(Transnational Perspectives on) Illustration, Comics, and Animation


The schedule has now been posted for the Illustration, Comics, and Animation Conference taking place this spring at Dartmouth College (April 19 – 21, 2013). There are quite a few interesting speakers and exciting topics on the roster, so I encourage readers to look at the complete conference schedule. But here I’d like to focus briefly on a few people who happen to be both involved in the conference and associated in one way or another with this blog and the various projects represented here.

First of all, two of my European colleagues will be presenting papers:

Daniel Stein, co-editor with me on Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives and fellow postdoctoral researcher in the Popular Seriality group, will be presenting a paper called “Animating Batman: Serial Storytelling, Cartoon Animation, and the Multiplicities of Contemporary Superhero Comics.” (Click the title for his abstract.)

Lukas Etter, contributor to Transnational Perspectives (with a great chapter on Jason Lutes’s Berlin) and member of the research project “Seriality and Intermediality in Graphic Novels” (a Swiss project associated with the DFG research group on Popular Seriality), will present “Seria(s)lly Episodic: Gradual Formal Variations in Alison Bechdel’s Feminist Comic Strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008).” (Click title for abstract.)

I will also be presenting a paper, titled “Animation as Theme and Medium: Frankenstein and Visual Culture.” (Again, click for the abstract.)

Finally, our American host and the conference’s organizer is Michael A. Chaney, Associate Professor of English at Dartmouth College, who is likewise a contributor to Transnational Perspectives (with an excellent chapter on “Transnationalism and Form in Visual Narratives of US Slavery”).

As it turns out, this will be the second time that all four of our paths cross — the first being at a comics studies workshop in Bern, Switzerland in October 2011. In this respect, and in addition to our cooperation on the volume, the upcoming conference marks the continuation of a very literal transnational exchange of ideas, which has brought together German, Swiss, and American (among other) perspectives on the study of comics and related media. I look forward to this and further such intersections and (national as well as medial) border-crossings!

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.