Comics studies at UNT dates back to at least 2011 when Dr. Shaun Treat, a Communications Studies faculty member, organized the first UNT Comic Studies Conference. This was a scholarly and pedagogical conference devoted to, “broadly surveying the diverse disciplinary approaches to studying or using comics as a resource for education, criticism, or critical engagement with relevant social issues.”
The conference included sessions on Teaching Comics across the Curriculum, Analyzing Comics and Culture, Exploring Comics in Communities, and Integrating Comics in the Classroom. In addition to scholars and educators, the conference also invited local creators, comic shop owners, and industry professionals, as well as special guest speakers, and helped build an active community of comics studies enthusiasts in the UNT community. The conference ran for two years, until 2014, when the last event was canceled due to poor weather. While the conference itself has not been revived, the UNT Comics Studies Conference Facebook page remains an active site for news and local comics-related events.
In May of 2017, another group of UNT faculty members, led by Dr. Samantha Langsdale, from the Philosophy & Religion department, organized the Monstrous Women in Comics Conference, an interdisciplinary academic conference focused on the relationship between women and the comics industry. The conference drew on feminist scholarship and recent iterations of Monster Studies to develop a call-for-papers that invited “interdisciplinary examinations of monstrous women in comics not only in order to critically question and contest normative boundaries, but also to begin to imagine how the relationship between women and comics might be otherwise.” The conference featured panels, individual papers, guest speakers, and a pop-up exhibition of artwork by women creators.
Coinciding with the Monstrous Women conference was an exhibit at the UNT Libraries entitled “Bam! Pow! Boom! Comics in the Library”, which ran from April-August of 2017, and was curated by Dr. Spencer Keralis, Head of Digital Humanities & Collaborative Programs, and Dr. John Martin, Scholarly Communication Librarian. This exhibit grew out of a series of discussions, beginning in March of 2017, with librarians and staff from across the Libraries about organizing a series of events around comics to take advantage of some of our unique collections and diverse expertise, as well as to support those faculty and classes that might be interested in using these materials. It included contributions from our own Library’s Graphic Novels and General collections, our Government Documents repository, the Texas Fashion Collection, the UNT Music Library, and Special Collections.
The exhibit featured sections on queer comics, international comics, African-American, Native American, and Asian-American comics, women in comics, government comics, and comics-themed items related to fashion, music, film, and television. The display (seen below) utilized the three primary colors used in comics printing throughout much of the 20th century to give the exhibit a bright, vibrant look and to draw people into the exhibit space. Hundreds of students and visitors had the opportunity to view the exhibit during its four-month run, including attendees at the Monstrous Women conference and students from a local middle-school.
The opening of the exhibit also featured a panel discussion, “Comics in the Academy”, that included faculty from UNT and Texas Christian University discussing some of the ways they use comics in their scholarship and teaching. The nearly two-hour discussion gave attendees an opportunity to talk about their own interest in and love for comics, and to hear how scholars from different disciplines approach comics through their own unique lenses.
After the exhibit, the Libraries held several follow-up events to keep the momentum going. In June of 2017, we hosted a webinar and virtual chat with poet, cartoonist, and librarian Sommer Browning, who talked about “Comics as Poetry” and how the two forms come together in her work. In July 2017, we held a film screening and discussion of Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines, at the UNT Media Library. And in the Fall of 2017, the Libraries’ Collection Development department approved funds for an enhancement to our Graphic Novel Collection for the coming year (see our post on “Comics Studies Resources @UNT”).
Looking forward, we have several events planned for the Spring of 2018, including the launch of a Comics Studies Reading Group , a Pop-Up Museum event, and one or more film-screenings that will be open to the public. We also hope to offer continued support and space for new courses utilizing comics and graphic novels, for researchers interested in comics studies materials, and for speakers on comics-related topics from a range of disciplines.
In subsequent blog posts, some of our faculty and staff will share the work they’ve been doing with comics, either in the classroom, at conferences, or in their scholarly research and writing. Hopefully, new ideas will emerge from this blog for continued programming at the Libraries and in the broader UNT community.
If you have ideas, reflections, or questions about any of these things, or ideas for new events, please share them in the comments below!