Pete1_2001.jpgMajor Spoilers has the exclusive rundown of The Comics Arts Conference running at the San Diego Comic-Con 2009.

The big news this year is the debut of the Institute for Comics Studies (ICS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the study, understanding, and appreciation of the comics medium. Institute director and CAC co-chair Peter Coogan, along with ICS board members from both the comics industry and the comics academy, will introduce the Institute and its mission to the world.

Take the jump for the complete rundown, and be sure to listen to next week’s Major Spoilers Podcast (issue #105) for a discussion with Dr. Peter Coogan about the show.


Comics Arts Conference Session #1:  Comics, Courts and Controversy

Marc Greenberg (Golden Gate University School of Law) examines contemporary legal cases dealing with comics and copyright.  First are two cases in which the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund defended comic artists and comic book store owners against charges of obscenity, then a case in which the CBLDF fought effort by the California Franchise Tax Board to tax penciled comic book pages sent to publishers.  Greenberg closes his overview with a detailed analysis of the seventy-year battle by the Siegel family to terminate the grant of copyright in the character, art and story of Superman, culminating in a landmark decision issued last year.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #2:  Comics Theory

Dru H. Jeffries (Concordia University) argues that Zack Snyder’s film 300 mimics the form of comics by manipulating film styles, particularly slow motion.  Neil Cohn (Emaki Productions) presents the results of psychology experiments investigating how our minds make sense of the sequence of images in comics.  David B. Olsen (St. Louis University) uses examples that include Winsor McCay, Paul Pope and Alan Moore to demonstrate how we negotiate the rhythm of comics reading.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #3:  Nell Brinkley and the Brinkley Girls

Trina Robbins, comics creator, historian and author of the recent book The Brinkley Girls, presents insights into the work and personal history of Nell Brinkley.  Brinkley was once one of the most well known cartoonists in America, and her creations, the beautiful Brinkley Girls, appeared everywhere from the Sunday comics to The Ziegfeld Follies.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #4:  Myth and the Superhero

With examples drawn from the superman mythos and the Crisis of Infinite Earths, Angela Ndalianis (University of Melbourne) explores the intertextuality that has transformed superhero narratives into multiple myths.  W. Stephen Combs (Wittenberg University) debunks the idea of superheroes as modern mythology, and suggests instead they should be viewed as a part of America’s folklore.  Trevor Strunk (New York University) examines the contradictory mythology of Thor and contends the Marvel Comics version can be viewed as a subversive, politically critical presence.  Room 30AB


Comics Arts Conference Session #5: Fan Power

Daniel Debowy (MGH and McLean Hospitals) argues that the Millennial generation, represented by Hiro and Ando of NBC’s Hereos, has moved away from Oedipal narratives of individuals desiring parental power towards quests that end with abandoning it. Andrew Friedenthal (Dartmouth University) examines the 1968 revision of Wonder Woman into a kung-fu superspy and the push by second-wave feminist activists to “rescue” Wonder Woman, and finds she is ultimately a money-making commodity and fan appropriation can only go so far. Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #6: Can College Prepare Creators for Comics Careers?

Travis Langley (Henderson State University), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Nick Langley (Rocket Llama), and Mark Head (Marko’s Corner) discuss whether college education really can help people pursuing comics careers. Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #7:  Strategies and Resources for Teaching a Course in Comics

After brief statements about their own approaches to teaching a comics-based course, Alec Hosterman (Indiana University South Bend), Matthew J. Smith (Wittenberg University) and Randy Duncan (Henderson State University) create a dialogue with the audience so attendees can generate new ideas and glean information relevant to their teaching interests.  Then Greg Urquhart (Alexander Street Press) previews forthcoming online collections of comic books and strips that will be useful for scholarship and teaching, and discusses the issues and decisions the company has confronted in creating the collections.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #8: The Institute for Comics Studies

The Institute for Comics Studies is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the study, understanding, and appreciation of the comics medium.  Director of ICS Peter Coogan will discuss the organization’s mission, goals, accomplishments, and plans. Board members representing the comics academy and the industry will contribute their comments and be available for Q&A: Randy Duncan (Henderson State University), Stanford Carpenter (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Angela Ndalnias (University of Melbourne), Mimi Cruz (Night Flight Comics), Danny Fingeroth (Write Now!), and Tim Strop (Cold Cut Distribution). Room 30AB


Comics Arts Conference Session #9: Is the Joker a Psychopath? You Decide!

Psychology professors Robin Rosenberg (The Psychology of Superheroes) and Travis Langley (Henderson State University) discusses the technical definition of a psychopath and review the criteria for antisocial personality disorder—does the Joker fit the clinical definition?  Is he more than just crazy?  They are joined by Joker experts Jerry Robinson (The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938—1950), famed “Joker-fish” scribe Steve Englehart (The Point Man), and film producer Michael Uslan (Batman: The Dark Knight). Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #10: Becoming Batman and Batman Becoming

E. Paul Zehr (University of Victoria) in Becoming Batman—Is There Science Behind the Superhero? answers the question of whether it is scientifically possible to train to become Batman—it is, but for how long? Gearoid O’Brien (National University of Ireland Galway) contends that Grant Morrison’s Batman: RIP is indicative of the way contemporary culture rejects conventional modes of resolution and ushers mainstream comic books headfirst into an age of uncertainty and cultural nihility. Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #11:  The (Strange) State of Siegel and Shuster Scholarship

Brad Ricca (Case Western Reserve University), director of Last Son, a scholarly documentary on Siegel and Shuster, moderates this conversational panel featuring Craig Yoe (Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman Co-Creator Joe Shuster) and Lauren Agostino, an independent scholar, who will share letters connected to the 1947 lawsuit and portions of the original Superboy script that completely upset a lot of myths about who created Superboy. Room 30AB


Want to go in depth with a comics scholar? On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the PowerPoints of the poster presenters will be available to read in printed “poster books” and then the scholars will be available in this session to discuss their presentations in small-group and one-on-one discussions.  Matthew J. Brown (University of California, San Diego) explains how psychologist William Moulton Marston used his creation Wonder Woman to enact his project of emotional re-education about female love-domination.  Erica Ash (Henderson State University) explores the circumstances in the 1980s that lead to real world vigilantes and a violent breed of fictional heroes and anti-heroes.  Jonathan Brewer (Henderson State University) demonstrates how comic books can assist students in the study of not only American history of the 1900s, but also helps them to understand political atmospheres and cultural trends.  Thad Allen (Henderson State University) uses modern science and technology to examine whether some of the ways in which superheroes have gained their powers can actually occur. Marko Head (Marko’s Corner) explores the incorporation of cinematic storytelling techniques into sequential art.  Thomas Sepe (Henderson State University) looks at the history of comic books being used as a venue to communicate political propaganda.  Evan Moreno-Davis (University of California, San Diego) analyzes the implicit value system in hero narratives that valorize individual achievement as a force for good. Carly Cate (Henderson State University) examines how story-driven characters such as Batman have been usurped by commercial creations like Hello Kitty. Ariel Schudson (UCLA) focuses on the Jon Favreau Iron Man film as a palimpsest for the adaptation and re-adaptation of the Iron Man mythos. Law professors Jamie Cooper and William Aceves (California Western School of Law) show how comics are being used in legal education.

Trauma Poster Panel: Sabrina Starnaman (UCSD) draws on disability studies to see how the facial disfigurement of figures like the Joker, Two-Face, and Jonah Hex makes meaning beyond the stigmatized existence of the impairment. Richard Harrison (Mount Royal College) finds Bill Finger’s hand in the transformation of the destruction of Krypton and Superman’s origin.  Fans Poster Panel: Nick Langley (Rocket Llama World Headquarters) examines which personality traits are needed in order to succeed at pursuing a “dream job” such as creating comics.  Alex Langley (University of North Texas) assesses addictive behavior in gamers, comics lovers, and other pop culture fanatics. Batman Poster Panel: Tommy Cash (Henderson State Univeristy) asks why the Dark Knight needs a Boy Wonder and finds that the Dynamic Duo exemplify Aristotle’s ideal of the “Friendship of Virtue.”  Geri Lawson (CSU-Long Beach) examines how The Dark Knight Returns subverted the dominant voices of 1980s patriotism and the normative rigidity of the superhero’s sexualized body.  Romance Comics Poster Panel: Jarett Kobek ( explores the effect of the counterculture on romance comics and the tendency of American commercial art to easily commodify even the least likely sources. Jacque Nodell (Super Human Resources) unearths the forgotten romance comics work of artists like Winslow Mortimer, Don Heck, and Jim Steranko who breathed life into the beautiful women that grace the pages of romance comics. Room 30AB


Comics Arts Conference Session #13:  Cold War Comics

Casey Alt (Duke University) investigates how Black Superpower was embodied in the popular cultural icon of the Black Panther, and how it interacted with existing Cold War narratives of national technoscientific superpower.  Patrick Jagoda (Duke University) examines how visual depictions of networks in American comic books and graphic novels, from Justice League of America to The Invincible Iron Man, channel cultural anxieties that accompany the emerging metaphor of the planetary network.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #14:  Changing Identity of the Superhero

Martin Pedler (University of Melbourne) examines the transformation faced by superheroes as they shift from the niche audience of their comic book adventures to broader mainstream acceptance.  Kate McClancy (Duke University) argues that Miracleman and Planetary actively engage the medium’s embarrassing Silver Age history of starfish monsters and alternate universes to allow their titles to be invigorated by that history.  Jack Teiwes (University of Melbourne) outlines Alan Moore’s body of work on the Superman concept, and how Moore’s use of homage and pastiche, including Supreme and Miracleman, creates a metacommentary about the history of the superhero genre.  Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #15: Comics In Museums

How do comics bridge the worlds of popular art on the stands and fine art on museum walls? Kim Munson (Munson Art Consulting) revisits the 1983 “Comic Art Show” at the Whitney. Michael Dooley (Art Center College of Design) covers two MOMA shows, the 1990 “High and Low” exhibit and the 2005 “Masters of American Comics,” with emphasis on the works of Kurtzman and Spiegelman.  Denis Kitchen (Underground Classics) discusses new trends in museum exhibitions and discusses the just-concluded “Underground Classics” show at the Chazen Art Museum and other shows he has worked on. Room 30AB

Comics Arts Conference Session #16:  The Culture of Popular things: Ethnographic Examinations of Comic-con 2009

Matthew J. Smith (Wittenberg University) moderates a panel of students (Colin Barlow, Jessica Brewer, Ben Bolling, and Brian Swafford) who present initial findings of a week-long field study of how culture is marketed to and practiced by fans at Comic-Con International.  Time will be allotted for engaging the audience in a dialogue about their own experiences.  Room 30AB


About Author

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment. You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

1 Comment

  1. Cool. If I ever made the trip to San Diego, this kind of stuff would be very high on the ‘to-do’ list. I look forward to the podcast.

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