Regardless of how one thinks about the idea of “manga studies” specifically, the idea of “comics studies” in general as an established academic field is long past being in any way controversial. The field is now covered by major commercial and academic presses – including several with dedicated series such as Bloomsbury Comics Studies, Comics Culture (Rutgers University Press), Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels, Studies in Comics and Cartoons (The Ohio State University Press), and World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction (University of Texas Press), as well as number of journals, and regular academic conferences, and several colleges around the U.S. are now offering formal comics studies programs.
Another major feature that characterizes an established academic field is a defined community of scholars who are actually working in it, organized formally in some way. The Comics Studies Society, first organized in 2014, is this community for the field of comics studies broadly defined – as being “open to all who share the goals of promoting the critical study of comics, improving comics teaching, and engaging in open and ongoing conversations about the comics world”, with “comics studies” meaning “the study and critical analysis of comics strips; comic books, papers, and magazines; albums, graphic novels, and other graphic books; webcomics and other electronic formats; single-panel cartoons, including editorial and gag cartoons; caricature; animation; and other related forms and traditions.” Since its launch, the Society has been promoting resources in and for comics studies through its website, developing an annual award program for outstanding new scholarship on comics, and began publication of another new academic journal in the field. But its major area of activity has been the launch of an annual academic conference.
The first one, MIND THE GAPS! The Futures of the Field, was held last week, from August 9 to August 11, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The full program featured over 40 paper sessions and roundtable panel discussions – and while only a few of the individual papers specifically mentioned manga, nonetheless, it is interesting and useful to see the kind of attention that Japanese comics received within the context of a more general comics studies program, the specific sessions that papers on manga were assigned to, and the range of scholars who are currently working in manga studies.
Session 3.2 – When Comics Studies and Children’s/YA Literary Theory Intersect
Disturbing the Universe? Reading the Puella Magi Madoka Magica Manga as
Children’s Literature (Catherine Kyle, College of Western Idaho)
Session 4.1 – Identity and Intersectionality
Bringing Monsters to Light: Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler’s Defamiliarizing of Western History (Richard Diaz-Rodriguez, City University of New York)
Session 6.2 – Graphic Medicine
Medical Manga: Connecting Gaps in Medical Fields through Visual Depictions (Kotaro Nakagaki, Senshu University)
Session 8.3 – Feminisms
Beyond the Body: How the “Year 24 Group” Changed Feminism in the US and Japan (Sean O’Brien, Wayne State University)
Session 10.1 – Comics in Conversation with Culture
Manga And/As Art Avant-Gardism: Japanese Comics within 1960s’ Visual Culture (Shige Suzuki, City University of New York
I was not able to attend the conference, but if you did, you are welcome to share your comments/thoughts/impressions about any of these papers! I will look forward to the program for next year. Until then, congratulations to everyone who worked to organize MIND THE GAPS, and to everyone who presented there! Hopefully, in the coming months, the authors will be able to draw on the same research that went into developing these presentations for publishing their research as journal articles or book chapters!