Saturday, July 28, 2012

Comic Arts Conference Wrap-up SDCC 2012

One of the most amazing things about San Diego Comic-Con is that it contains more universes than that bag of marbles at the end of Men in Black.  There are so many different communities getting together that it would be just about impossible to touch on all of them. I’ll never forget the year that I went into a room early to catch a spotlight on J J Sedelmaier, and found myself in the middle of the Klingon Lifestyle Presentation, an annual drama featuring the crew of the IKV Stranglehold. It was so cool! And great costumes!

Anyway, not so many costumes at the Comic Arts Conference, the comics scholarship conference that celebrated its 20th anniversary at this year’s convention. The instigators, Peter Coogan and Randy Duncan  (still co-chairs and active participants) were awarded the Inkpot this year in commemoration of this feat.  The CAC room is like a sea of tranquility in the midst of a hurricane of craziness, and I am constantly slipping in & out of the room while the festivities are going on. You never know who you will see; comics professionals, independent scholars you never see anywhere else, professors from around the world, students & young scholars presenting for the first time … it’s a great experience.

The first CAC panel kicked things off with Subaltern Counterculture and Strengths of the Underdog, a group that opened my eyes to all kinds of viewpoints I hadn’t thought of. These included Crisis on Indigenous Earth: Comic Art Indigene Mateo Romero and Antonio Chavarria (Museum of the Indian Arts & Culture); Mexico City as the Field of Signification: Creating a Subaltern Hero in Daniel Munoz’s El Pantera Sam Cannon (U of Texas, Austin); Cyber-Blackness and the Ethics of De-Racialized Characters Kane Anderson (UC Santa Barbara) and Rebel Yell: The Physical and Racial Identity of Storm Ayanna Dozier (Chapman University). This last one, with her discussion of the “bad girl” punk version of Storm, really set me up for the next panel I was going to, CBLDF’s forum on women’s issues in comics.

I caught a number of great presentations on Friday, beginning with a humorous and provocative look at US comics from the Canadian perspective (it’s not all about you, USA) called “So that’s what an angry Canadian sounds like!” Fan Responses to Alpha Flight by Amanda Murphyao (Carleton University). Following her was the Revolution & Reaction panel, kicked off by the always amazing Trina Robbins (Lily Renée, Escape Artist) talking about her recent research on the art and life of Holocaust survivor Lily Renée Wilheim, one of the most successful women cartoonists during World War II and Fiction House's only woman cartoonist to draw covers as well as interior stories.  The rest of the panel was also interesting with a theoretical look at McCay, UM-CHOW: Winsor McCay’s Political Object Relations Eyal Amiran (UC Irvine); Make Way for the Fat Fury: Herbie and the Postwar Consumer Matt Yockey (U of Toledo) and a fascinating look at the comic-book-style evangelical tracts of Jack T. Chick by Cori Knight and Sean Sagan (UC Irvine).

Lily Renee. A great story by Trina Robbins
Following this were two important panels on Kirby. I’m sorry to say that I missed the first one, Jack Kirby and the Auteur Theory of Comics with Arlen Schumer & Randolph Hoppe (Kirby Museum) joined by Kirby scholars John Morrow (The Jack Kirby Collector); Charles Hatfield (Eisner Winner!) and Craig Fischer (Appalachian State University). I am happy to say that the whole thing was caught on video, and has been posted on Comics Journal for your viewing pleasure. Schumer’s article is also included in the current International Journal of Comic Art (Spring 2012), along with a rebuttal by Barry Pearl.

As regular readers of this blog might know, I have long been interested in researching and writing about Jack Kirby’s collages, so the next panel Jack Kirby, Modernism & Abstraction turned out to be one of the most exciting panels I witnessed at the Con. Andrei Molotiu (Indiana University; Abstract Comics Anthology & blog) and Mark Badger (Batman: Jazz, Martian Manhunter) succeeded in tying Kirby’s work not only into works I’ve written about before (Richard Hamilton, Hanna Hoch) but also Modernist masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Kline, Lyubouv Popova and the theories of Clement Greenberg. It might not seem like it works, looking at this tiny picture of a Kline on my blog, but when you see Kirby's vibrant work and these dynamic paintings side by side on a big screen, it's a really strong argument.

Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962). Mahoning, 1956. Oil and paper collage on canvas.
80 x 100 in. (203.2 x 254 cm). Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the
Whitney Museum of American Art. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
© 2009 The Franz Kline Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Saturday brought us a visit from John Lent (publisher of the IJOCA, and more books on international comics than I can name) who came to speak in San Diego as a sort of detour between Malaysia and a conference in South Africa (bet some airline owes him A LOT of miles).  The Pioneers of Comics Scholarship panel, moderated by Randy Duncan (Eisner nominee!), included Lent, David Kunzle (History of the Comics Strip), Vicki Green (The Indian in the Western Comic Book) and Joseph Witek (Comic Books as History, editor of the Conversations series for U of Mississippi Press). It was great to hear the stories of how they all started researching comics, how they overcame discouragement, and where they thought scholarship was going in the future.

Following this was an interesting trio of papers on the ideas of economics, ideology and politics in the writings of Grant Morrison by Marc Singer (Howard University); Jason Tondro (UC Riverside) and Karma Waltonen (UC Davis). Singer’s presentation, Morrison, Incorporated was particularly interesting because he collected together several storylines where Morrison made corporations a villain, or even an actual character, and I thought it was a good commentary on the Occupy movement and the financial crisis we find ourselves in. I also enjoyed Jade Hidle's (UC San Diego) presentation on comics exploring the Vietnamese view of the US/Vietnam War experience. In one of those "only at SDCC" type stories, she's a local girl and long-time Con attendee, there to present for the first time with her Dad in the audience, who finds that the writer/artist she wrote about, Eisner nominee GB Tran, was there and wanted to sit in on the panel, and it was moderated by Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics) who she cited extensively. I was so happy for this girl, and she did a great job.

My husband Marc and I couldn’t help comparing the Pioneers panel with the panel that closed the conference, a presentation of field studies by students that were looking at the culture of comic-con (organized by Matthew J. Smith, Eisner nominee!). Many of them were Con virgins, and it was interesting to hear their responses to fan culture, endless lines, getting into Hall H, mega-marketing, etc.  Stephen Cunningham (U of Central Arkansas) commented that it was the first time he’d ever been to a Con, and the first time he’d ever been to California, and he was shocked how nice people at the Con were in comparison to people attending a Razorbacks game. As I listened to the response from the audience (“oh, you didn’t see this person push me”… “oh, this line was terrible”), I was thinking to myself, “Boy… you people have never been to a Raiders game have you?” People at Comic-Con, with all 120,000 (plus) of us jammed in together do actually try to be mellow and get along. We are all happy to be there, with our peeps, in the one place all of our separate universes collide.

A Raiders fan in the Black Hole. Who knows? Maybe
he comes to SDCC dressed as Skeletor...


  1. Kim, did you stay with the other scholars at the dorms that Pete set up? I'm very curious as to how that worked out. I'm so sick of missing this important gathering, and if it's cost effective to go with that option in place, it would make me very happy.
    Thanks for the wonderful review of the event. Makes me so eager to go back!

    1. you would be a welcome addition. there is truly nothing else like San Diego Con. We didn't, we go every year, so we usually book pretty far in advance. I don't have any advice about the dorms. I did go to the cac drinks/dinner at Hennessy's and had a great time. thanks for the compliment.