CFP: Edited Collection (Proposals due 1/31/2018)
The Other 1980s: Reframing Comics’ Crucial Decade
Editors: Brannon Costello and Brian Cremins
You know the story: it’s 1986 and publications including the New York Times and Rolling Stone herald the newfound sophistication of a narrative form with its roots in the Depression. “In recent years,” writes Mikal Gilmore in a profile of Batman: The Dark Knight creator Frank Miller, “the comic-book field has undergone perhaps the most wide-ranging and meaningful creative explosion of its fifty-year-plus history, spawning a new generation of storytellers who are among the more intriguing literary and graphic craftsmen of our day.” In addition to Miller, Gilmore praises the work of Howard Chaykin, the Hernandez Brothers, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman. In the closing paragraph of the article, Miller resists any easy categorizations of this new generation of writers and artists. After all, he remarks, “it’s such a big form, and such an endless field, that right now there’s no reason for any comics artist to be bound by any one definition.” The scholarship on this watershed moment in the history of U. S. comics, however, remains limited. If the artists of the period were not “bound by any one definition,” why keep telling the same story that Gilmore first outlined over three decades ago?
We invite abstracts for essays that shift our focus to forgotten and neglected comics and graphic narratives of the 1980s published for the English-speaking market in North America and the UK. This collection will provide readers and scholars with a more complete understanding of a robust era of ambitious comics publishing, one whose products have not always easily squared with the dominant tendencies in comics studies: open-ended serials that do not translate neatly to the graphic novel format beloved by literature departments; vast superhero narratives with no connection to the Marvel or DC Universes; idiosyncratic and often experimental minicomics and zines; offbeat science-fiction and fantasy adventures that have never been collected or reprinted; and other such square pegs. This collection not only aims to broaden our understanding of the context from which comics such as Spiegelman’s Maus and Moore and Gibbons’s Watchmen emerged but also to revise conventional histories of this vital period in comics history, positioning works that have long been seen as peripheral or even disposable at the center of the frame.
Although there is still much to be written about texts like Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns, we would prefer essays that provide a more complete portrait of the diversity and complexity of the decade and of the writers, artists, editors, publishers, fans, and critics who made it possible. Also, while we will consider essays on creators and series published by Marvel and DC, we are especially interested in lesser-known and rarely (if ever) studied works from these companies.
Suggested topics might include but are not limited to:
- the impact of manga and anime on U. S. comics in, for example, the work of Reggie Byers (Shuriken, Comico’s Robotech titles) or in the English translations of Japanese comics published by Eclipse and First;
- what Bruce Chrislip has called the “minicomix revolution” as exemplified in self-published comics by creators including Steve Willis, Richard “Grass” Green, and other small press figures;
- explorations of racial and gender representation in superhero and other adventure-genre and serial comics from independent publishers of the time (the various Aircel books; Donna Barr’s The Desert Peach; Mindy Newell’s The New Wave);
- the influence of editors such as cat yronwode, Diana Schutz, Karen Berger, and Deni Loubert;
- the distinctive editorial identities of independent publishers such as First, Eclipse, Comico, and others;
- the early development of comics studies as a field in the scholarship of cat yronwode, Trina Robbins, and Joseph Witek;
- a critical examination of Marvel and DC’s attempts to compete with the new wave of independent publishers by producing books for the direct market such as the Epic line or DC’s graphic novels;
- the role of independent comics publishers in the creators’ rights controversies of the era;
- the role of the comics press in shaping discourse about the field, including the impact of editors such as Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Don Thompson, and Maggie Thompson; this might also include a look at the lively back and forth in the letters pages of publications including The Comics Journal and the Comics Buyer’s Guide;
- analyses of important artists whose works are only now coming back into print such as Katherine Collins’s Neil the Horse; Don Simpson’s Border Worlds; or William Messner-Loebs’s Journey;
- a study of the era’s censorship and ratings system controversies;
- discussions of artists who began what has become their life’s work in the late 1970s or 1980s such as Wendy Pini and Richard Pini (Elfquest) or Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil);
- the impact of the black and white implosion at the end of the decade and the sudden collapse of interest in the many varieties of wise-cracking, superheroic, irradiated rodents, reptiles, and mammals;
- a look at the comics canon as it was understood or partly defined at the time within fan circles in the U. S., including critically acclaimed titles like Moonshadow, The Fish Police, Concrete, and Omaha the Cat Dancer;
- a look at Ronald Reagan’s many cameo appearances in comics including Jim Owsley’s The Falcon mini-series, the title Reagan’s Raiders, or as the shadowy villain in Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Brought to Light;
- an examination of comics history as it was produced and understood in the various reprint programs of the era;
- other forgotten and neglected series, stories, and creators from the decade.