Selected Conference Presentation Abstracts
Building resistance: Agency & LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures
Realizing Resistance Episode III. 05-2023
The LEGO Star Wars franchise all contribute to the complex narrative network of Star Wars, working in tandem with the preeminent Star Wars texts to fill in backstories and, more significantly, to reimagine the scenes, stories, and characters in ways and spaces that promote audience involvement and agency. As part of LEGO’s ongoing marketing efforts, LEGO animations frequently promote imagination and problem solving (expressed through creation with LEGO bricks). The LEGO Movie, particularly, critiques individualistic creative freedom in favor of a collective ethos. This has particular importance within the ideas of resistance promoted by the Star Wars narrative. And yet the range of creative possibilities is somewhat limited in the LEGO Star Wars offerings through its simultaneous, and paradoxical, reimagination and reproduction of Star Wars canon. This paper will consider framing and representation of creative vision, individual agency, and collective ethos in LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures. The discussion considers the ways in which LEGO’s creative agency supports resistance, encourages rebellion, or reinforces an “everything is awesome” status quo of consumerism.
Artists on abortion – The baby or the ballot
Eastern Communication Association. 03-2023
Cartooning and abortion have a notable history, beginning in 1973 when the Roe v. Wade case sparked both the pro-Choice Abortion Eve and pro-Life Who Killed Junior? This explores the re-emergence of old symbols and metaphors, and the emergence of new, in political cartoons following the 2022 Dobbs decision: the fetus and the coat hanger, the Court, Lady Justice and Lady Liberty, the body, the baby, the vote, the gun, the church, the handmaid, and healthcare. It concludes that the overarching theme is one of violence, real and symbolic, to both bodies and debates through oversimplification, negligence, and exclusion. Pro-Choice men, potentially pregnant-persons other than women, communities of color, issues of healthcare, voting rights, and alternative religious perspectives are just some of the elements overlooked in political cartoons since 1973.
Politics as unusual: Editorial cartooning & the 2024 election
Eastern Communication Association. 03-2023
Political cartoons in presidential elections have traditionally presented rhetorical depictions of candidate images and/or key campaign moments, such as “gaffes” during debates. Cartoons during the 2020 primaries belied these trends, somewhat, by focusing more attention on the unprecedented conditions of the contest. The upcoming 2024 election is already shaping up to be similarly unique. Political cartoons depicting and commenting on the 2024 presidential campaign began as early as 2019. Similar to cartoons of the 2020 primaries, these depictions have largely drawn attention to the campaign process, the state of the parties, and on the likelihood of another Trump v. Biden contest - but with a dark twist. This presentation discusses how cartoonists are framing 2024 as a political nightmare and considers what that means for the future.
The statue of Trumpery: Ironic metaphor & the visual ideograph
Eastern Communication Association. 04-2022
Much has been written about the political, commercial, and social appropriation of the Statue of Liberty symbol and image. This scholarship, however, insufficiently accounts for the rhetorical function of the image as it is parodied in political cartoons. Building upon the concept of the visual ideograph, put forth by Edwards and Winkler, this paper argues that the Statue of Liberty is best understood as a visual ideograph and its parodied form frequently works as an ironic metaphor
Veteran-created war comics & the workaday war
Comics and Security, The Ohio State University. 11-2022
This study uses generic criticism, informed by the Narrative Paradigm, drawing from the genre characteristic of both war comics and war movies, to consider what kind of war stories warrior writers and artists-at-arms tell and how veterans may be making sense, or directing others to make sense, of war. It suggests that these stories feature ordinary and fatally flawed protagonists instead of heroes, give banal trivialities the same importance as the chaos of combat, and struggle to comprehend death. Their wars are neither righteous nor senseless, their actions neither cowardly nor brave. They involve bad food, hard truths, and harsh conditions, good friends, fond memories, and pleasurable interludes.
Junctures & ruptures: COVID, comics, & visualizing the invisible
Wilson Lecture, New York State Communication Association. 10-2022
Comics have always responded, directly or allegorically, to catastrophes, documenting and commenting on the way we deal with crises. With the appearance of COVID-19, comics were harnessed by governmental and medical agencies as a public health tool, enabling science and communication. Webcomics were employed by educators as an alternative means of achieving student learning outcomes during quarantine. And graphic medicine, an interdisciplinary field of comics and health studies, curated digital collections of comics, editorial cartoons, and graphic autobiography dealing with COVID-19. These representations express what has been called “covidity” – individual and collective philosophical, material, and emotional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The comics format enables an articulation of spatial, temporal, and relational aspects of the pandemic not available to other media, even bringing audiences into the places and lives where news cameras could not go. This presentation looks at a selection of the verbal-visual rhetoric that documented COVID as an epoch and schism in our lives, highlighting the myriad ways this historical moment transformed our communal spaces and social interactions and demonstrating why comics feature prominently in recent political battles.
"You’re on mute": Idiosyncrasies of synchronous online public speaking
National Communication Association. 11-2021
For years, we have debated the merits of teaching public speaking online. The question usually focused on aspects of audience and immediacy, and the answer was frequently to request that students have live audiences, visible on their, unedited, recorded speeches. But now many of us find ourselves teaching fully synchronous remote courses, which presents a range of new concerns for online public speaking, such as live but absent audiences, different nonverbal demands, technical considerations and “production” concerns, offline applicability of the student experience, class size, and instructional limits of faculty’s technical abilities.
They furnished the pictures, Trump furnished the war: Political cartoons of the fight against COVID & the "wartime president"
National Communication Association. 11-2021
Political cartoonists took Trump’s pronouncement of being a “wartime president” in the fight against COVID-19 as a cue for their depictions of the pandemic and the government response to its medical and economic impact. Based on previous studies of wartime political cartoons, analysis focuses on depictions of leadership, combatants, weaponry, and the enemy in the pandemic battle and suggests a lack of shared symbolism available to political cartoonists in their responses to the war on COVID.
Mourning in America: Critical nostalgia in the time of MAGA
Eastern Communication Association. 03-2021
Nostalgia is generally considered to be a reactionary form of resistance against modernity and therefore seen as a primarily conservative force. But it also holds progressive potential. Nostalgia can be a site for creative, and even transgressive, expression because it provides a disruption to modern life and calls the truth of an imagined past into doubt. In recent years, popular culture has seen a surge in nostalgic media texts, some of which bridge the nostalgia of Reagan’s “morning in America” and his campaign to “make America great again” with the nostalgic messages of Trump’s promises to also “make America great again.” This paper considers three recent pop-cultural texts about the 1980s – the graphic novels Morning in America, Paper Girls, and Deadly Class – analyzing how they employ devices of nostalgia and political criticism to invoke a call for revolution.
Compassion & the apocalypse: Commanders (and
communities) in Crisis
Comics Studies Society. 08-2021
The divisive political climate of 2020 was symptomatic of a shift in American culture throughout the 2010s in which Americans grew suspicious of empathy, becoming more likely to empathize for those they perceive as like themselves, and not for those who are different – leading to direct political consequences for vulnerable populations. These are the issues addressed in Commanders in Crisis, in which a team of superheroes takes on time-traveling emotion bandits, bent on stealing the hope from the present because there is none left in the future. When Compassion itself is murdered, the heroes face a case of “Idea-icide” which threatens existence itself. This ideological analysis of Commanders in Crisis will draw from research in the role of compassion in politics from sociological, psychological, philosophical and political theory perspectives, to discuss what the text reveals about community and compassion in contemporary crises.
Lois Lane & the image of the journalist: Comics Books are a
medium with a media message
National Communication Association. 11-2020
Building the premise that the image of the journalist in popular culture matters, because journalism in a democracy matters, this paper examines three limited-run comic book series starring newspaper reporter Lois Lane, best known as Superman’s girlfriend, from 1986-2020.The comics reinforce many journalist stereotypes found throughout pop culture artifacts. But they also shed light on the struggle of journalism’s reputation in the Fake News-era, demonstrating public cynicism as rooted in a misunderstanding of the profession.
Venom-ous heroes: The critical crossroads of the heroic villain
National Communication Association. 11-2020
Marvel’s 2018 Venom was largely overlooked as a sub-par, mostly forgettable, B-movie that desperately needed Spider-Man. This raises the question that if heroes are defined by their villains, as Frank Verano has argued, then what does it mean to be a villain without a hero to oppose? Movies like Venom highlight the reality of moral relativism in which every villain is the hero of their own story. But in heralding as heroic the “lesser of two evils” they may be complicit in perpetuating political malaise and malevolence - like a demon at the crossroads who offers salvation for a poisonous price.
Babes at arms: From firing/pin ups to Bombshells
Flyover Comics Symposium. 09-2020
The years 1975-1985 have been dubbed “the United Nations Decade for Women,” for a series of small, mostly unnoticed but revolutionary, events – reports, meetings, demonstrations, and petitions by thousands of women around the world that granted women a public forum in which they would be heard, work for remedies, gain representation in government, and change laws. Similarly, from 1973 to 1978 in the comics, Wonder Woman, as Diana Prince, was unremarkably employed by the United Nations as a tour guide, interpreter, and publicist. This presentation considers Wonder Woman’s work in the United Nations within the larger context of the “Decade for Women,” the U.N.’s efforts to use popular culture (mostly film and television) to educate and to garner popular support through the 1970s, and Wonder Woman’s ill-fated term as an honorary U.N. ambassador for women and girls in 2016.
The genre crossovers & gender crossplays of DC Comics
Geek/Art CONfluence. 10-2019
This presentation focuses on the multi-media influences in the DC Comics Bombshells. It will explore how the characters developed from pin-up art to embrace multiple period-media genres including pulp serials, war movies, propaganda reels, romances, slapstick comedy, film noir, and Hammer horror. Discussion encompasses cosplay, arguing that the genre-mashups and vintage stylings of the Bombshells both promote and co-opt fan culture. The retro-genre-inspired artwork reflects the same kind of customization that occurs within material fan practices to create transformative narratives. The female-centric stories parallel crossplay, especially in a world where Batwoman’s existence prevents that of Batman. The genre-crossovers are akin to the “Read/Write Culture” or “Commons-Based Peer Production” of fan communities and to the cross-marketing and transmedia storytelling of corporations.
Animating #VeteransVoices: StoryCorps, cartoons, & the
Animation & Public Engagement Symposium. 09-2019
StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people, fostering a more compassionate world by teaching the value of listening. Data from online listener surveys suggest that StoryCorps has been successful at increasing understanding and acceptance of diverse peoples and experiences, especially of people with a disability or serious illness, Latinx, African-Americans, and immigrants. StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative provides a platform for veterans, service members, and military families to share their stories, recognizing that “few civilians truly understand the complex realities of our troops’ service and sacrifice.” #VeteransVoices currently includes six animated shorts that depict terror and torment, calamity and comradery of veteran experiences of WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq. This presentation will build on studies of the uses and themes of military cartooning, both still and animated, and on the yet-limited literature of web comics, to explore how the #VeteransVoices animations may work to bridge the civil-military gap in ways that other oral history formats might not.
Graphic epistles & epistle graphics: Of war letters & comics
Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. 03-2018.
In 2014, W.J.T. Mitchell wondered about the possibility “of a whole new genre of graphic epistles?” (263). This paper demonstrates a much longer tradition of symbiosis between graphic and epistolary narratives by showcasing and analyzing the use of illustrations, both original and published, in soldiers’ letters from wars, military cartoons about the sending and receiving of letters and mail, and the use of epistolary narrative exposition in war comics. Artefacts considered include: posthumously-published drawings in the Civil War letters of a Union soldier named George; unpublished Great War cartoons found in the illustrated letters of Captain Henry Lamb, archived with the International War Museum; illustrated envelopes from World War II, archived at the Library of Congress; cartoon newspapers created by artist Marion Gurfein for her husband during the Korean War, archived at the Library of Congress; and, popular war comics like Charley’s War by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun, and Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.
"Sexy letters": Maintaining long-distance sexual intimacy - couple's Korean War correspondence
National Communication Association. 11-2015.
Using dramatism and the terministic screen, this paper analyzes the erotic sex expressions, or sexual script, of an officer in the Korean War in letters to his wife in order to contribute to the gap regarding sexual intimacy in the literature on communication in long-distant relationship maintenance. Particular attention is given to the functions of guilt and perceptual distortion.