Guest lecture on comics and the body

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I am honored to be invited to talk at the next meeting of the Popular Culture Research Group at the School of English and American Studies at ELTE, Budapest (EASPop for short).

The talk will be in Hungarian, and it addresses my favourite topic, comics and the body. And behold the amazing poster that the group members have made for me based on a Winsor McCay page that I adore!

képregény és test easpop poszter

 

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“Postmortemistical” Look: The Memory of Things and the Traces of Personhood in Roz Chast and Ben Katchor — Abstract

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Here is the abstract of the paper I’m going to present at the Ninth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference, Retro! Time, Memory, Nostalgia, @Bournemouth University, UK, 27-29 June 2018
“Postmortemistical” Look: The Memory of Things and the Traces of Personhood in Roz Chast and Ben Katchor

The paper investigates the ways personal relationships and memories are organized around objects and things, and how these are rearranged once the object/thing is no longer possessed by a person (due to death in Chast’s memoir, and due to abandonment in Katchor’s strips). Objects are represented in both examined comics, that is, in Roz Chast’s memoir about her last years with her parents and their deaths, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Ben Katchor’s collection of strips, Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer: Stories (Little, Brown and Company 1996), as sites of a conflict between personal memory and an apersonal and atemporal existence.

In the paper I argue that in both Chast’s and Katchor’s comics, things and objects (cf. thing theory) exist in a limbo, and are used to investigate personality and personhood in scenarios of absence. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? introduces the idea that objects, such as hairbrushes, bankbooks, photographs, and forgotten everyday objects play important and multiple roles in facing the frailty of memory, dementia and death. Things, for example old color pencils found in a drawer, represent both the past and the present, they simultaneously stand for deep personal connections and fond, and are accumulated junk the existence of which indicates future problems (can it be touched? can it be thrown away?). Likewise, Ben Katchor’s Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer asks questions about the meaning of objects/things left behind: they exist simultaneously in a vacuum of interpretation and in the actuality of physical space. The things and objects are left behind, forgotten, stored, reserved, measured, bulked and sold, but most importantly, they are looked at and represented. The paper investigates the “postmortemistical” look (Chast) that frames these objects for the reader of the comics.

The paper utilizes questions raised by thing theory (Bill Brown and Jane Bennett), and it also builds on the materiality of living and the idea that even everyday and banal places preserve memory (reflecting on Pierre Nora’s concept). As far as methodology is concerned, I use close reading and compare recurring tropes.

knipl

 

Edited collection has been published

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I am really happy to share this piece of news with you:

“Turning the Page – Gendered Identities in Contemporary Literary and Visual Cultures” has been published. It is based on a 2-day international conference for young researchers held in 2014 at ELTE Budapest. My friend Kata Gyuris and I organized this conference, and the newly published book has been edited by Kata, Dóra Vecsernyés and me.

We have papers on soap operas and gender under Communism, ghost writers of female jazz autobiographies, motherhood in Bulgarian theatre, Italo Calvino and Jeannette Winterson, female space in contemporary African novels, crossdressing, reality tv, and many other topics!

Many thanks for Bence Bodó for the layout design, Gergely Oravecz for the cover, and for Judit Friedrich, who is the series editor.

Behold the beautiful cover and the inspiring table of contents, and you can download the full PDF for free via this link: http://www.eltereader.hu/kiadvanyok/kata-gyuris-eszter-szep-dora-vecsernyes-eds-turning-the-page-gendered-identities-in-contemporary-literary-and-visual-cultures/

turning the page covertable of contents

Teaching and Syllabi 2018

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This term I’m really lucky and really busy: I can teach two very interesting courses at two universities here at Budapest.  I have been responsible for the content of both courses, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do, what to teach, and how. Though preparing one’s own syllabus is complicated, enjoying the confidence of my employers is an amazing thing. I totally LOVE what my students are going to read/learn/do.

In this post I write about the two courses that I am teaching this semester, namely Comics Studies: An Introduction (which is one of the first courses fully devoted to the study of comics in Hungary) at the American Studies Department of ELTE, and Word and Image Relations at the Institute for Theoretical Studies of Moholy Nagy University of Art and Design (MOME for short).

If you click on the course titles above you can download the syllabi. The one for MOME is in Hungarian, as the course is in Hungarian, too.

1) Word and Image Relations at the Moholy Nagy University of Arts and Design.

In general, this is a university for artists, we might as well say that theory is secondary here. I have a pretty mixed group of students there, textile designers, design managers, and a photographer. The aim of the course is to explore some ways in which words and images work together in contemporary bookish contexts. When I found out that I’m going to have some many students working with textile, I wanted to reflect on that medium as well, but I had to realize, that I am not trained for that, and I am not ready to teach word and image in textile yet. So, we start with some theory (W. J. T. Mitchell), move on to literature, photography, the questions of memory, and to comics. We meet 2×80 a week, so preparing for this course is pretty intense (it has already started). I have to somehow reduce the time I spend on preparing for the classes.

Evaluation at MOME: each week there are assignments, eg. watch a lecture or documentary on youtube (in general I think they are a lot more fun than reading studies, plus you can do them during ironing!). As the course progresses, there will be more comics reading involved. Furthermore, students are asked to submit two assignments, one roughly in the middle of the course, one at the end. They are asked to reflect on any of the topics raised in class in paper-based forms that contain word and image. I specifically asked that the second assignment should be a comic. I think thinking of theoretical questions visually is new for them, or at least they asked a lot about the assignment, so each class we have a look at some examples of sketchnoting, academic comics, photomontages, whatever.

I hope that the assignments will be creative and fun, so my plan is to create a zine out of them and print a limited number of copies for the International Comics Festival at Budapest. A literary journal (one of the very few who are open to comics) also agreed to publish a selection of these works. I am really happy about this already!

2) Comics Studies: An Introduction at ELTE. This is the Faculty of Humanities, so I am more familiar with what the interests of students might be like. It seems that there is considerable interest in the course, which is a good thing, of course. 🙂 I am proud because this might be the first actual course on comics studies, I am not sure. Even if it is not the first, it is in the top 5 I think.

Deciding what to teach here has been complicated because of the extremely limited resources we have here. By here I mean Eastern Europe. I can only teach comics that I can give to the students, there are hardly any comics in the university or public libraries, and definitely no comics in English. I have comics that I used for my PhD dissertation, I have some Image titles that I enjoy reading, and I have a selection of other stuff. I do not have comic books, collections of comic books, or superheroes.

I was thinking about a lot on whether or not I should provide a historical overview and present an evolutionary attitude in the way I organize what we read. I decided to restrict comics history to one class (90 mins), and focus instead on form, drawing (my favourite topic), and some hot issues, like graphic medicine and autobiography. As a result, this course basically flashes some ideas present in contemporary book format comics.

Evaluation at ELTE: when I teach, I usually ask students to write two shorter papers on topics assigned by me. This time, I though it is important for students to see what academic discourse on comics is like. I suppose they registered for the course because they already have an interest in comics (I will ask them for sure, but the course hasn’t started yet), so they are familiar with fan culture to some extent. (Ah yes, it would have been sooooo interesting to speak about fan culture and reception! But I chose the path more familiar to me, and keep on close reading actual comics. I HEART close reading!) So, students are asked to read an academic paper and sum it up / present the most important points in ten minutes. The rest of the class does not have to read these papers — they can, of course. My intention is to really restrict these presentations to 10-12 minutes, and this way to encourage keeping to the point. Furthermore, my aim is to give students a scope of articles they can reach back to when they write their papers at the end of the term.

I remember that when I was a student, we frequently had to give short presentations, but we were just given a name or a title, and we could talk about basically anything. This was easy to do during my studies of Hungarian literature, the libraries were useful and the librarians helpful. But comics studies is so new in Hungary that my suspicion is that providing a set of articles to present on will be helpful. We will see.

Wish me good luck!

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New Publication in Hungarian

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I am very enthusiastic about comics scholarship in Hungary: in the last two years so many things happened! There were two comics conferences, and we have finally started to build a network of university people and critics who are not afraid of comics.

I have decided that I’ll publish more in my native language, and I was really happy when out of the blue I was asked if I could write about one of the major poets of the 19th century, János Arany. His poetry is very layered and amazing, he also translated the most of Shakespeare to become one of the most influential literary figures of his times. Well, he was born 200 years ago, so 2017 was devoted to celebration and a reflection on both his heritage and the cult around him. Lucky for me, an innovative and clever comics adaptation of one of his ballads also came out (link). The artist, Dániel Csordás is possible the Hungarian cartoonist with the greatest number of awards. It goes without saying that his adaptation won the best webcomic award in 2017.

So I was writing about the success of this comic, which is I think based on several factors. It is aesthetically more interesting than the other adaptations made that year (for me, naturally), it uses irony, it inserts the story of the ballad into the corrupt worlds of (Hungarian) politics of the present. But the success of this adaptation is also rooted of it being part of a marketing campaign, and also of the Hungarian cultural climate which still considers comics as curiosities. Csordás’s comic uses the wow-factor with which comics are surrounded really cleverly (wow, it is not only for children! wow, it uses literature! wow, I actually like it! wow, no superheroes! wow, it is not American!). I also argue in this article, that marketing agencies and non-profit organization, as well as institutions serving the memory politics of the current political regime often use comics — more often than we would suspect — but they always use the medium only once, and do not return to it in their next campaigns. Plus the people who see these marketing-boosted comics do not see the other comics that exist in our country under the radar: the translations of DC and Marvel, and the varied and (mostly) interesting original output made by Hungarian artists. (Let me take the opportunity and recommend the sci-fi comic series Fantomatika.) For the general public, comics is invisible, and it is because of this lack of cultural reception that marketing campaigns using comics are so successful.

I also interpret Csordás’s comic in light of  Linda Hutcheon’s theory of adaptation and Henry Jenkins’s theory of convergence culture. And I am very grateful to the 13 secondary school teachers who shared with me their ideas on how they teach comics at school.

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Public lecture in Hungarian

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I am going to give a public lecture tomorrow (4 Dec 2017) about the body and comics. It is partly based on my dissertation, but most of it is about my ongoing new project on the ways in which the body is involved in reading and interpreting comics. The lecture is aimed at the general public, and it will be in Hungarian. It is part three of a four-part lecture series at the Open Academy of Humanities, Budapest, given by members of the research group I am a founding member of (cf. Narratives of Culture and Identity Research Group.) Each talk is given by a different group member, and we focus on the body in space in as diverse media as computer games, distopic fiction, comics, narratology.

Here is the description of my talk in Hungarian:

III. 2017. december 4., hétfő 18.00 Képregényolvasás és testi referencia
Előad: Szép Eszter.
A képregényt nemcsak nézzük és olvassuk: az értelmezésbe az egész emberi test bevonódik. Az előadás olyan képregényeket vizsgál (főleg Katie Green, Miriam Katin és Joe Sacco műveit), amelyekben az alkotók reflektálnak a képregényolvasás taktilis és testi részére, és ráébresztik az olvasót, hogy mennyire nagy mértékben hagyatkozik testi tapasztalataira.
Helyszín, Pesti Bölcsész Akadémia, ELTE BTK, Múzeum krt. 4-6. Ifjúsági épület, III. em.

Comics Scholarship in Hungary: Edited Volume is Out

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It is difficult to place Hungary on the map of comics, and it is almost impossible to locate our output in the field of comics scholarship.

As far as comics artists are concerned, some of them did find their place in Dark Horse’s or DC’s outsourced projects as pencillers or inkers, but in general Hungarian comics are not translated into English.
As far as comics scholarship and the academic research of the medium is concerned, it turns out that a lot is done at various universities, mainly at departments of “Media and Communication.” Here, some courses are offered, but there is no systematic program.

Last year’s conference, organized by Ferenc Vincze was a big breakthrough in comics scholarship: it was the first time that some of the researchers who work in isolation could meet and exchange ideas. We have come from a multitude of backgrounds: I have a background in English and American comics and literature, others come from French studies, galleries, media studies, popular culture studies (especially music).

The volume based on this conference is the first collection of comics scholarship in Hungary. I can’t wait to read it!
I contributed with an article on Gergely Oravecz’s Blossza. This is an amazing strip series: for 100 days, Gergely was drawing a strip a day about his life. In the first part of the article I show some instances of ironic authentication (Charles Hatfield term) at work in Blossza, so we can say that I am not saying anything radically new about comics diaries, but the term has not been used in Hungarian, and I thought it is utterly important for Hungarian readers to know about it and to be able to approach non-fiction comics through the simultaneous filters of irony and authenticity.  I also emphasize instances when the daily rhythm of the diary project is ironically undermined within the strips themselves.

In the second part of the article, and I really enjoyed writing this part, as it is close to my dissertation, I show ways in which the quality of the line contributes to the meaning of the strip. I show one such wordless strip at the end of this blog entry.

If you speak Hungarian, you might find this collection of essays interesting.

 

szépirodalmi figyelő

szépirodalmi figyelő címlap

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