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[cfp] “Reclaiming the Comic Book Canon,” NEMLA Panel

Posted 19 May, 2008

“Reclaiming the Comic Book Canon”
Panel Chair A. David Lewis
40th Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
Feb. 26 - March 1, 2009
Hyatt Regency - Boston, Massachusetts

After years on the burgeoning fringe, comic books – better known as “graphic novels” up in the ivory towers of academia – are now mainstream U.S. properties. No longer exclusively the realm of fanatic collectors, outcast misfits, or sneering speculators, the medium is now entering art galleries, multiplexes, and book clubs. But when they become the lucrative, marketed, popularized property of all, what gets lost? With its audience now spread across a widening demographic, what happens to the focus of the works? Or the risks?

Moreover, what of the authority? At one point, only the most steadfast, dedicated (and perhaps marginalized) advocates of the “invisible art” were announcing masterpieces and geniuses (e.g. Eisner, Kirby, Steranko, Spiegelman, Ware) – all of which have been recognized ultimately, whether reluctantly or gradually, by the American intelligentsia. A vindication, yes, but a danger? The exposure of the medium’s secret kings? And, further, the inadvertent consent to anoint their own greats, cutting out the original parties?

This panel looks to compare the late 20th century rise of the graphic novel and comic book series, particularly its varied response amongst its early readerships, and the new discourses being employed by the widening audience/market for the form in the present context. How have standards changed? What machinery has been put in place concerning the analysis of the comic book, and how does that now reflect back on its creation? Are comics now a corporate commodity, or does the underground still thrive in the shadows? What honest role does academia (and conference discussion, naturally) play, if any at all? Works largely identified as avant garde, such as Maus, Persepolis, Blankets, etc., are of particular interest here, as well as those serving as the basis for multimedia spectaculars (e.g. Iron Man, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men). Who holds the power now for how comics are judged, and how has that changed over time?

Please submit a one-page proposal (approx. 500 words) and brief vita to panel chair A. David Lewis at as well as any questions concerning the panel. Deadline: September 15, 2008.

Remember to include in your abstract:
Name and Affiliation
Email address
Postal address
Telephone number
A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee)

The complete Call for Papers for the 2009 Convention will be posted in June @

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA panel; however, panelists can only present one paper. Convention participants may present a paper at a panel or seminar and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.



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