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ROMOCOCO 2013 Wrapup

I hope none of you were waiting for my Day 1 ROMOCOCO wrap up with bated breath, I’d hate to think that I disappointed/asphyxiated too many people. I had a blast at the conference this week and I’m really disappointed that I won’t be staying through the Denver Comic Con, but I’m not made of money. That madness is expensive!

ROMOCOCO 2013, the scholarly segment of the two-year old Denver ComicCon was really a fun experience. Held in the SpringHill Suites in downtown Denver, the accommodations were great, we had some fun panels, great food, and many a rousing conversation. How could we not get into healthy debates with such an awesome theme like “Violence and Healing in Comics and Graphic Novels”? That being said, I think this was the last academic conference I’ll be attending for a while, maybe forever. That’s not a reflection on ROMOCOCO at all, just something that I’ve been dealing with personally. More on that later, likely in another post.

Flew in on Tuesday, a day before the panels began to get my bearings and I was lucky enough to ride with Hannah Menzies, comics journalist for The Beat and Bleeding Cool as well as Medieval scholar among other righteous distinctions, on the shuttle to the hotel. She was wearing a Marvel villains tee-shirt, I asked her if she was going to the conference, and rest is history. After we checked in we wandered downtown in search of the things that we inevitably forgot. Me, I forgot deodorant and multiple pairs of socks. Bad news for everyone around me until I got that sorted, which I did. Though it took us forever to find somewhere that suited our needs.

Denver is a pretty place though. Rocky’s provide gorgeous backdrop amidst the skyscrapers. The air felt fresh despite us being in a downtown metropolis. My lungs struggled to pull in enough oxygen from the high altitude atmosphere. We got some grub, noted that there were quite a lot of homeless people wandering the streets (I was told, “Denver is a good place to be homeless”) and we finally made our way back to the hotel for the conference’s inaugural reception.

If I can say anything about the SpringHill Suites it’s that they know how to put out a decent spread. Cheese plate, chicken kabobs, spring rolls, grapes, pigs in a blanket, I consumed much. I met Jason Traynor, he refers to himself as Doctor Comics, and talked about lots of fun comicy goodness. I met a host of other people throughout the evening as well, and then headed to bed for the bright and early first panel at 8 a.m.

I’m not going to bore you with in-depth detail of every single panel that I went to, but I would like to highlight some of the presentations that stood out to me personally. First up was  Dr. Christopher Bell’s “The Ghosts That Haunt Us: The Metaphysics of IDW’s TMNT.” If you guys have read anything on I Speak Comics before you’ll know how huge a fan of the ninja turtles I am. Bell talked about the clear connections between eastern reincarnation in the new series. Great stuff, though he had a typo in there, it was originally “TNMT.” I couldn’t let that stand.

Next was Jonathan Alexandratos’ talk “And the Plague Played On: Commonalities in Zombie and AIDS Narratives” which was much more enlightening than I thought it would be. He made some unique links between the two, in that oftentimes nature is the best place to combat these two horrible threats, and that the hospital is often seen as a place of death. I’m totally not doing it justice, but trust me, it was a great talk. Plus, he didn’t read a paper at us. Hallelujah.

Christie Wilson’s talk on Calvin’s sublime snowman creations, from Bill Watterson’s timeless classic Calvin and Hobbes, “Calvin’s Creations: A Study of Disemboweled Snowmen and Parental Reachions in Calvin and Hobbes,” was a pleasure to sit in on. It reminded me of the days I spent glued to the couch, thick, heavy Calvin and Hobbes collections always within arm’s reach.

My own personal presentation, I think it went well. As I said above, the theme of the conference was Violence and Healing, and I think that Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta presented a very unique look at brutality and its potential for change, liberation, and redemption. Too often I think we see violence in binaries, either good  or bad, or that the consequences end after the trigger is pulled. V defies those black and white distinctions and gives us a more complex look at violence and the ways in which it can be helpful. Tricky stuff, but I think it went ok. I got some questions, debated whether or not V was a messiah (I say thee nay!), and really enjoyed giving my presentation.

Unfortunately I had to duck out before Chris Ware made an appearance, though I’m sure he did a wonderful job. Had to catch a flight back to the mitten ya know? Overall, again, I had a great time. It was fun engaging with real comics scholars but intellectually exhausting and something I don’t plan on doing again for some time. Keep an eye out for those details soon and stay classy!

Ryan Claytor’s Crowdfunding Comic: Autobiographical Conversations

Comic of Ryan Claytor talking about autobiographies with Henry PilkinhornDo you like autobiographies? Are you into comics? Then my pal Ryan Claytor has a treat for you! Ryan, or R-Dog as I like to call him, is the big brain behind Autobiographical Conversations, a collection of stories compiled from his latest work in And Then One Day

If you know anything about Ryan’s work you’ll know that he loves writing about himself (kidding!), but more than that he loves the ideas behind autobiography, and playing with those ideas through graphic storytelling. Now you can help him bring his unique brand of comics goodness to the masses!

Ryan’s just launched his first ever crowdfunding project over at Indiegogo to support his monstrous 96-page Autobiographical Conversations and he explains it better over there than I ever could:

Autobiographical Conversations centers on a discussion between Harry Polkinhorn (a professor of English who teaches classes on the personal essay) and me (at the time, a graduate student studying Comics and Fine Art) about autobiography, comics, and the intersection of the two. 

I have spent several years researching, developing, and illustrating this project and I’m eager to share it with you in its final collected edition, as I envisioned it from the start.  My hope is that the comics medium will provide a more visual approach to understanding autobiographical theory and framing the subject matter in the context of a conversation will allow the reader to feel more engaged, almost as though they were part of that conversation unfolding. 

There’s also a brilliant little Youtube video Ryan made that further delves into the work going into this awesome book.

Head on over to Ryan’s Indiegogo page and consider donating. He’s got some awesome rewards at a host of price points, including collections of his existing work, and the big kahuna, a shot at flying Ryan anywhere in the US for an hour long talk about comics! If supporting independent comics creators is your thing, look no further than Autobiographical Conversations.

You can also check out Ryan’s official website at Elephant Eater Comics and follow him on Twitter at ElephantEater!

Back and Better than Ever

It’s been a while since my last post but I’ve been hella busy. I hope you can forgive me. That being said, I’ve got some cool news for you guys that I’m excited to get out there. Firstly, I’m a master! That’s right, on May 5th I graduated with a Masters degree in Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing from Michigan State University! Where did the past two years go? I just want to give a shout out to all my awesome, intelligent, and supportive classmates and professors who helped me out along the way. You’re all tall glasses of alright.

Second thing, remember my interview with Symbolia’s Erin Polgreen? Well I was so smitten with what they were doing over there I asked if I could help them out. They totally said yes! Now I’m a Digital Fellow working on all kinds of cool stuff, copy editing, social media, secret fun projects, the whole deal. You can check out the announcement over at Symbolia’s Tumblr and while you’re at it, if you’ve got a tablet device, why don’t you check out some issues and see if you’re into the mag? It’s pretty righteous so if you get a chance you absolutely should!

Oh and did I mention that Symbolia’s other co-creator Joyce Rice did this awesome illustration of me? Sweet mother of grud it’s awesome!

Illustration of me
It’s a me!

I’ve got more awesome stuff coming down the pipeline, though I may be moving this blog somewhere else in the near future, but no worries, I’ll be talking to you soon. Stay classy.

Grad School Stuff: The Light at the End of the Tunnel!

Michigan_State_Spartans2For those of you that know me, you’re probably aware that I’m currently sludging my way through grad school. What you may not know, at least if we’re not in constant daily contact, is that if all goes according to plan, I’ll be finishing up my Masters degree at the end of May. Wild right? I can hardly believe it.

I mean where the heck did these two years go? However, before I don my second cap and gown and blow out of East Lansing for parts unknown, there are still a couple of important obstacles I must overcome. Specifically I need to submit a five to seven piece portfolio for review by my graduate committee as well as reflective essay tying the pieces together, and answer two specific committee ok’d questions at 10 pages a pop.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? That’s cause it’s not. At least I don’t think it is. I think I can do this! The beautiful thing about the portfolio review is that it’s already finished. I mean not totally finished, but the component parts are done. I’m thinking about including:

And I’m even looking forward to my reflective essay. It’s going to be fun tying all of these pieces together because very rarely do we get to articulate what our work means to us to an audience that’s willing to listen. Here I can trace a narrative through my time here at MSU and hopefully show my growth as a student, scholar, and writer.

I also turned in six questions to my grad committee, of which they’ll choose three, and I’ll choose two of those to write on. They went a little like this:

  1. Use the work of three rhet/comp scholars, specifically those who do work in digital rhetorics, to articulate one or two potential futures for digital comics.
  2. Choose a particular web comic and using it as an example, explore what digital rhetoric is in light of this web comic. How do the different modes of meaning-making in this web comic (e.g., visuals, audio, interactive experiences) change our understanding of digital rhetoric?
  3. How do technical communicators use comics? What industries utilize comics? What is valuable about comics that is able to translate across industries and disciplines?
  4. Due to the financial disparity between print and webcomics, most webcomic creators can’t afford professional editors to edit their work; thus they rely on family, friends, and fans. How do these non-professionals change what it means to be a comics editor? What sort of tasks do they engage in, what literacies to they bring to the table, and how does the immediacy of the internet and fan culture change the editorial experience?
  5. Editors are tasked with a multitude of duties and employ a variety of skill sets to accomplish their work. How has your own editorial understanding and philosophy grown, changed, or been influenced by experiences in the Writing Center and DRPW coursework?
  6. Look at your AL 805 final project, your Personal History of Rhetoric. AL 805 was the first class you took as a graduate student. In light of that, what have you learned about rhetoric and writing in the following three semesters? Specifically, address the five main points outlined in the Personal History: Questions, self-consciousness, appeal to classmates, an attempt at understanding historical contexts, a connection with comics.

And then I’ve just got to write ten pages on those bad boys and we call it a day! I’m not particularly fond of the third question, but I really like my fifth and sixth questions, and one and two are pretty awesome as well. Best part? I’m nearly ready to answer all of these, right meow!

Basically I just wanted to get all this stuff out into the ether so I can take a look at it. I’ve got some crazy busy weeks ahead of me, a conference to prepare for, big assignments due and everything, but like I said, I got this. Wish me luck folks.

V for Vendetta: Violence and Freedom

ROMOCOCO Logo

The MSU Comics Forum, and if I’m being serious really any comic con, reinvigorates my drive to write critically about comics. This year I answered ROMOCOCO’s (Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels) call for papers. The theme for the conference is violence, and they were specifically looking for essays “that investigate the representation of violence in comic books and graphic novels.” I’d like to applaud ROMOCOCO for embracing this topic given the tragedy in Aurora and for contributing to this national debate in such a potentially rewarding way. Really, my hat is off to the coordinators of the conference.

Cover to V for VendettaIn light of this I dusted off an idea that I’ve been nurturing off and on for a couple of years. It’s based on a book very close to my heart, the one tale that has undoubtedly had the most profound effect on my understandings of comics and the potential for the medium, Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. I read it every 5th of November and just talking about it still gives me goosebumps. It’s gorgeous, visceral, and thought provoking and I could go on and on about why I love V, but I’ll try to focus on just what I want to talk about at the conference should I get accepted.

The threat of brutal violence permeates every page of V for Vendetta. The majority of the characters aren’t actually living their lives, but rather merely reacting to the terrifying society that surrounds them. V aims to change all that, and in doing so free dystopian London from the government’s heavy hand. He fights fire with fire, murdering and torturing his enemies and former tormentors. Violence is intrinsic to Moore and Lloyd’s crumbling London, but it is also the path to freedom for V, Evey, and Eric Finch. I’ve included my abstract below:

“Violence is rife within the pages of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta. Set in a dystopian future England ruled by a brutal and corrupt government, the titular character, a Fawksian-masked vigilante known only as V, embarks on a quest for vengeance. Evey Hammond, a young girl intimately familiar with the vicious world around her, and Eric Finch, the inspector tasked with tracking down V, are swept into the veneered terrorist’s wake and yet, unlike so many others, they do not drown. No, instead they surface from their trials born again, freed from the bonds of fear and society’s heavy chains. In the cases of V, Evey, and Eric, violence is never just violence for its own sake, but rather a complex series of motivations, interactions, and repercussions that lead each character on their own path to a unique type of freedom. 

This paper will focus on each of these character’s intricate journeys through brutality, murder, torture, and eventual freedom. It will draw upon visualizations of specific pages and panels to explore the complex, multifaceted nature of systemic societal violence found in V in an attempt to understand the ways in which horrendous acts can be horrible, but also liberating, both physically and psychologically. 

Alan Moore and David Lloyd have crafted a brilliantly dark and horrifying thriller in V for Vendetta, one that defies simple black and white, good or bad, notions of violence. Instead the pain and anguish is compellingly complex and morally ambiguous, showing that while acts of murder and terror are absolutely deplorable and oftentimes terribly tragic, they are sometimes necessary vehicles for change. V for Vendetta, through its use of explicit violence, glorifies the strength of the human spirit and lays bare a simple unavoidable truth – Freedom is not free.”

There’s just so much to focus on there. Really there is! If I get accepted expect a full rundown after the gig. If not, I’ll likely be posting up a long write-up of my ideas here. I can’t wait either way!

V for Vendetta #1 Cover

Thanks for Another Successful MSU Comics Forum!

MSU Comics Forum LogoThe 6th Annual MSU Comics Forum came to a close Saturday night and I just have to thank all of the brilliant artists, attendees,  and panelists for their help making the event as awesome as it possibly could have been. We had it on an odd weekend, the first couple days of Spring Break, but that being said the turnout was exceptional.

On Friday night Nick Bertozzi gave a rousing keynote speech on the importance of the narrative arc, applying it to his own life and the seemingly endless string of failures he faced on his quest for comics glory. A gentleman and a scholar than one. Then Saturday rolled around and we really kicked the Forum into gear, the culmination of months and months of planning, hundreds of emails, and more planning. And it went off without a hitch!

I was sequestered in our Panel Discussion room for a majority of the Forum, but never have I been more happy to moderate such an esteemed host of professionals and scholars. I’d like to give a huge shout out to our individual presenters Zack Kruse (a fellow first-year writing warrior and writer of Mystery Solved), Justin Wigard, and Andre Peltier for their incredible scholarship. Also esteemed librarians Lisa Rabey, Kristin LaLonde, and Andrew McBride deserve a round of applause for preserving our rich comics history in their respective libraries.

Also I’d like to thank our Artist Spotlight panelists Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufield, and Jerzy Drozd for imparting what I imagine was invaluable advice for aspiring artists everywhere. The Artist Spotlight is the only chance I get to wander the Alley, Jay takes over the moderator reigns, so I always try to grab as much as I can before I’m back in the saddle. This year I picked up work from: Chad Sell (Manta-Man), Darryl Holliday (The Illustrated Press), Matt Feazell (Cynical Man), Joe Foo (Desmond’s Comic), and Zack Kruse (Mystery Solved).

Comics I purchased at the MSU Comics Forum
MSU Comics Forum Swag!

And let’s not forget our Comics Journalism panelists Joyce Rice, one of the big brains behind Symbolia (read my interview with her partner in crime Erin Polgreen here), Darryl Holliday of the Chicago Illustrated Press, and Josh Neufield, pulling double panel duty like a champ. We had a great round table discussion with these folks, and particularly interesting was the conversation about what makes comics journalism so compelling? What kind of stories lend themselves to the art form?

Lastly I’d like to thank Shawn Huston for bringing his film, Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon USA to the Forum and for closing out our panels in such a satisfying fashion. I really can’t say enough about everyone who contributed this year. I’m honored you graced our Forum with your work and and I’m very proud to have met you all.

Finally, thanks to my fellow organizers Ryan Claytor and Jay Jacot, because without you guys we wouldn’t even be doing this bad boy. Thanks for letting me be a part of it. And Ethan Watrall, thanks for manning the website and giving us a launchpad for our digital presence. Last but not least, thanks to my incredible girlfriend for helping clean up at the end of the day. You are the bee’s knees.

Thanks again folks, and here’s to another incredible Forum!

MSU Comics Forum Starts NOW!

MSU Comics Forum Poster
MSU Comics Forum Poster

What’s going on everyone, I just wanted to make sure that if you’re in East Lansing this evening you’re gonna drop by the MSU Comics Forum. Tonight it’s all going down in the auditorium beneath Snyder/Phillips Hall. The inimitable Nick Bertozzi is giving our kickoff keynote speech starting at 7 p.m. Then tomorrow we start right back up at 11 a.m. for Panel Discussions and our incredible Artist’s Alley.

We’ve had tons of awesome press supporting our event. You can check out an awesome article in CityPulse magazine by Lawrence Cosentino that details some of the coolest aspects of the Forum. There was also an article in The State News detailing The 99, a international comic starring Islamic Heroes, and the movie screening that went down in the library yesterday evening. Yours truly even got interviewed for the article. Cool beans.

So check out the Panel Schedule, take a gander at the Artist’s Alley lineup, come hang out with us tonight at SnyPhi, and make sure you drop by tomorrow when the Forum really gets cooking.