Cover of Emily Carroll's Through the Woods

We recently completed the first semester of our UNT Comics Studies Reading Group, and held our first meeting of 2019. The group has readers from UNT and TCU, including faculty, staff, librarians, and students. We’ve had a regular attendance of 4-6 people, plus occasional others who have contributed to the conversations about some really interesting comics, graphic novels, and web-comics. We’re hoping to expand both our membership and our readings this semester, so come join us if you’re interested!  Just email john.martin@unt.edu to get on the mailing list for upcoming meetings. Our next one is Saturday, March 23, 2019, from 1-2:30 p.m. at Denton Brewing Co. (Note: This was rescheduled from February!)

In the Fall, all of our gatherings were held on Saturdays at Harvest House in Denton, but we’ve decided to mix it up a little for 2019.  In January, we met at Café Modern in the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, for a brunch discussion of Eleanor Davis’s Why Art?.  In February, we’ll check out the Denton Brewing Company. We’re also open to trying other places that offer comfortable seating, drinks & food, and a convenient location for our members.

For those who weren’t able to join us before, but would like to know about what we’ve been reading, here’s a quick run-down of what we’ve covered and links to the readings for our next meeting.

Fall 2018

September: Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, &  Muntsa Vicente’s Barrier

Cover of Barrier #1

This innovative webcomic offered us a look at both the technology and the unique reading experience of webcomics, as well as the themes addressed in the story, which includes “barriers” of all kinds: physical, cultural, political, linguistic, and aesthetic.  Technology itself, we discovered, could be both an aid and a barrier to understanding the visual language of comics.  Considering the implications of various types of boundaries and divisions between readers and the art was a great starting point for the group in thinking about the value of comics in general.

October: Victor Lavalle, Dietrich Smith, and Joana LaFuente, Victor Lavalle’s Destroyer (2018) and Jeff Lemire and Jose Villarrubia, Trillium (2014)

Cover of Victor Lavalle's DestroyerCover of Jeff Lemire's Trillium

Both of these comics examine the consequences of advanced knowledge, technologies, and new forms of life, not only on their creators, but on their larger social and environmental contexts. Both also address the themes of love and loss on a cosmic, yet deeply human scale. The group was particularly interested in Lavalle’s examination of race and violence in the context of a modern re-visioning of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In fact, some of that conversation carried over into a panel discussion held at the UNT Libraries in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication, which featured several members of the reading group.

November:  Adrian Tomine, Killing and Dying 

Cover of Adrian Tomine's Killing and Dying

Tomine’s highly literary, aesthetically varied, and emotionally realistic style of storytelling provided opportunities to talk about the different ways narrative can operate in graphic form. The subtlety and complexity of his stories is what struck us most as we discovered layers to the stories we hadn’t noticed before during our conversation. It was enough to lead one of our group to assign the book in his Spring course on short fiction, so that he and his class could explore it further!

December: Lauren Monger, Terrible Terrible Terrible

Drawing from Lauren Monger's Terrible Terrible Terrible

A quirky, edgy, often poignant webcomic that received mixed reactions from the group, depending on our different degrees of identification or recognition of the world that Monger creates with her animal-headed punk teenagers navigating life in a small southern city.  Each of us found individual moments that struck us as hilarious, sad, disturbing, or all-too-familiar. But we also each found bits of it hard to understand or contextualize without some knowledge of the cultural references and assumptions that it plays on.  As a serialized webcomic meant to be read in installments, it also offered some unique challenges to our usual assumptions about narrative and storytelling, especially when trying to either “read  around” or follow it all from beginning to end. But the art alone made it one of the more interesting and compelling comics that we’ve discussed. 

Spring 2019

January: Eleanor Davis, Why Art?

Cover of Eleanor Davis's Why Art?

In our first meeting away from Denton, we went for brunch, comics, and art talk at Café Modern in the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. Davis’s book proved provocative, engaging, and entertaining for all of us, and catalyzed a number of discussions about the purpose, value, effects, and definitions of art. More than some of our previous texts, it also sparked a lot of discussion about teaching and how we might go about introducing students to ideas about art, culture, reading, and “value.” 

February: Emily Carroll, Through the Woods and webcomics; “Introduction” to Aaron, Kashtan, Between Pen and Pixel: Comics, Materiality, and the Book of the Future (2018), and Aaron Kashtan, “And it Had Everything in it”, Studies in the Novel, 47:3, Fall 2015.

Emily Carroll's Through the Woods

Next up will be Emily Carroll’s collection of dark fairy tales and webcomics, as well as a couple of articles on comics & the future of “the book”.  This will give us a chance to continue some of our theoretical and pedagogical discussions from our last meeting, while also introducing us to yet another genre of comics.  Both the comic and the critical book will be available on reserve at the Willis Library Services Desk under the course reserves for the Comics Studies Reading Group, but can also be purchased through Amazon.

We look forward to new people and new recommendations for the group.  Remember to follow this blog and our Facebook page, and join the conversation in the comments below.

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