At the end of July 2023, UNT hosted the annual Comics Studies Society Conference at the UNT Gateway Center. The conference included over 150 registered attendees, online and in-person, plus over a dozen artists, publishers, and libraries represented in the Artist’s Alley, which was open to the public. The conference was organized and hosted by UNT’s own Dr. Jo Davis-McElligatt from the Department of English and Dr. John Edward Martin from the UNT Libraries along with the CSS Conference Planning Committee.
The conference featured 37 scholarly panel sessions and workshops, over three days, on topics related to this year’s conference theme, “Comics on the Margins”. They included panels like “On the Margins of Speech in Comics,” “Can Comics Be Decolonial?”, “Blackness and Futurity,” “Comics and/of/as Resistance,” “Defying Taxonomies: Superheroes in the Margins”, “Drawing the Monstrous: Violence, Horror, and War,” and “Distant Viewing and Comics Studies,” among others. These topics were meant to reflect on the idea of marginalization and its relationship to the formal structures, visual aesthetics, and sociopolitical positions of comics, their creators, and their audiences within various cultural contexts.
Presenters included faculty, students, comics creators, librarians, and independent scholars from all over the world, bringing expertise from a variety of disciplines, including literary and cultural studies, history and political science, women and gender studies, art and art history, disability studies, communication and media studies, library science, game studies, and many more. This reflects the interdisciplinarity of comics studies as a field, as well as the range and diversity of fan communities and the broader audiences of comics, animation, film, and other related media.
The event also featured three outstanding keynote addresses—one each day–by Dr. Frederick Luis Aldama from the University of Texas at Austin, talk about why “BIPOC Teen Comics Matter”; pioneering comics writer and artist Rupert Kinnard, addressing “Critical Race Queeries: The History of Cathartic Comics”; and award-winning cartoonist MariNaomi sharing “How to Become an Overnight Success in 20 Years”. Each of the speakers drew on their own experiences in the comics industry, academia, and public life to share some very powerful stories about how comics have engaged (or failed to engage) with history, culture, and the lives and experiences of marginalized people. Their talks were, in turn, heartwarming, horrifying, hilarious, and insightful, and everyone in attendance was grateful for their presence.
Besides the panels and talks, the event included a lunchtime comics trivia event, a cosplay happy hour at the d20 Tavern on the Denton Square, a comics mystery box drawing, and lots of great CSS swag.
And the Artist’s Alley brought local artists, comics and comics studies publishers, and exhibits from the UNT and UTA Libraries to share comics-related materials, original art, scholarly books, and merchandise for visitors to purchase.
Next year’s 2024 CSS Conference will be a virtual event, hoping to attract even more participants who may not be able to travel for various reasons, but also to encourage more sustainable, environmentally responsible, and accessible events for everyone. The following year, CSS will return to an in-person hybrid event at Michigan State University.
This year’s event was sponsored by a number of departments at UNT, including the UNT Libraries and its Comics Studies at UNT outreach initiative, as well as the UT-Arlington and Texas Woman’s University Libraries, the TWU Department of Language, Culture, and Gender Studies.
To learn more about Comics Studies resources at UNT, check out our Comics Studies Guide, follow this blog, and like our Comics Studies at UNT Facebook page! And if you have questions, reach out to the Comics Studies subject librarian, John Martin.