PRIMER TO NEMLA 2016: “Race and Comics”

The Northeast Modern Language Association will host two sessions of “Race and Comics: The Politics of Representation in Sequential Art” on Saturday, March 19, at 8:30 AM and 1:15 PM in Conference Room 4 of the Marriott Downtown Hartford. These sessions are organized by Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College, and co-chaired by Erin Stoneking, Cornell University.

I have worked with Rafael on previous NeMLA sessions, and I enjoyed getting to speak with him about the development of the call for papers, the submitted abstracts, and the structure he has in mind for this pair of sessions. I look forward to being in the audience for both sessions.

Rafael and I have worked, together or separately, in our publishing and conferences to bring awareness about lacking representations in comics. I think both of us consider it important that literature represent the reality of the world, not so that good literature becomes a checklist of identities to be represented–but because good literature depends on truth. Many of the comics I read are not true, in that they are not indicative of the experiences we have with our identities and with the neighborhoods and cultures we encounter.

There have been substantial improvements, including in Marvel Comics’s recent focus on “All-New, All-Different,” with stories that include not only in supporting cast but among the leading protagonists, characters who are not simply more straight white men. I all of this trying to be aware of my privilege as a straight white man, and I try to focus my discussion here on problems I can identify in representations that can seem far too limited.

As well, while I will be identifying in my own presentation at another session problems with representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I am encouraged by some representation I have seen on DC’s television side. One presentation in “Race and Comics,” focused on the Martian Manhunter and blackness, may complement the character’s recent presence in the television series Supergirl, portrayed by David Harewood, who, like many actors who have portrayed J’onn J’onnz, including Carl Lumbly, Dorian Harewood, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Phil Morris, is black.

When Rafael was putting together the panel, it was around the time that Ta-Nehisi Coates was announced to write Black Panther for Marvel. These sessions at the same conference where many of us are giving presentations on representations in pop culture. That Rafael and I have been hosting sessions on such representations over the last three years at NeMLA identifies that these discussions are not intended to be complete but always works in progress, and I am pleased to see NeMLA, especially the Areas of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Culture and Media Studies, continues to host these conversations. I hope that they persist after NeMLA in our classrooms and in our publishing.

The line-up for Race and Comics is as follows:

Session 1, Friday, March 18, 8:30 AM

Chair: Erin Stoneking, Cornell University
Location: Conference 4

Incognegro and the Graphic History of Racial Violence”
Hardeep Sidhu, University of Rochester

“Mexican Elite Stereotypes and the Question of Race and Class in R. Cucamonga’s Cindy la Regia
Diomedes Solano-Rabago, Kalamazoo College

“Brown, Crip, Unimpressive: Imagining Brown Disability in Wilfred Santiago’s In My Darkest Hour
Marcos Gonsalez, The Graduate Center-CUNY

“The Memín Controversy, or, The Many Faces of Race and Racial Issues in the Americas”
Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College

Session 2, Friday, March 18, 1:15 PM

Chair: Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College
Location: Conference 4

“Diversity and Transformation in Mildred Louis’s Agents of the Realm
Allison Hanna, University of New Hampshire

“Hybrid Visions: Shay Youngblood and the Power of Sight in Black Power Barbie
Erin Stoneking, Cornell University

“‘This is how an idea becomes real’: Race and War in Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga
Alejandra Ortega, Washtenaw Community College

“Martian Manhunter: Shape-shifting Blackness”
Luis Ceniceros, Independent Scholar


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