Re-Understanding Comics (MLA 2013)

full name / name of organization: 
Margaret Galvan/MLA special session proposal
contact email: 

Call for Papers for a proposed panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, 3-6 Jan. 2013, in Boston.

Following on the footsteps of Art Spiegelman's Maus's Pulitzer Prize win in 1992 and an emerging interest in comics as something to be taken seriously, Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (1993) sought to explain how comics uniquely functioned. In the intervening two decades, McCloud's comics text has become a lynchpin and a reference point. Yet, as Charles Hatfield outlines in a recent article in Transatlantica (2010), thinkers like Samuel R. Delany, Eddie Campbell, and Dylan Horrocks have since critiqued McCloud's formalist approach and its implications. As we approach the twentieth anniversary of Understanding Comics, this panel invites papers that broadly consider how McCloud's text and its version of formalism function in comics studies today.

Some possible issues to consider:

  • How does Understanding Comics fit into a genealogy of formalism in comics studies? How does it fit alongside other approaches?
  • What parts of Understanding Comics are overlooked? Misunderstood?
  • What does McCloud's formalist approach occlude? What are other approaches of seeing comics differently? How can we re-understand Understanding Comics?
  • What is Understanding Comics' relation to the growing academic field that is still defining itself in special issues and journals?
  • What is Understanding Comics' politics? Its pedagogy? Does it need updating?
  • How does Understanding Comics compare to more recent attempts to formally define comics?

Send 250 word abstracts in .doc or .pdf form to Margaret Galvan: The deadline for submissions is 15 March 2012. Submitters will receive notification of results by no later than April 1.
PLEASE NOTE: This CFP is for a proposed, not a guaranteed, session at MLA 2013, meaning it is contingent on approval by the MLA Program Committee (which will make its decisions after April 1). All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by no later than 7 April 2012.
Please feel free to email Margaret Galvan at if you have any questions!