The University of Florida is known for being the first institution in the US to offer comics studies as a course of study, and it continues to be one of the premier places to study comics. The late Dr. Donald Ault was responsible for developing UF as an important hub of comics studies, but many faculty and students have further built that tradition in the decades since. The following list gives you a sense of the many and varied opportunities for engaging comics that move beyond the department and the university.
Ten Reasons to Study Comics at UF & in Gainesville
- Participate in Comics Institutions in the Department of English. There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to opportunities to engage with comics and comics scholarship in the Department of English. Many years ago, Dr. Ault started a comics studies journal, conference, and listserv in coordination with graduate students, who remain the lifeblood of these entities. Today, the Comix-Scholars listserv is an important resource that connects comics scholars and cartoonists globally. Similarly, the ImageTexT scholarly open-access journal and the annual comics conference organized by the Graduate Comics Organization have gathered together an international array of perspectives for over a decade and a half. These long-running institutions are joined today by newer efforts like the Sequentials open-access journal of scholarship in the comics form. All of these efforts have graduate students at the helm and provide fantastic opportunities to engage and shape the trajectory of comics studies as a field.
- Access Rare Comics and Original Art in Special Collections. There are comics materials across a number of areas in the special collections at the University of Florida, offering opportunities for original, pathbreaking research. Within the Popular Culture Collections, there is the Suzy Covey general comic book collection, which has nearly 15,000 comic books from the 1940s to the 2010s. There are thousands more comics in the Sol & Penny Davidson collection, Don Ault collection, and more! There are also comics materials in the renowned Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature and the Latin American and Caribbean Collection. The African Studies Collection holds the papers of Papa Mfumu’eto, a Congolese cartoonist who documented African life amidst political upheaval in his work from the 1990s and beyond. It is a unique, multilingual collection new to UF that’s certain to open up new avenues of research in the coming years. There are also a fair number of comics and volumes of comics scholarship in the library not only covering American materials, but also strong and growing holdings in Japanese manga and graphic medicine.
- Learn from Faculty Interested in Comics and Visual Culture. In the English Department, you’ll find faculty and students broadly engaged in visual culture in a way that’s relatively unique for literary studies. Not only do we have Film Studies enmeshed in the English Department, which allows for some productive intersections, but we are also one of the top children’s literature programs, which is exciting given the explosion of YA comics in recent years. There are also faculty outside the department engaged in comics across the disciplines as a transnational phenomenon.
- Connect with Local Cartoonists. There are more cartoonists per capita in Gainesville than you might expect, thanks in large part to the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), a residential year-long independent cartooning school founded & run by renowned cartoonist Tom Hart in Downtown Gainesville. In addition to their year-long program, SAW hosts day-long and week-long workshops throughout the year with sliding scale rates and often welcomes visiting artists to lead workshops. At the end of every semester, SAW organizes open-house viewings of the students’ art, and SAW also often participates in the annual UF comics conference.
- Be Inspired by the Local Art Scene. You can get the pulse of the vibrant local art scene during the monthly art walks where gallery spaces in downtown and beyond welcome in folks. The university art museum, the Harn Museum of Art, is truly impressive with great exhibits and accompanying events, and membership to the museum is free. In the fall and spring, there are large-scale art shows that bring artists to town from all over to share and sell their work.
- Focus in on the Radical History of Gainesville and Its Alums. There’s a history of Gainesville as a site of social justice organizing, including for the early women’s movement. The punk tradition in town has incubated a number of zinesters, including Sarah Dyer and Celia C. Pérez. Indie comics publisher Alternative Comics was started in Gainesville in 1993.
- Engage the Grassroots in Comics and Zines. The Civic Media Center, a grassroots library founded in Gainesville in 1993, holds an impressive array of grassroots materials, including social justice oriented comics and the Travis Fristoe Zine Library, a wide-ranging zine collection that demonstrates the creative vibrancy of the Southeast, which is important given that this region is often overlooked in contemporary zine histories.
- Buy Some Comics. There are a number of bookstores and comic shops to check out in town, including Third House Books, Mega Gaming & Comics, Book Gallery West, and 2nd & Charles. Twice a year, the Friends of the Library puts on a massive book sale. While it runs over several days, the comics are often snapped up on the first day. When you get a chance to travel a bit farther out of town, the Chamblin Bookmine in Jacksonville has a large selection of used comic books.
- Make Some Art. Devote some time to your own arts practice. The Repurpose Project, a unique second-hand non-profit, is a perfect place to search out off-beat art supplies. Lanza Gallery and Art Supplies in nearby High Springs is a great store for art supplies, and there are a number of art supply stores in Jacksonville.
- Get Outta Town. Gainesville’s central location in North Florida makes it the perfect starting point for a number of day trips, whether to a nearby metropolis (Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, etc.) or to some natural wonder, including one of the many first-magnitude springs that surround us. As point of fact, Florida is blessed with the largest number of springs in the world.