Monday, December 03, 2007

conference wrap-up

I finally wanted to get around to posting a review of some of the other presentations I heard while at the Midwest Pop Culture Association conference back in October.

The first presentation I heard was on The Invisibles, and modernism vs. postmodernism, by Terence Wandtke of Judson University, the guy who was chairing all the "postmodernism in comics" panels. As someone who has never read the series, and as someone who isn't really that big of an Invisibles fan, I didn't get all that much out of this presentation, other than it made me finally decide that Invisibles is something I should read. After years of Chad telling me so, of other people telling me it's Morrison's definitive work, he was able to convince me. What really grabbed me was the concept he discussed of words representing reality, that by being forced to learn a certain way to express ourselves with words (by being taught to pray to the demon alphabet) we were being taught to limit the ways we think, brainwashed into creating barriers for our abstract thought. I like that idea, and it intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up the series finally.

Next up was the presentation on Automatic Kafka, by Brandon Riley of Columbia College Chicago. I think he and I were the only ones there who had read the book. He was essentially talking about why the book failed to grab an audience, because it was a bit too critical. He pointed out a lot of cool stuff about the issues, in particular about issue five, the ode to violence in superhero comics and how it works thematically in the issue, even down to the ad choices and placements. He did make a comment about the book's experimental nature, that it was all "stealth but no subtlety." I took issue with this and asked him what he thought of issue four, the Peanuts issue, and he had never made the connection before. So we talked a bit about the Peanuts kids all grown up, echoing the '60s superteam of the book all grown up, which was interesting stuff.

During my presentation I shared the dais with two other interesting presenters. The first of these was William Bradley from Drew University, who presented on the idea of childhood loss in comics (Bill was a pretty cool guy, and we grabbed a drink in the bar that evening). He talked about the concept of the literary orphan, ranging from Little Women to Tarzan, and then applied that to superheroes throughout the ages. He said the superhero can never reach the kind of closure that other literary orphans can, due to the serial nature of comics. But they do their best to try. Batman in the Golden Age has his quest for justice which of course will never be fulfilled, but he also creates an extended family for himself with Robin (and all the others over the years). Meanwhile, Robin is able to get closure by bringing his parents' killers to justice, but then he continued his adventures at Batman's side... for the fun of it. Spiderman in the Silver Age is unable to achieve closure from direct vengeance because of his guilt in Uncle Ben's death. Finally in the modern era new orphaned heroes like Runaways and Invincible ostensibly choose the life of an orphan as a way to rebel against the ways of their villainous parents.

Finally there was J. Richard Stevens of Southern Methodist University, who did an analysis of Ultimate Captain America as a critique of neoconservatism (he had the most polished presentation the whole weekend, with a DVD put together of images he wanted to discuss--the rest of us just brought the issues themselves and passed them around). He analyzed a few different eras for the 616 Cap (the anti-Hitler Cap, the commie smasher, the man out of time, the liberal crusader, the individualist consumer, the superficial icon, the soldier, the renegade civil warrior) before he turned his attention to Ultimate Cap. He stated that, as a man frozen in the '40s and revived in a post-9/11 world, he naturally falls in line with neocon values in his yearning for a simpler time. Yet he is not an idealist; he is a "person of mass destruction," a super-soldier willing to fight any perceived threat to America's safety (or sovereignty). It really added interesting depth to Millar's Ultimates series, I felt.

There were other presentations as well, on Elektra: Assassin, on American Century, on Batman: Nine Lives, and on Daredevil: Wake Up. And while they each were interesting, they didn't intrigue me as much as the ones I listed above.

In other words, I didn't take as many notes in those presentations, and don't remember them as well. But if you want to ask me questions about them (or about the ones I DID discuss), feel free!