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Home > Bart Beaty's Conversational Euro-Comics

Live From London (Ontario)
posted June 2, 2005
 

imageI spent last weekend at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, battling the crowds and a flu-bug, but not necessarily in that order. Unlike a lot of small press comics shows, I didn't walk away from this one with a ton of new comics - feeling under the weather seemed to equate to keeping my money in my wallet. Nonetheless, I thrilled to have some time to talk to Gary Panter, and, particularly, the Eiland duo of Tobias Schalken and Stefan van Dinther, who skipped their designated signing time to grab lunch. Sorry to any and all expecting signed books on Saturday.

One highlight was catching some of the panels and lectures. Stefan and Tobias gave a nice overview of their work, ably moderated by Mark Nevins, on Saturday night. This was followed by a fascinating talk by Phoebe Gloeckner, including a look at some of the work that she is doing now about disappearing women in the Mexican maquiladoras. This is powerful, important work that Phoebe is undertaking.

imageMy official role at TCAF was presenting a talk on Saturday morning to kick off a round table on Comics and the Academy, since in my day job I'm an academic who writes about comics. Joining me were former TCJ writer and York University history prof Anne Rubenstein (author of the terrific Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation: A Political History of Comic Books in Mexico), York U English lit prof Jonathan Warren, Phoebe Gloeckner (who now teaches comics in the art department at the University of Michigan), and three grad students doing work on comics: Rob Lendrum, Ben Woo, and Shannon Gerard.

We talked for about two hours to a room filled well beyond our expectations with comic book fans hoping to learn what it is that we're doing. A lot of what we talked about focused on the difficulty of finding a common language for the ideas that we are interested in exploring -- despite much pioneering work done in this area -- and our concerns that comics are, or are not, being academicized in certain regards. One interesting question inquired about the distinction that we had been employing between the fan and the scholar, which, in the context of a comics festival, really highlighted one of the central problematics of doing this kind of work, particularly given how fluid that boundary can be.

Yesterday, Rob, Ben, Shannon and I took the show on the road, specifically to the University of Western Ontario and the annual Canadian Communications Association conference, for a panel called "Communicating Comics." A quite different audience this time, composed of art historians and communications scholars, and graduate students. Much smaller turn out, indicating, perhaps, that more comics readers are interested in academia than academics are interested in comics.

imageDespite the small turn-out, the audience heard a series of interesting (at least I thought so!) talks on the loser syndrome in Canadian autobiographical comics, the work of Chester Brown and Julie Doucet, comics as a research methodology, and my own paper on the institutionalization of Robert Crumb in a number of recent museum events. The discussion here was more pointed and theoretical, but also a bit more by the numbers in some respects as well.

I've been critical in the past, and was critical last Saturday, of the constant desire of comics academics to get down "with the people" at places like comics festivals, since I think that it often betrays an insecurity. On the other hand, I have to admit that in many ways having done two events so closely together, I got more out of the TCAF event than the CCA. Things were a little less structured and a little more open to the unexpected. I think that there's an energy that an event like TCAF generates that is too often missing at academic gatherings. The question for me now is: How to create that energy elsewhere.

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I only have one Euro-comic in my suitcase, so to stay true to the title -- next up: A look at CHRZ by Stefan van Dinther