Daniel Stein, “Animating Batman: Serial Storytelling, Cartoon Animation, and the Multiplicities of Contemporary Superhero Comics”


Here is the abstract for Daniel Stein’s talk at the Illustration, Comics, and Animation Conference at Dartmouth College (April 19 – 21, 2013):

Animating Batman: Serial Storytelling, Cartoon Animation, and the Multiplicities of Contemporary Superhero Comics

Daniel Stein

Comics and films scholars have devoted much time to the phenomenon of the Hollywood superhero blockbuster, developing sophisticated theories of media transposition and comic book adaptation. They have paid much less attention to a related and equally significant phenomenon: the animated superhero cartoon, most often produced for television. This may come as a surprise since animated versions of Superman (1941) and Spider-Man (1967) appeared rather early in the history of the superhero genre and have contributed to its evolution at least as much as the film serials of the 1940s (Batman: 1943 and 1949; Captain America: 1944), live action television series (Superman: 1952; Batman: 1966; Spider-Man: 1977), and the Hollywood blockbusters that followed the first Superman movie (1978).

This paper addresses two sets of questions that are vital to our understanding of superhero comics and their place in twenty-first-century media culture. First: How can we describe the transposition from sequential comic book narrative to the animated images of the television narrative? Are we dealing with different “visual ontologies” (Lefèvre)? And how does the change from multimodal storytelling in print to multimedial storytelling in film impact the representation? Second: If serial genres such as superhero comics produce various mechanisms to manage the multiplicities of proliferating “vast narratives” (Harrigan/Wardrip-Fruin), we must explain how new media impact the development of the genre. How does the “animated universe” (Brooker) of specific superheroes relate to their comic book continuities and canonicity? The paper analyzes animated Batman cartoons of the last twenty years: from television series such as Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), Batman Beyond (1999-2001), and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) to animated movie adaptations of canonical graphic novels such as Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012).

Lukas Etter, “Seria(s)lly Episodic: Gradual Formal Variations in Alison Bechdel’s Feminist Comic Strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008)”


Here is the abstract for Lukas Etter’s talk at the Illustration, Comics, and Animation Conference at Dartmouth College (April 19 – 21, 2013):

Seria(s)lly episodic. Gradual Formal Variations in Alison Bechdel’s Feminist Comic Strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008).

Lukas Etter

When early in 2000 comic artist Alison Bechdel depicted herself as insane, this was due to the political state of her country. The episode in question, titled “Leadership Vacuum”, is a one-page comic strip in which the artist is shown at the drawing board, incapable of bearing the ‘loudness’ of the current political discourse resulting from the Lewinsky affair of the previous year. Simultaneously depicted is a main character, Mo, who transgresses from an intra- into an extradiegetic world by ‘stepping out’ of the strip and addressing the readers in order to explain the author’s alleged insanity. “Leadership Vacuum” is an episode of Dykes to Watch Out For, a bi-weekly feminist comic strip syndicated in U.S.-American periodicals between 1983 and 2008 – i.e., the strip which Bechdel had been working on for more than 17 years at this point.

These 17 years are subtly reflected in the episode “Leadership Vacuum”, given that Mo rummages in drawings made at an earlier stage. While self-reflexivity is almost always present in Bechdel’s later work – Fun Home (2006), “Cartoonist’s Introduction” (2008), “Compulsory Reading” (2008), “Wrought” (2008), Are You My Mother? (2012) – the rummaging in earlier drawings, and more generally speaking such an explicit type of self-reflexivity, is exceptional for a Dykes to Watch Out For episode. More importantly still, it is a subject matter largely understudied in critical literature on Bechdel’s work. Here begins, ultimately, what the present paper aims to focus on: The gradual formal changes over time in Dykes to Watch Out For, with a special interest in drawing style as well as narrative features – such as direct addressing of the readers at the end of an episode (“Stay tuned!”). An analysis of such changes will facilitate our understanding of the mechanisms at work a flexinarrative (i.e. combination of the ‘episodic’ and the ‘serial’ proper) on a more abstract level. It will add to an understanding of how Bechdel’s strip continually serves as a pungently sarcastic comment on contemporary ‘Western’ society at large for – in Eco’s terms – both a ‘naïve’ reader and a ‘smart’ one.

Shane Denson, “Animation as Theme and Medium: Frankenstein and Visual Culture”


Here is the abstract for Shane Denson’s talk at the Illustration, Comics, and Animation Conference at Dartmouth College (April 19 – 21, 2013):

Animation as Theme and Medium: Frankenstein and Visual Culture

Shane Denson

Frankenstein and above all Frankenstein’s monster are emphatically plurimedial figures; already in the nineteenth century, they escaped the confines of Mary Shelley’s novel and proliferated on theater stages and in political cartoons before embarking, in the twentieth century, on a long career in film, radio, TV, comics, and video games. In the course of these developments, the monster in particular has become an unmistakable visual icon, the general contours of which were more or less fixed in our visual culture through Boris Karloff’s embodiment in the early 1930s. The image, however, remains flexible enough as to be instantly recognizable in cartoonish illustrations adorning cereal boxes. In this presentation, I contend that the monster’s image presents a special case for thinking the intermedial networks that constitute our visual culture, owing to the fact that this icon is linked inextricably with “animation” as both a thematic and media-technical topos. The act of animation, or bringing a creature composed of dead corpses to life—subject to only cursory treatment in the novel—becomes the main subject and visual attraction of the tale’s filmic iterations, where animation is motivated not solely by narrative but linked also to a self-reflexive probing of film as a medium. The first Frankenstein film, Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein (1910), used reverse motion and trick photography to animate its creature, and it linked into early discourses of cinema, according to which moving images in general (rather than, as later, a special class of films) were referred to as “animated film”—for the cinema brought “dead” photos (cf. 19th century memento mori) back to life, as attested in the names of early-film companies and apparatuses (Bioscope, Vitagraph, etc). James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), too, probes animation as both theme and medium in the midst of change, reviving this nexus (and the monster) in the wake of the sound transition, with its foregrounding of uncanny figures “electrified” by technical sound, showcased all the more by a mute monster capable only of inarticulate moans. Besides the cinematic trajectory, moreover, there is also a rich Frankensteinian comics tradition—which includes fumetti film tie-ins, Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein series of the 1940s and 1950s, various serializations at Marvel and DC, and even crossovers with superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, or the X-Men—that similarly probes “animation” as the thematic/medial wellspring of modern visual culture. Both in film and comics, graphic/visual treatments of Frankenstein approach animation (asymptotically, perhaps) as an enabling frame or parergon and thus relive, again and again, an iconic Urszene of the birth of modern visual culture and its self-reflexive mediality.

Animation and the Delimitation of Cinema

What is cinema? This question has been posed innumerable times, and innumerable answers have been offered in response — some of them good, some less satisfying, but most of them in some way biased, partial, and in any case less than comprehensive. If I wager an answer of my own, it will surely suffer from the same incompleteness — and how could it be otherwise, unless the cinema had ceased evolving, been frozen in time, or superseded and relegated to the junk pile of “dead” media? This is hardly the case, I think, even if the material infrastructure of cinema has been radically transformed in its transition to digital production and playback technologies.

Nevertheless, attendant changes in the cinema, as part of the larger media environment in which we live and breathe, have been momentous enough to warrant discussion of “post-cinematic affect” (in Steven Shaviro‘s term) as the emergent episteme or “structure of feeling” informing life today. And the film historians of the past several decades (chief among them Tom Gunning and Miriam Hansen) have demonstrated with sufficient clarity that early cinema, far from being a “primitive” version of “classical” cinema, was indeed a different beast altogether. Together, these perspectives suggest that cinema — classical (and post-classical) cinema: cinema proper as the dominant medium of the twentieth century — can be approached as a (relatively) bounded object, not neatly encapsulated but nevertheless defined by some fuzzy borders near the beginning and the end of “its” century.

In an attempt to understand this object better, we might consider that a wide variety of attempts to define cinema suffer from a common shortcoming: they marginalize or otherwise fail to account for “animation.” But perhaps there is something essential about this marginalization, and maybe we could say — knowing full well that any such categorical pronouncement is surely guilty of a similar selectiveness — that animation provides the frame within which cinema in its dominant form has been defined. In order to serve as such a frame, it would therefore not be by accident but indeed as an enabling condition of “cinema” that animation should be pushed thus to the margins. (In this context it is perhaps important, though, to recall Derrida’s meditations on the frame qua parergon…).

What would it mean, though, and what reason is there to say that cinema is “framed” by animation as a border condition? The idea, in short, is that “cinema” (a normative construct historically instantiated in both discursive and material forms) is bookended, delimited historically and conceptually by an initial and an ultimate indistinction of animation and live-action film — such that cinema is defined not as live-action film, narrowly and in exclusion of animation, but on the grounds of the distinction between, or via the more basic distinguishability of, animation and live-action film. For it is precisely (though not solely) this distinction that is at stake in the transition from early to classical and again from cinematic to post-cinematic forms or regimes.

We must recall that it remained common, until well into the 1910s, to refer to film generally as “animated film” — in distinction to static photographs, which had become associated in the nineteenth century with death (an association that was not purely philosophical but practically instantiated in the Victorian-era memento mori). The movies brought these images back to life — animated them: an idea that motivated corporate names such as Biograph and Vitagraph (while the connection might seem even more palpable to us today in a hand-cranked flip-book machine like the Mutoscope). And it was the camera/projector apparatus itself — the main “attraction” of early cinema — that was the life-giving force: “animation” was thus an apparatic spectacle, something that inhered in the very machinery of the movies, not in a certain type of film (see also Paul Ward’s instructive article, “Defining ‘Animation'”).

This is not to say, of course, that early audiences were so bedazzled by moving pictures that they couldn’t tell the difference between live-action sequences and “animation” in its narrower (and later) sense. Rather, the point is merely that this distinction was relatively unimportant in the “cinema of attractions” — where “enchanted drawings,” trick effects, and stop-motion spectacles were widespread. The meaningfulness of the distinction, which emerges in the transition to classical film, depends on the marginalization of animation, which is no longer seen as the essence of film but as an exceptional kind of it. The trick effect becomes a “special effect.” More generally, “life” is no longer given by the apparatus but is merely recorded, witnessed by it in the case of live-action filmmaking, which it now makes sense to distinguish from animation; life, in other words, is located in front of the camera, as a pro-filmic property of actors that filmmakers can at best harness and pass on to their diegetic characters. The once central operation of film — animation — henceforth occupies a subordinate position as the apparatus of classical cinema undergoes its disenchantment.

Again, though, it is less this subordination than the sheer separability of animation that I think might be seen as a defining factor, a framing condition, of cinema in its dominant or proper form as the central medium of the twentieth century. And one of the key developments marking our transition to a post-cinematic era is precisely a reversal of this process: most obviously, CGI and digital compositing render the distinction between apparatically animated and pro-filmically animate images again indeterminate. (But surely the anima at stake is not just a narrowly technical agency, but also the life we call our own, the parameters of which are radically revised by global communications technologies, through microtemporal encounters with the digital, and in the imbrication of our affective lives with the algorithms of global finance). Such indeterminacy, the indistinction of animation, therefore constitutes the initial and the ultimate state, while the cinema is defined in/as the space between.

Seen from this (undoubtedly biased, partial, and perhaps even perverse) perspective, Winsor McCay — whose comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland premiered 107 years ago today, on October 15, 1905, in the pages of The New York Herald — was not only a pioneer of animation (as it is more conventional to claim on the basis of his filmic work with Nemo and the later Gertie the Dinosaur), but in fact a pioneer of cinema proper, which he helped to define by wresting it from animation, from an indistinction of life — from an indistinction into which we plunge again today…

Roland Faelske-Preis für Comic und Animationsfilm 2012

Ausschreibung: Roland Faelske-Preis für Comic und Animationsfilm 2012

Die Universität Hamburg und die Roland Faelske-Stiftung loben im Jahr 2012 zum zweiten Mal den Roland Faelske-Preis für Comic und Animationsfilm aus. Ausgezeihnet werden Studierende und Promovenden für herausragende Arbeiten aus dem Themenbereich ‘Comic’ oder ‘Animationsfilm’.

Der Preis wird in zwei Kategorien verliehen:

Für die beste Magister-, Diplom-, Master- oder Bachelor-Abschlussarbeit, dotiert mit 1.000 Euro
und für die beste Dissertation, dotiert mit 3.000 Euro.

Annahmeschluss für empfohlene Arbeiten ist der 30. Juni 2012.

Die Zulassungsbedingungen entnehmen Sie bitte der ausführlichen Ausschreibung sowie der ‘Richtlinie für die Verleihung des Roland Faelske-Preises’.

Auskünfte erteilt Herr Prof. Dr. Markus Kuhn.

Cognitive Media

Evgeny Morozov: “The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?”

Slavoj Zizek: “First as Tragedy, then as Farce”

Following up on the video of Iain McGilchrist’s talk on “The Divided Brain,” which I posted earlier, I have discovered that Andrew Park’s animation studio Cognitive Media has produced a number of great animations for talks by a range of interesting speakers, including these by Evgeny Morozov and Slavoj Zizek.