers, including special guest Zviane, who explained how being a kinesthetic learner affects her creative process as a comic book artist. In the following article, we will try to outline the main ideas raised by the speakers and the audience during the event. Please take note we will also publish papers derived from the presentations on CRAS’s website (colloqueras.wordpress.com) in the following months.

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Posted by on 2013/07/22 in Conference reports

 

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Narrative breakdown in The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers by Hannah Miodrag

Critical debates about the definitive features of the comics form have, perhaps thankfully, been on the wane in recent years. Without wishing to reignite the scholarly conversation about precisely what makes comics comics, I would like here to address a feature of the form that has always seemed the most compelling and least problematic of the various proposed ‘vital ingredients’ (Harvey 109) of the medium. Narrative breakdown – the dispersal of content into discrete, interdependently interwoven units – has few parallels in other media. Unlike sequential progression (shared by all narrative forms) or visual-verbal blending (a common feature of newspapers, advertising, and the internet to name very few), which are far more frequently suggested as the essential elements of comics, narrative breakdown has few comparators. Perhaps the closest formal similarity would be the film shot, but unlike the static panel on the printed page, the pace at which the narrative is consumed in film is mechanically controlled; furthermore, the diegetic action of film (usually) matches the viewing time of a specific shot, while in comics the relationship between reading time and story time is complex and highly variable.

Shane Simmon’s masterwork, The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers [1], persuasively demonstrates just how central narrative breakdown is to the comics reading experience. This deliciously idiosyncratic take on the form all but dispenses with pictorial content, which is also often claimed to be a defining feature of the medium, and an essential vehicle for narrative content (see Meskin 369). Reducing characters to indistinguishable dots and relying almost entirely on text, narrative breakdown is exploited in such a way as to produce a reading experience that could never be replicated with prose alone: the separation of narrative content across panels results in pauses, pacing, turns, and shifts in the verbal text that are in fact dependent on, and highly specific to, the structural demarcations of the comics form. The text, described as ‘an epic comedy about a lowly coalminer and his stumbling passage through 89 years of British history, from 1860 to 1949’ [2], is impishly amusing, mixing grandeur and blandness, the epic and the everyday. Kierkegaard located the essence of comedy in disparity between what is expected and what is experienced, and Simmons’ mock-epic exploits the junctures and collisions that characterise narrative breakdown to create just the kinds of contradiction and incongruity in which humour lies.

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Posted by on 2013/03/27 in Guest Writers

 

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Captain America and the Body Politic by Jason Dittmer

I have a confession to make. When I sent the manuscript for Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero (Dittmer 2013) to its publisher, I fell off the wagon. After reading superhero comics for the better part of a decade, documenting the adventures of flag-draped superheroes in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom from 1940 to the present, I quit. I’m not someone who believes that a big wall separates the superhero comics from the rest of the comics world, but after over a thousand superhero comics I was definitely ready to switch things up a bit. So I dabbled in all the great new stuff that I had missed when my reading time was occupied by my book project – some of which were discovered by reading this very website (Fransman 2012) and are highly relevant to this essay. And all the while my monthly delivery of Captain America arrived like clockwork, joining its predecessors on my office desk. Last week, I was finally shamed by the verticality of the stack (almost a year and a half’s worth!) into taking them home and giving them some attention. The comics included the end of Ed Brubaker’s eight year run on the title (a pretty remarkable achievement nowadays), during which he famously brought Bucky back from the dead and walked Captain America through the Civil War crossover that made headlines around the world (e.g., Gustines 2007). One might expect a triumphant victory lap for Brubaker’s swansong on the title. Nevertheless, the end of Brubaker’s run seemed fixated on decline and the limits to power. In this essay I hope to briefly trace the ‘Powerless’ storyline (Brubaker and Davis 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012,d, 2012e), as well as the events leading up to and following from that storyline, before contextualizing it all with a tiny, painless dose of political theory. I will then argue that the trope of ‘Powerless’ (in which, not surprisingly, Captain America’s body loses its superpowers) is a relatively common one over the history of the character. While this is to a certain extent true of many superheroes, in the context of Captain America the plot device is freighted with the baggage of the nationalist superhero genre.

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Posted by on 2013/01/18 in Guest Writers

 

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