CFP: The Comics of Art Spiegelman

Georgiana Banita (University of Bamberg, Germany)
Lee Konstantinou (University of Maryland, College Park)
Stichtag: 15.06.2015

The importance of Art Spiegelman as a pioneer and theorist of comics is hard to overstate. His work has not only pushed the boundaries of comics (both in terms of form and subject matter) but also convinced many readers and critics of this art form’s inherent aesthetic value. Indeed, the development of the term “graphic novel” in part signaled a burgeoning critical appreciation of the power of comics, an appreciation that Spiegelman’s pen — from his underground comix to his Pulitzer Prize-winning MAUS to his tireless critical advocacy of comics and cartooning — helped foster.

The Comics of Art Spiegelman will assess the fundamental contribution of Spiegelman’s work to the development of graphic literature from the 1970s to the present. It will survey and synthesize his versatile projects not only as a cartoonist but also as a magazine founder, editor, comics critic and historian, and mentor to multiple generations of cartoonists. To do justice to the vast range of Spiegelman’s career, this volume proposes to examine it from many perspectives: to demonstrate the centrality of his work to the rise of the graphic novel; to document how he has self-consciously dealt with his own success and engaged in a process of auto-canonization following the publication of his groundbreaking MAUS; to analyze how he has drawn on, worked through, and defied familiar poetic categories of comics art; and to investigate his inventive (sometimes silent) dialogues with other genres and media, such as music, film, theatre, dance, and installation art.

The book has garnered serious interest from the editor of the new series, Critical Approaches to Comics Artists, at the University Press of Mississippi. Accepted abstracts will be used in a formal book proposal to be submitted to the press. The deadline for full-length essays will be negotiated shortly thereafter. Essays on a variety of issues related to Spiegelman’s formative involvement in the rise of graphic literature are welcome. The collection is especially interested in exploring how we might contend with Spiegelman in the twenty-first century, acknowledging but also moving beyond the existing scholarship’s understandable focus on the achievement of MAUS. We are therefore planning to collect essays that discuss Spiegelman’s underground works; that offer new and unexpected readings of MAUS; that study his later illustrations and books (such as In the Shadow of No Towers); and that scrutinize Spiegelman’s public persona.

Chapters that address the following questions are particularly welcome:

  • What can Spiegelman’s collaborative work in the underground comix scene (at Arcade and later at RAW) teach us about how Spiegelman and his collaborators conceived of comics art, and how did these early collaborations inform his subsequent experimentation?
  • What interdisciplinary dialogues does MAUS inaugurate between comics and political history; comics and Jewish history and culture; comics and trauma; comics and narrative theory; comics and memory architectures; as well as comics and autographics or life writing?
  • How is the evolution of comics — both as form and as a set of cultural institutions — entwined with Spiegelman’s own biographical trajectory, from his MAD-obsessed childhood to his poignant examination of his parents’ memories of the Holocaust and his mother’s suicide? What larger trends in the history of comics and popular culture do Spiegelman’s life and art participate in?
  • How do Spiegelman’s works incorporate early comic strips, newspapers, photography, television, and electronic communication technologies? What might such aesthetic experiments in hybridity reveal more generally about the arts of the present?
  • How have Spiegelman’s practices of masking, dual identities, impersonation, ventriloquism, and voice/voiceover devised new forms of performance in comics and cultivated new languages for articulating emergent or conflicted identities (disability, queerness), especially in the comic memoir?
  • Though comics has gained legitimacy in the art world, literary culture, and the wider public arena, a sense of shame productively persists among cartoonists and raises important questions about the price of mainstream success. How does Spiegelman walk the tightrope between the growing popularity of the comics medium and the possibility of a more subversive, politically potent grassroots comics-practice designed to serve and speak to the disenfranchised?
  • How does Spiegelman’s work negotiate the modernist influence of wordless woodcut novels by Lynd Ward and Frans Masereel on his visual style, and how do these early sources of inspiration, including the historical avant-garde, explain his recent wordless engagement with the comics form?
  • Aesthetic and political appreciation for Spiegelman’s work around the world is evidenced by countless accolades garnered over the years. How does his international success help buttress the global appeal and historical validity of comics? How do Spiegelman’s achievements intersect with other graphic art traditions — from Franco-Belgian comics to manga and beyond? And how does this new global respectability of the medium affect national discourses, for instance through the role of MAUS in reshaping Germany’s contemporary struggle with the echoes of the Holocaust?
  • How have Spiegelman’s memorable covers for The New Yorker intervened in controversies around racial profiling and police brutality (March 8, 1999), the aftermath of September 11 (the black-on-black collaboration with Françoise Mouly of September 14, 2001), and expanded the role of the political cartoon as a protest vehicle? Moreover, how might Spiegelman’s political cartoons be understood in relation to — or help us understand — debates about socially charged iconoclastic cartoons in Denmark, France, North Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere?
  • What is Spiegelman’s relationship to what may be called the archival turn in academic and exhibition culture, as evidenced by MetaMaus and Co-Mix, and in what ways does this archival impulse align itself with the completist, multilayered, navigational experiments of other cartoonists (such as Chris Ware in Building Stories or Joe Sacco in The Great War)? How do these material regimes and nonlinear reading experiences engender a new haptic quality in comics (fascinated with B-sides, squiggles, and ephemera)?
  • What specific critical and theoretical problems does comics — and Spiegelman’s work in particular — pose for academic inquiry today? How is comics itself a knowledge-producing medium? What sorts of knowledge — historiographic, psychological, political, or economic — might comics in general and Spiegelman’s comics in particular be well-suited to fuse, construct, or dispute?

Please send a 500-1000 word abstract, CV, and contact information to Georgiana Banita and Lee Konstantinou at by June 15.

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