For the first annual Comics Studies Society conference in 2018, I had the privilege of being in dialogue with a bunch of amazing women about how we might rethink comics history in ways that would center the experiences of women. The spark for this panel arose out of a series of exchanges on Twitter that made evident the still fraught position of women in comics studies—as Tahneer Oksman asked in a tweet: “What does it mean to be a woman writing about comics?”
Direct link to Tahneer Oksman’s thread:
— tahneer oksman (@TahneerO) April 11, 2017
Direct link to Rachel Miller’s thread:
Some notes from yesterday. Thinking about why/how women's work gets left out of Comics History bc it is "life-writing"/personal memory. pic.twitter.com/dr9mGSHgXm
— Rachel Miller (@rr_millerx) April 21, 2017
These threads and the conversations in them germinated the “Rewriting Women in Comics Studies” panel that featured Jenny Blenk, Margaret Galvan, Francesca Lyn, Rachel Miller, and Leah Misemer at CSS 2018. Here below, I share the panel proposal, the collaborative zine we made for the panel, and the documentation of the panel in photos, sketches, and notes.
Women’s work in comics has always been political, but it has not always been historical as the field of comics studies writes and rewrites the history of the medium. This roundtable brings together scholars who seek to center the work of women in the larger history of comics, minding the gap that seems to always form between women’s oft-politicized contributions to the medium and its scholarship, and a dominant, pervasive narrative that prioritizes historicizing men’s work. Wimmen’s Comix and adjacent women-centric anthologies like Tits and Clits or Twisted Sisters, for instance, are often a footnote to the 1970s Underground Comix scene of R. Crumb, Jay Lynch, and Skip Williamson. The watershed moment of 1986, in which comics became art and literature in the shadow of Maus, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and the Raw anthology easily overlooks the minicomics Lynda Barry ran off at the copy shop in small batches, hand-stapling them to send off to friends and fans. Or the fragmented, brutal narratives about childhood Phoebe Gloeckner slowly churned out that now make up A Child’s Life (1998).
Considering the ways in which women get written out, made invisible, and downplayed as creators and scholars, this roundtable rigorously rewrites the memory of the medium by looking at women’s work in comics through multiple lenses. Participants employ a range of intersectional methodologies to rewrite women into comic studies. Francesca Lyn and Jenny Blenk consider how the comics form represents the intersectionality of identity and feminism. Lyn explores how the fragmentary nature of comics can embody trauma and identity in autobiographical comics written by women of color. Investigating Georgia Webber’s Dumb, Blenk navigates the intersection of disability and feminism, tying physically losing one’s voice to voicelessness within and without feminist movements. While Lyn and Blenk focus on how the comics form can help us repair gaps, Leah Misemer and Margaret Galvan point to the gaps in comics studies as a developing field. Misemer interrogates comics scholarship by suggesting that the prevalence of a fan origin story centered on superhero comics leaves little room for discussion of the alternate pathways of developing interest in comics that have characterized women’s experience as readers and creators. Informed by archival research in comics and grassroots material culture collections, Galvan argues that the focus in comics studies on work produced within alternative and mainstream comics industries erases the often-political comics women create in other spaces like zines, grassroots periodicals, and even porno mags. Moderated by Rachel Miller, whose research is concerned with the historicization of 1990s-era women’s indie and alternative comics, these brief presentations and the roundtable discussion that will follow recalibrate the history of comics through an intersectional feminist praxis and aim to open up a lively conversation about rewriting the memory of the medium.
Printing instructions: Print two-sided and make sure to flip the alignment for the second side to preserve the pagination.
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Documenting the Panel
We were lucky to have an engaged audience, who were especially lively on Twitter, documenting the panel in photos, threads, and sketchnotes.
#css18 comics by women have often been relegated to discussion about memory, rather than actually becoming a part of the history of comics.
— Jeremy Carnes (@jmcarnes) August 9, 2018
— Adrienne Resha (@AdrienneResha) August 9, 2018
— Matthew Noe is on Vacation (@NoetheMatt) August 9, 2018
— Nicholas E. Miller (@uncannydazzler) August 9, 2018
What an inspiring #css18 panel with @girlgutters, @magdor, @francescalyn, and @JennyBlenk yesterday on Rewriting Women in Comics Studies. My #sketchnotes follow the "be messy" principle that emerged from the discussion. pic.twitter.com/hYYeNOH2uU
— Leah Misemer (@lsmisemer) August 10, 2018
— Hazel Newlevant (@HNewlevant) August 9, 2018
It was so amazing to be in dialogue with these women; who knows what the future holds!