Comic Studies/Animal Studies
Co-Chairs: Andrew Smyth and Charles Baraw, Southern Connecticut State University
This roundtable explores the intersection of Critical Animal Studies with comics and graphic novels, which provide an ideal venue for a detailed examination of language, representation, and animals, particularly how to disrupt language-based hierarchies and contest persistent forms of human domination. We invite scholars across the disciplines to look anew at canonical and emerging texts—primary and theoretical—that picture the animal in words, image, and page. Participants will have ten minutes each to introduce their research and then will engage in a roundtable discussion of the questions raised by the group. The roundtable will provide the starting point for an anthology; participants will be invited to submit article-length essays after the conference.
Since the early 20th century, comics have depended on “Funny Animals” to overturn and reify normative conceptions of the human. At the end of the century, Art Spiegelman’s spectacular success with Maus brought the medium new respectability, while demonstrating and canonizing the use of the “animal mask” in literary graphic novels. More recently, though, several 21st-century comics have begun to use the medium to imagine and depict the animal in new ways. Works ranging from the “Western-style Manga” WE3 (2004) to the “Young Adult” comics Laika (2007) and The Pride of Baghdad (2006) and the experimental metaphysical explorations of Duncan the Wonder Dog (2010) and Big Questions (2011) challenge the constraints of the “Funny Animal” and “Animal Masks” traditions, though scholars have not yet systematically applied the insights of Critical Animal Studies to these new works. Such a re-appraisal might help us reconfigure our account of the medium and the history of its “performance of the animal.”
The field of Critical Animal Studies continues to broaden and deepen as scholars, students, and activists critique the socially constructed divisions among human and nonhuman animals and explore cultural representations of interdependency, cohabitation, coevolution, and coexistence. Writers such as Akira Mizuta Lippit (2002) look for ways to resist the anthropomorphization that characterizes human representation of other animals. Lippit’s coinage of “animetaphor” (129) offers a means to highlight our fleshly connection with other animals, merging language and material being to break down the binary between speaking and non-speaking animals.
Our roundtable invites scholars working across disciplines to look anew at canonical and emerging texts—primary and theoretical—that picture the animal in words, image, and page. Our shared premise is that comics and graphic novels provide an ideal venue for extending the examination of language, representation, and animals that Critical Animal Studies invokes.
Proposals of no more than 500 words must be submitted through the NEMLA website by September 30th.