Graduate Students Working in Comics Studies

September 25, 2018
Block O

In recognition of September being Comics Month in the Department of English, we asked some of our graduate students who are involved in comic studies why they are intrigued in this oftentimes eccentric and elusive literary style. 

Misha Grifka

Describe your interest in comics, personally or academically.

GrifkaI have been a reader of comics since around fifth grade, but in college that developed into an academic interest, largely because I wanted to share the comics that I loved and point out the incredible art that so many artists were making. 


"I found that webcomics, my specific subfield, haven't been covered in academia almost at all, and that increased my desire to bring attention to webcomics as a dynamic and accomplished art form."


Do you engage with comics in your research? If so, why did you choose to work with them at Ohio State?
I do! About half of my research is on webcomics (comics that are made for and published on the Internet). Ohio State has an incredible collection of comics, and so it draws a lot of really excellent comics scholars, such as Jared Gardner and Frederick Luis Aldama. It was that community of scholars that really drew me to Ohio State.

Is there anything else you want people to know about being a graduate student who studies (or enjoys) comics?
It's a really exciting time to be in comics. There's more institutional support than there used to be, and that means grad students and professors alike are able to produce work that's advancing this relatively young field. I can't wait to see how the field continues to develop.
 
What is your favorite comic book right now? 
My favorite print comic is The Wicked + The Divine, a comic about the gods who come back to life for just one year. The art is truly amazing, and the plot is totally unpredictable. My favorite webcomic right now is Paranatural, a supernatural comedy about middle schoolers fighting ghosts.
 
How did you first become interested in comics? (A specific book? An essay? Etc.)
I was in middle school when the Japanimation craze really hit the United States. Suddenly everyone was watching Inuyasha or Sailor Moon. One of my friends got me to read some manga, and I was almost immediately hooked. I spent most of middle school reading manga and drawing comics with my friends. As I got older, I stopped reading as much manga and moved more toward webcomics, but I don't think comics would have been on my radar without that early obsession.

Danielle Orozco 

Describe your interest in comics, personally or academically.
Orozco
I am interested in comics both personally and academically. I read them for fun, but I also analyze them for research since I am passionate about social justice. I believe that comics—through their unique mixture of image and text—can teach us a lot about the world, diversity, culture, history, and identity politics in ways that are accessible to readers of all backgrounds. I have had exciting opportunities to read and teach comics at Ohio State with the support of my amazing advisor, Frederick Luis Aldama.
 
Do you engage with comics in your research? If so, why did you choose to work with them at Ohio State?
I first became interested in comics during my time as an undergraduate student. I took classes with Charles Hatfield at the California State University of Northridge, and learned about comics history, independent comics and the art of zines—the latter being an exercise where I got to create my own mini comic. Upon arriving at Ohio State, I TA’ed for Frederick Luis Aldama who introduced me to the flourishing world of Latinx comics, art production and media. I have also taken an enlightening class related to comics, disability and narrative medicine that was offered by Jared Gardner in the Department of English. Thanks to my coursework and to all of my professors and mentors, I have had the chance to study some ground-breaking texts and learn more about specific comics movements in the United States.
 
What is your favorite comic book right now? 
I am always a fan of comics that feature strong female protagonists, so my favorite comics are currently Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, as well as My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. Paper Girls centers around a bicycle gang of young girls who embark on a sci-fi adventure through time and space, while Ferris’s graphic novel is a coming-of-age story about family, trauma, and the power of art.
 
How did you first become interested in comics? (A specific book? An essay? Etc.)

"I believe comics—as a discipline—expands one’s horizons and exemplifies how culture and literature are inseparable. They can teach us a lot about ourselves, and imagine possibilities for reflection, growth, voice, and humility in today’s increasingly conflicted world."


I recommend taking comics courses or studying with faculty who research comics because their perspectives can be valuable tools for years to come.


Rachel Miller

Describe your interest in comics, personally or academically.Miller
Academically my research is concerned with 1990s-era self-published, independent and alternative comics by women and girls. I’ve worked in a number of archives (not all of which are comics-specific, but some of which, like the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, are) to recover a vast body of work—possibly one of the largest bodies of work by women in comics history—and am drawing upon that research to consider the kinds of demands the comics industry puts on women making comics who have a stake in furthering feminist discourse in this particular public culture. I also look at representations of girlhood in 1990s-era comics by male authors like Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns. 
 
Do you engage with comics in your research? If so, why did you choose to work with them at Ohio State?
I do (see above)! I chose to come to Ohio State for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum—I had interned with them when I was an undergrad and felt like Columbus was poised to become a center for comics and comics studies. What I didn’t know was that the BICLM would be moving to a beautiful new space making it a real destination for scholars or that the Comics Studies Society and its journal Inks (for which I served as assistant editor) would be founded in Columbus or that Columbus College of Art and Design would begin their Comics and Narrative program just up the street or that, a year after I came to Columbus, one of the best small comics conventions, Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, would kick into gear.

"I’ve gotten to watch Columbus become one of the best cities for making comics and studying comics in the past five years and, even though I had a hunch that that would be the case, I couldn’t have imagined all the wonderful things that studying comics at Ohio State at this particular time would bring into my life. "


Is there anything else you want people to know about being a graduate student who studies (or enjoys) comics?
Studying comics has opened up an entire community of artists, scholars, librarians, critics and publishers for me. I used to feel super alone in how much I loved comics, but the community is there for those who go looking and I would encourage every graduate student who comes to OSU wanting to work with comics to take that journey. 

What is your favorite comic book right now?
This is a really hard question! I have so many. The two that probably mean the most to me right now are Potential by Ariel Schrag and Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet, but my FAVORITE book I’ve read recently is Jessica Campbell’s Hot or Not: 20th-Century Male Artists. And Jessica will be at CXC this year so everyone should go buy her book! 
 
How did you first become interested in comics? (A specific book? An essay? Etc.)
I’ve been a comics reader all my life. I used to pour over the Sunday Funnies in the newspaper as a kid and I loved manga and zines as a teenager. When I moved to Chicago to go to college, I frequented Quimby’s, a pretty well-known alternative comics and zine shop, going to comics readings and interviews for people like Adrian Tomine, Seth, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes.  My senior year of college, Hillary Chute put on a huge comics conference at UChicago where I was completing my undergrad called “Comics: Philosophy & Practice,” and going to that conference made me realize I could study comics as an academic career. I don’t think there was ever a point where I was like “oh now I’m getting interested in comics”—I’ve just always loved them and looked at them for hours and hours. If you would’ve told kid-me that I’d be studying comics, though, she probably wouldn’t have believed you!

Preeti Singh

Describe your interest in comics, personally or academically.Singh
I am very interested in South Asian comics and graphic novels, having written an M.Phil dissertation on constructions of subjectivity in the Indian graphic novel before coming to Ohio State. I enjoy reading comics of all kinds. I grew up reading the Amar Chitra Katha comics, and I owe my occasional curiosity about comics and mythology to the ACK.
 
Do you engage with comics in your research? If so, why did you choose to work with them at Ohio State?
Yes, my research does feature comics. I am interested in questions around the interconnections between literature and democracy and their implications on postcolonial studies. In the past two years, I have become very interested in political cartoons and their role in the functioning of democracy.

"I applied to Ohio State because of the incredible research happening on comics here, and of course  because of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library. I never get tired of spending time in its reading room!"


What is your favorite comic book right now?
I am reading Joe Sacco's The Fixer: A Story From Sarajevo and loving it! It is about a man who, having lost everything in the war, sells his stories to Western journalists. Joe Sacco is brilliant as usual, and I cannot wait to see and hear him in person at the upcoming Graphic Modernism Conference in Columbus being organized by professors and students from our own department this year.  

How did you first become interested in comics? (A specific book? An essay? Etc.)
I have always been very interested in urban literature and form and then I became aware of this Indian graphic novelist Sarnath's Banerjee graphic novel on Delhi. The genre of the graphic novel was gaining momentum in India then, and it was my great pleasure to have been in the midst of some great public conversations around graphic novels in India. As I researched more, I realized that comics and graphic novels as a genre have been historically invested in the representation of urbanity. During the same time, I discovered Jared Gardner's wonderful work on comics, especially his essay "Archives, Collectors and the New Media Work of Comics" (2006) which played a huge role in helping me give historical context to the interrelationship between comics and urbanity. 

By Madalynn Conkle