Thursday, June 14, 2012

Comics: Philosophy and Practice

From left: W.J.T. Mitchell and Spiegelman 

Comics: Philosophy and Practice (CPP) marked a turning point in my life as a researcher. If it’s not too dramatic, I’d like to say that the conference created a B(efore)CPP and an A(fter)CPP. What CPP did that no other event had accomplished previously, is show me what an academic comics-oriented career looks like and that Chicago is an epicenter for the field. Hillary Chute, an English professor at the University of Chicago, organized the conference, moderated panels, and enlisted a number of other professors to lead discussions. I doubt I was the only person that coveted her job.

So, why was this conference so mind-blowing/life changing/amazing?

  • The guests: While at the conference, one of the speakers made an observation. The participants were staying at a hotel downtown and all took the same bus to Hyde Park. If something were to happen to the bus, the alternative comics world would lose all of its superstars. That bus contained R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, Daniel Clowes, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Charles Burns, Seth, Alison Bechdel, and Joe Sacco among others. It’s a rare occasion when all of these people are in the same city, and an extraordinary one where they are in the same room.

From left: Chute, Burns, Clowes, Seth, and Ware
  • The talks: On Friday, I heard Spiegelman’s “What the %$#! Happened to Comics” where he spoke about his career trajectory and the evolution of comics from the lowest art to being praised by academics. One would think that might be a positive thing, but Spiegelman lamented the loss of the vulgar. Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s one-on-one discussion with Kristen Schilt gave a new perspective to her work from her start in the underground to teaching classes in France. “Graphic Novel Forms Today” with Ware, Seth, Clowes, and Burns was my favorite talk because these creators formed my comics aesthetic and the publishing process fascinates me. All of these authors give special attention to how their comics are formatted. Clowes’ decision to choose a thick, cardboard cover for Wilson was an attempt to protect him from the outside world. Cornell Boxes inspired Chris Ware’s next project, which contains a narrative told across books and foldouts. I wanted to ask them if cost and affordability was an issue when considering formatting.

  • The people: I was volunteering, so I got to meet other comics fanatics and have good discussions. I also met the owner of Quimby’s and Chicago Comics and interviewed him today. Look for a post about that in the next month.

I’m glad, that of all the places I could have ended up, I live in Chicago. I knew before that it had a strong reputation as a bastion of comics in the Midwest, but after CPP, I think it’s going to receive attention worldwide.