Archive for February, 2020

Call for Papers: MLA, Jan. 7-10, 2021, Toronto

Comics and Graphic Narratives for Young Audiences

Co-sponsored by the MLA Forum on Comics and Graphic Narratives and the MLA Forum on Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

This panel for the 2021 MLA Convention in Toronto (Jan 7-10, 2021) explores intersections between children’s literature and comics (including manga and graphic novels). All periods and nations welcome.

Children’s comics and graphic novels have emerged as the dominant commercial force in the industry, with authors like Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey selling millions of books. Yet comics studies still pays relatively little attention to comics for children. As Jared Gardner writes in PMLA, “Comics studies as a whole remains largely oblivious to the world of comics for children and young adults, by far the fastest-growing demographic in the field” (597). While there has been some recent scholarship on children’s comics, including an edited collection by Michelle Ann Abate & Gwen Athene Tarbox (2017) and monographs by both Lara Saguisag (2019) and Qiana Whitted (2019), the children’s segment of the comics market remains insufficiently theorized — thanks to the field’s historical focus on comics for adults. This panel seeks to fill this gap by calling attention to both contemporary and historical connections between comics, children, and childhood. 

Some questions panelists might address include (but are not limited to):

  • Do comics scholars pay enough attention to children’s comics? Why are children’s graphic novels not viewed as being the same medium as adult comics? 
  • Having conferred legitimacy on a once-maligned genre (“comics”) via language suggestive of adulthood (“graphic” can mean both sophistication and pornographic), does the term “graphic novel” sever the genre’s historical connections to children or encourage the ambitions of (what we might now call) “children’s comics”? What are the impediments and possibilities of “graphic novel” for discussing comics read by children?
  • How should the intersections between histories of comics and of children’s picture books inform our analyses and/or teaching of each?
  • What sort of reactions have children’s comics gotten from parents and teachers? Is there still suspicion of children’s comics? Why or why not? 
  • How do child readers engage with comics? How are children’s comics reading practices different from those of adults? In particular, how has the digital age affected the ways in which children access and read comics? 
  • What do the changing boundaries of “children’s comics” reveal about the social constructions of childhoods? 
  • How is childhood represented in comics that are not specifically intended for children? 
  • What is “childish” about comics? How have accusations of childishness helped to shape the history of comics? 
  • How do children’s comics fit into the larger debate over diversity and inclusion in children’s literature? 
  • What do the differences and similarities between children’s comics across cultures reveal about the medium and its audience(s)? How might a dialogue between histories of the “big three” comics producers (U.S., France, Japan) and histories of producers from other cultures (say, India and Mexico) improve our understanding of the field?
  • How do the histories of comics in countries that imposed some version of a “comics code” (say, U.S., U.K., Australia) compare with the histories of comics in countries that have not (say, Japan)?
  • How might we draw upon new research — such as that by Lara Saguisag (2019) and Qiana Whitted (2019) — to rewrite histories of comics for young readers, more carefully examining the genre’s racialized visions of childhood, citizenship, and activism?

CV and 350-word abstract to Aaron Kashtan ( and Philip Nel ( Deadline: March 10, 2020.

Leave a Comment

How to diversify the classics. For real. (Oxford UP blog)

Penguin Random House / Barnes & Noble’s “Diverse Editions” covers.

As last week’s failed attempt at diversifying classic literature recedes in your memory (the pace of news can overwhelm, I know), over at Oxford University Press’ blog today is a piece I turned in on Friday. I offer five better ways that publisher might bring diversity to the classic novels. Here’s an excerpt:

Publishers and booksellers might — as the We Need Diverse Books organization suggests — champion “new editions of classic books by people of color and marginalized people, particularly if those books have been largely ignored by the canon.” Need recommendations? Instead of consulting the company’s chief diversity officer, ask experts. Marilisa Jiménez García, a scholar of Latinx literature at Lehigh University, recommends the Nuyorican writer Nicholasa Mohr’s Nilda (1973), “the first novel by a Latina.” Professor Sarah Park Dahlen, co-editor of the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, suggests Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey to Topaz (1971) “for the important work it does to inform young readers of the racist incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.” Katharine Capshaw, a scholar of African American children’s literature at the University of Connecticut, proposes June Jordan’s His Own Where (1971), “a poetic young adult novel about two teenagers in love, which was nominated for a National Book Award.”

Read the rest at Oxford UP’s blog! Comments & critique welcome, of course — preferably at their blog. Thanks!

And particular thanks to Marilisa Jiménez García, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Kate Capshaw for responding to my query so swiftly!

UPDATE, 12 Feb 2020, 2:10 pm:

The lists in the Oxford UP blog post are suggestive, not exhaustive. There are many more complete recommended lists out there. I gestured to one of those in the post: Christina Orlando and Leah Schnelbach’s “23 Retellings of Classic Stories from Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors.” But there are many other titles that could be included! If you send them to me, I’m glad to include other titles here, on this blog!

I’ll start with a recommendation I received this morning from Debbie Reese: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Hearts Unbroken, which (in Dr. Reese’s words) “does critical work on Baum by making his desire to exterminate Native peoples part of the story.”

Other suggestions? Make ’em below, and I’ll add the titles here. Thanks!

Related writing (by me) on this blog and elsewhere

Leave a Comment