The webcomics blog about webcomics

Hey, Professor! I Got A Question!

Last week I attended the joint meeting of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association, and I heard papers on topics as wide-ranging as Morrissey, fandom, and identity through to Appalachian banjo stylings, and that’s a fairly narrow sampling of the various papers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is perpetually popular, though the hot show this year seems to have been Gray’s Anatomy). The conference spans four days and has a conference program that’s about 400 pages long.

I’ve presented with the PCA before, both nationally and regionally, since for many years while I was in graduate school the Modern Language Association—the major pinnacle of conferences in my field — very much frowned on papers having to do with comics unless they had something to do with a children’s literature panel. But in the 12 years between when I began graduate school and now, there’s been a definite jump in the number of academics who teach comics, the amount of scholarship on comics (just check out ICAF, for starters), and the response to that scholarship both inside of and external to the academy. Even in the five years since I’ve finished it does seem like the proverbial tide has actually turned a bit.

For example, at this recent conference, there were lots of papers on comics. There’s a Comic Art & Comics interest group that ran programming for the duration of the conference. There were a series of panels about comics in other discussion groups, such as both the Medieval and the Composition & Rhetoric groups. There was even an entire panel organized around Sandman, dealing with Neil Gaiman’s use of myth in the series.

What particularly caught my eye, though, were the papers on webcomics. From just skimming the program (remember: 400 pages) I found two: one titled “Penny Arcade and the Manipulation of Subcultural Capitalâ€? presented by a scholar from the University of Calgary, and another, “The King of Lizards Comes out of the Closet: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Heteronormativity in Dinosaur Comics â€? by a scholar from West Chester University. And those are just the ones which name-check webcomics in their titles. There must have been others which mentioned webcomics in the body of the papers; for example, I heard a paper about “hipster librariansâ€? mention Unshelved, which makes sense given the subject matter. I know from posts on a comics scholars discussion list I’m on that there are folks worldwide writing dissertations about webcomics, which means the number of undergrad papers on them must be exponentially higher.

All of it made me return, again, to the question of context. In writing last week’s column on Minimalist Stick Figure Theater, I thought it would be a fabulous text to use in a women’s studies class. I think it’s a great webcomic, and it raises points worthy of discussion in a way that I think would be ideal for just such a class.

I know that there’s webcomics out there which poke fun at academic culture (which is great; it’s pretty goofy from time to time, and though there isn’t a secret handshake it does certainly have its own weird internal culture). What I’m wondering is if there are folks out there who have used webcomics in an educational setting, and, if so, which ones and how? How does a webcomic change when it is printed out and distributed to a class (sort of thinking about fair use and not fair use and outright theft, since that’s been the focus here for the last few days)? Is it realistic to assign students to look at websites for homework, since it’s becoming ever more rare to find students who are not online? And in ten years are we going to see the PCA flooded with papers about webcomics? I don’t know. But it’ll be interesting to find out.


At least once a year I get a request from a university professor to use various comics from Help Desk as supplemental materials in whatever course he’s (so far they’ve all been men, I think) teaching. Usually they’re very specific comics from a particular storyline (most of they time they deal with intellectual property issues). I’ve never had the opportunity to sit in any of the classes where they were used, though.

I would LOVE to read that paper. Is it possible to let me know where I could find a copy, Anne?

Also I receive about an email a week asking permission to include a Dinosaur Comic in a lecture or handout, usually as joke for the introduction or conclusion.

No one’s ever taught you the secret handshake?

I used to use comics (both print and web) in a sociolinguistics class I taught. The only one that comes to mind is that I used a Wigu for a homework analyzing the syntax of Black English – hoping it would be more attention-getting to think about a sentence spoken by a character than the same sentence boringly typed on the page. It never occurred to me to ask for permission, though. Sorry Jeff! I love you! Forgive me!

As for asking students to look at websites – I’ve been out of the business for at least five years but even back then I’d give out links to websites. All the students had university-provided email addresses and some kind of computer access – is this really not true everywhere?

I thought MLA was all about the secret handshakes, at least if you want to get a paper accepted to a panel.

Certainly comics are becoming academically mainstream. McCloud has been anthologized in a freshman composition text, although I cannot for the life of me recall which one.

I sometimes refer students to PhD or xkcd, and once heard them discussing Dresden Codak. On the print side, Prof. E McSquared is still charming, if a bit long in the tooth.

Just as Barnes and Ambaum found their niche amongst librarians, so too is there a niche of mathematicians awaiting a webcomic of their own. Hey, that gives me an idea! Oh, wait, I can’t draw….

Michael, I can tell you from personal experience that a lack of drawing ability isn’t really a handicap…

No, if you want to get a conference paper accepted – oh, wait ‘secret handshake’ – is that what you kids are calling it nowadays?

I thought xkcd was already a webcomic for mathematicians? I was hoping that’s why I don’t understand it half the time.

Chris: Touche. Now if only I could write.

Wombat: Yes, ‘secret handshake’ is the currently fashionable euphemism for what it takes to get a conference paper accepted. I’d rather not mention the one for getting tenure.

I’d say that xkcd is a webcomic for mathematically sophisticated computer scientists (the kind who sleep with Knuth’s Art of Computer Programming, all four volumes, under their pillows) and electrical engineers (the kind who, uh, …, crap, I can’t think of a companion joke; see, I said I couldn’t write).

Off-subject, more webcomic plaigarism, new as of today (this time Threadless ripping off Theater Hopper):

And, consider this: the fact that webcomics are getting mentioned in serious academic research papers might go a long way towards putting an end to some of the webcomic deletions for lack of notability on Wikipedia.

It’s really interesting to see all these academic papers springing up on the subject. I’ve only seen a few papers on comics in education (such as the Comic Book Project from Columbia and Dark Horse); it looks like the academic investigation into the field is getting much deeper.

I’ve been planning to some day write a paper on the “Create a Comic Project.” It’s good to know I’ll be able to find places to publish it!

I think Wikipedia itself would have to be taken seriously by academics before the notion of academia lending notability to a subject would have any impact in wikipedimentia.

I used to hang out on irc on #oekaki-hell with dave kelly aka “Dave Bunny” and I cant help but think this is yet another bizzare attempt to get attention. Back then he would setup these complicated things to make himself look like a victim for sympathy then go about soaking it all up. When he was exposed that he made the comments or oekaki drawings about him then he would do even more pity me im sowwy type stuff. At one point he made an entire fake webpage devoted to hating himself and bashing his baby fur fetish which he had recently taken to a secret friends only oekaki draw board.
has more I used to think he was a kinda cool guy who did some mildly funny webcomics but the man is a manipulative monster. Of course no one wants to hear that its like he trains people to defend him in droves just like he did on IRC.

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