From Wonder Con’s Programming Page
“The Humanization of Weisinger’s Legion of Superfluity,” “Sequential Signs: Comic Art in the Gallery,” “The Feminstas of Justice” — do these titles seem a bit high falutin’ for a comic book convention? Well, they’re the titles of a few of the presentations slated for the Comics Arts Conference, a full- fledged academic conference that takes place each year at both WonderCon and Comic-Con International: San Diego.
Founded in 1992 by Dr. Randy Duncan — of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas — and Dr. Peter Coogan — who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis — the Comics Arts Conference brings scholars and professionals together to talk about comics with the public by breaking out of the ivory tower and holding sessions during two of the nation’s most influential comic book shows. This year marks the CAC’s 17th annual conference at Comic-Con International and its third at WonderCon.
Headlining this year’s CAC presentation at WonderCon is the legendary cartoonist and San Francisco native Trina Robbins, a special guest at the convention. Robbins will be presenting “Nell Brinkley and The Brinkley Girls,” a talk on Jazz Age cartoonist and illustrator Nell Brinkley, whose glamorous, curly haired “Brinkley Girls” were a household name in the early 20th century when Brinkley was “The Queen of Comics.” Robbins’ talk is drawn from her Fantagraphics book The Brinkley Girls, published in January, and Robbins will be signing copies of after her talk.
Comics have been moving into the classroom and gaining ever-greater acceptance at educational institutions. This acceptance is reflected in two CAC presentations. The first is “Cross-Curricular Comics: Applying Comics in the K-8 Classroom” a workshop by middle-school teacher Liz Vizcarra that demonstrates the application of comics in the K-8 environment to meet California standards. A professional development certificate is available for teachers who attend this session. The second is from CAC co-chair Randy Duncan on his new comics studies textbook, The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture, to be published in April by Continuum Books. As the first textbook on comics and graphic novels aimed at undergraduates, The Power of Comics is an exciting breakthrough in the cultural legitimization of the comics medium, and the CAC offers a first look at this important work.
Besides the classroom, comics have broken into the museum, and the CAC does as well, in a pair of talks. Fine arts scholar Kim Munson explores the importance of comics to contemporary visual culture and the central role of the 2005 Masters of Comic Art exhibit in breaking comics out of the art world’s high/low debate. CAC co-chair Peter Coogan presents “Superhero Science 101,” a talk originally given in conjunction with the Marvel Comics Super-Hero Science exhibition at the St. Louis Science Center. Dr. Coogan explains the science- fictional laws that operate in superhero universes, including why Bruce Banner’s pants stretch so much and what we in the real world can learn from such “rubber science.”
Need to bone up on your superhero history? The fifties, sixties, and seventies get a thoroughgoing review in a matched set of three presentations. California State University librarian Douglas Highsmith and University of California librarian Chuck Huber examine the superhero comics “between the Flashes” from the last appearance of the Golden Age Flash in 1950 to the first of the Silver Age Flash in 1956 — yes, there were superhero comics in the early fifties! Moving on to the 1960s, independent scholar Jeff Barbanell peers through his timescope to find the first “Marvelization” of a DC series in Jim Shooter’s Legion of Super-Heroes run and his infusion of his comic book narratives with the Lee and Kirby techniques of group dynamics, hyperrealism, and cosmic context. Finally, the “ink-stained Amazon” Jennifer K. Stuller attempts to resolve the conundrum of the “feministas of justice,” the superwomen of the 1970s such as Valkyrie, Diana Prince, Ms. Marvel, and Lois Lane, who presented a superficial image of feminism but continue to serve as symbols of female empowerment in the cultural imagination.
But like the world of comics, the CAC is more than superheroes. CAC presenters take on social issues that resonant with today’s headlines. Indian cartoonist Gokul Gopalakrishnan (aka Gokul TG), who is a fellow of the Centre for Performance Research and Cultural Studies in South Asia, investigates the cunning exploitation of the misconception of comic strips as “harmless fun” to enable cartoonists to sidestep censorship, focusing on O. V Vijayan’s Malayalam comic strip Ithiri Neramboku, Ithiri Darshanam (“Bit of Trifle, Bit of Philosophy”) during the 1975–1977 State of National Emergency in India. Diana Green of the Minneapolis College of Art & Design unearths the GLBT in EC Comics and the play of these stories in the burgeoning, shifting acceptance of gay culture that began in the 1950s. And Trevor Strunk, graduate student at New York University, takes on the topic of hybrid cultures as they are expressed in Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets output.
With the Comics Arts Conference, WonderCon offers attendees a unique chance to dig into comics’ past and present and give their brains a workout while in the midst of one the country’s great comic book conventions.
(BTW – – “The Feministas of Justice” is me! – – Thanks to Hubby for the title suggestion!)