News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

PR: Farewell to Fumetto's Artistic Director

media release:

Farewell to Fumetto's Artistic Director

Dear journalists, dear partners and friends

After 11 festival editions, Artistic Director Jana Novotny of the Fumetto Comic Festival Lucerne will be stepping down at the end of August 2022. Many great exhibitions, unusual locations and international names will be remembered. The advertisement for the position of "Artistic Director Fumetto" will soon be available at
The artistic director and co-managing director of the festival Jana Novotny has shaped the content and productions of the festival since 2011. After 11 festival editions, she is now stepping down at the end of August 2022. Jana Novotny has deepened the festival's focus on current work in comics and related arts, added reflection in digital techniques and been responsible for sustainable initiatives and networking of Swiss comics work at home and abroad. Jana Novotny helped to shape and partially implement the current reorganisation of the festival, the change to digital hybrid forms of the programme and the new festival appearance.
Numerous outstanding exhibitions by international artists will be remembered for a long time. For example, the world's first retrospectives of Jacques Tardi (2015), Julie Doucet (2017), Joe Sacco (2016) and Joann Sfar (2019), both in cooperation with the Cartoonmuseum Basel, exhibitions with Gabriella Giandelli (2014), Joost Swarte (2016), the Swiss drawing collective Seico (2016) and the Lucerne Ampel Magazin (2022).
In a multi-year collaboration with the Museum of Art Lucerne, Jana Novotny curated the exhibitions Robert Crumb & The Underground in 2013, Robin Rhode (2014), Hariton Pushwagner (2015), Lorenzo Mattotti (2016), Bertrand Lavier (2017), Gustave Dorée (2018), Keiichi Tanaami (2019), Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg (2022).
In collaboration with the Lucerne Theatre, the performance "Eurydice Says" with Swiss comic artist Lika Nüssli was created in 2018.
The diverse creativity of the Swiss comic and illustration scene has been the core and heart of Jana Novotny's appreciation and promotion of the festival in all years. The promotion of young artists and cooperations with art schools in Switzerland (HSLU; HEAD, ZHDK) abroad have been expanded under Jana Novotny's leadership. With interactive exhibition projects such as Joann Sfar (2018) or the Swiss children's books of the Bolo Klub 2022, an emphasis was placed on cross-generational audiences.
Artists Jana Novotny was able to bring to the festival included Richard McGuire, Julie Doucet, Brecht Evens, Max, Emil Ferris, Ben Katchor, Frémok, Dominique Goblet, Jacques Tardi, Judith Vanistendael, Joann Sfar, Anke Feuchtenberger, Ulli Lust, Edmond Baudoin, Caroline Sury and Tom Gauld. Comic icon Robert Crumb paid his respects as a visitor to the last festival edition by Jana Novotny.
The exhibition "Motion Comics - The Beginning" brought together projects and artists from all over the world who develop comics in augmented and virtual reality for the first time. The first comic entirely in virtual reality was performed by the Australian artist Sutu himself in the middle of the 360° painting of the Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne. The Fumetto project moved on to Haarlem (HOL) and Zagreb (CRO) and was continued by the Amsterdam production studio "Submarine Channel" as a curated online platform.
For the 25th anniversary in 2016, Jana Novotny brought 50 artists to Lucerne and designed a large Fumetto anniversary book with them, which was individually finished and signed by the artists at the festival - a festival edition in a double pack.
An experience for all comics fans and festival visitors was also the opening up of unusual locations for the Fumetto exhibitions, in the entire building of the former Neubad indoor swimming pool during the renovation phase in 2013, the labyrinth of the Sonnenberg civil defence facility (2018) for the group exhibition "Shelter" 2018 or, in this year's edition, the Red House, an industrial building from 1920; the former post office tunnel under Lucerne railway station, or the Viscose site when the Lucerne School of Art and Design moved into Emmenbrücke (2017).
Even many Lucerne residents first got to know these locations through Fumetto.
Thanks to her engagement with art beyond the usual focal points and her investment in an extensive network of contacts, she has achieved extraordinary collaborations and projects: "Meta Magma" 2018 with comic artists from Switzerland and Brazil at the Chacara Lañe Municipal Museum in Saõ Paulo; Indian artists from various regions of the country in the exhibition "Mytholitics" 2019; group exhibitions of Swiss artists at the Comic Festival in Helsinki (2014); and exchange projects with Swiss and Russian artists in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In 2013, Jana Novotny co-curated the extensive exhibition on comics in the Arab world "Al Comix Al Arabi" with Christoph Badoux and Daniel Bosshart.
Jana Novotny has promoted comics and drawing as an art form in their own right, but also as a connecting medium in various inclusive comics projects. In collaboration with its founder Sharad Sharma (New Delhi) for several years, Fumetto has since 2017 provided access to drawn stories for different communities (e.g. immigrant women or children) through the Grassroot Comic Workshop, in order to manifest their voice through stylistically simple comics. Students from art schools (HSLU, ZHDK) were trained via Fumetto to become teachers of this comic empowerment in Grassroot Comic and are still active today. 
With "Shapereader", a main exhibition for visitors with visual impairments was the focus of attention in 2017. The large-scale exhibition by the artist Ilan Manouach (GR), designed for the sense of touch, attracted international attention. The Swiss Federation of the Blind and Visually Impaired was invited to actively participate in the exhibition's mediation.
With the projects "Maria y io" by Miguel Gallardo in 2016 and "Immer Trubel mit Ted" by Émilie Gleason in 2022, for example, it has raised awareness of autism.
In a long-standing cooperation with the aid organisation "Médecins Sans Frontières", Fumetto under Jana Novotny has invited cartoonists "into the field" every year, and at the festival, in open studios and exhibitions, to open up to the public the creation of comic reports and problems in remote areas of the world.
Since she took up her post, she has continuously given the 40 popular satellite exhibitions more importance and visibility. The comic markets she initiated, the "Small Press Heaven" in the festival centre for self-publishers, and the poster bazaar in the Bourbaki Panorama are annual festival highlites and are indispensable places of exchange. This year, with "Comixities - The Market", she has brought together important players in Swiss comics to form a joint Fumetto bookshop.
In addition to a diverse artistic programme, Jana Novotny has also promoted exchange and discourse between cartoonists and professionals. In collaboration with the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Illustration Department, she has initiated and implemented symposia, expert panels and lectures on current topics and with international guests. Since 2021, even audiences around the world have been able to participate thanks to hybrid and digital versions. Topics ranged from various comic scenes, reportage comics (with Guy Delisle and Joe Sacco), Swiss comic promotion, gender and identity in comics, insights into comics from around the world, to children's books censorship or currently Russia in comics. Through these discourses, the festival also experienced increased interest from illustration school classes and cartoonists from all over the world.
Promoting comics was a major concern of Jana Novotny. As co-founder of the first comics network, the Réseau Bande Dessinée Suisse, in 2017, Jana Novotny advocates for comics and illustration as an independent art form, its remuneration and promotion at federal level. She is jointly responsible for ensuring that comics produced in Switzerland have a permanent place at Europe's most important comics festival in Angoulême.
She is also committed to the comic scholarships of the German-speaking cities of Switzerland and the newly established work scholarships for comics at the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.
The board appreciates Jana Novotny's contribution to the Fumetto Festival, especially her wealth of ideas and her ability to inspire others for comics and for her projects. With a big thank you, Fumetto says goodbye to its long-time, committed and go-getting artistic director.
The advertisement for the position of "Artistic Director Fumetto" can be found at

If you have any questions, please contact Annette Schindler and Marco Schmidiger. Please make appointments by email at

Fumetto 2023 takes place at april 18th to 26th

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The complexity of walking to the corner with someone: A Swedish book review

 by Gerald Heng

                                          Walk me to the corner     

                                              Anneli Furmark  

                                            Montreal: D&Q

Somewhat by whimsical chance, I picked up Anneli Furmark's Walk me to the corner at the Stockholm library Seriebiblioteket. Anneli Furmark is a well known Swedish painter and comic artist who has a few books (mostly in Swedish) under her belt including Red Winter, one of 2016 Angouleme official selection. She is based in northern Sweden. You can take a look at her works at her website. Seriebiblioteket is one of Stockholm's public libraries, but is dedicated to the world of comics and comics scholarship, and is where I go to get my irregular dose of new comics-reading materiel. I have been meaning to read her book for a while now, but had not got around to it. It has now been two weeks since I checked it out and it is a beguiling book. I been going back to different sections of the book again and again. I might have to get my own copy of the book, as it is almost time to return it to the library. I don't think I will be done exploring this book thoroughly for a while yet, maybe because it is touching on something that is weighing heavily on my mind at the moment.

The book's main protagonist, Elise, shows her thoughts and her desire for Dagmar, and the subsequent consequences of that on her marriage to Henrik. The book also follows Elise's logic and thinking including her selfish reactions to Henrik's rejection of her ideal world, where her desire for Dagmar should have no impact on her marriage, because she still loves him the most. The story-lines wander through dinner with girlfriends, walks with her son, sessions with a therapist and frustration with a Swedish flyttkartong*, are all wonderfully engrossing. The ending part, 'Amusement Park,' is spot on in its analogy.

I am not sure if the story-lines in the book come from her life or from other sources, but Furmark has done a masterful work putting the age-old delicate twin topics of love and desire down on the pages. I keep going back to this question, "What is love?" The desire part is pretty much laid out in the book as Elsie's relationship with Dagmar, but the love part is quite unclear. Elise claims she love both Dagmar and Henrik, but to varying degrees. This gets more convoluted later on when Henrik told Elise he has started his own romantic relationship with someone which leads to Elise falling apart, unable to deal with this revelation.  Maybe the question is intended to be unanswered in the book. This is probably something everyone will have to decide for one's self due to its very nebulous and capricious nature. Maybe it is human nature -- to love oneself the most -- finally at the end of that question.  There is a self-centered duality hinted at in Elise's dinner with her girlfriends where she tells of the wonderfulness of having a passionate relationship with someone she completely connects with, but yet she still needs the long term comforting safety of her marriage with Henrik. So it's apparently a question with no one correct answer, excluding major religions' thinking about fidelity.

Her use of ink, pencil, watercolors washes, more pencil shading, color pencils to tell the story leaves me in awe. The artwork is a mishmash of different techniques but its use to tell the story is perfect. It gels so well for me. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend it highly.

* A wonderful cardboard moving box which comes flat, but builds into a box without any tape and has its own subculture in Sweden and is highly sought after in South Africa, as I discovered when I moved there for work.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Fumetto Opens Up Again in 2022, But Underwhelms: A Review Essay

by Wim Lockefeer; photos by Nick Nguyen

Founded in 1992 as the Luzern Comix Festival, the Fumetto International Comics Festival can rightfully call itself one of the most important comics events in Europe, along with the Festival Internationale de la BD in Angoulême (France), Lucca Comics and Games in Lucca (Italy), and the Erlangen Comics Salon (Germany). Over the years, many internationally-renowned creators attended the festival, including Edmond Baudoin (the Festival’s first creator in residence), Jack Kirby, Daniel Clowes, Ulli Lust, Robert Crumb, Jacques Tardi and Emil Ferris. Additionally, the Festival has proven to be instrumental in bringing comics scenes from various Swiss language communities together.


As a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic and national and international measures to counteract its spread, the Festival had to cancel its 2020 edition, as was the case for most public gatherings of that time. The 30th anniversary of the festival was celebrated in a hybrid format, with events organized in the city of Luzern, as well as online with the Comic Chat Café and a virtual exhibition.

This year’s edition (2022) was supposed to be a joyous return to form, with a full-fledged festival all across the city of Luzern. Whether the organization would be able to pull this off remained uncertain until about two weeks before the starting date, when program information was finally published on the Festival’s website. Most likely this delay was as a result of the uncertainty regarding international Covid-19 measures, and how this might affect the possibility of international guests to even attend the Festival. After all, only days before the opening, Switzerland radically reduced its pandemic regimen, but even so, various international visitors were unable to attend.


More than ever, the Festival was centered around the Kornschütte, an old official building in the center of the city that is often used for cultural events. The building hosted the main information hub, as well as a small bookstore with selected new comics, predominantly from Switzerland and Germany, including Strapazin, Switzerland’s leading comics magazine. The room also hosted a craft market, where small press publishers, printmakers and other creative types hawked their wares. In a corner cartoonist Julietta Saccardi presented her Tiny Tragedies project, a series of  minicomics based on true stories of sexual abuse and harassment.

Julietta Saccardi's Tiny Tragedies

Five exhibitions were housed in and around the inner city, with two smaller ones devoted to the Swiss comics magazine Ampel and French Edelporn publisher BD Cul (which, true to form, was designed as the aftermath of a very dodgy party, with empty bottles, condom wrappers and assorted paraphernalia strewn around the room). Similarly small in size was the exhibition on French cartoonist Emilie Gleason, this year’s artist in residence.

A bit more ambitious was the presentation in the Kunstmuseum of a selection of video artworks by the Swedish duo Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, famous for their idiosyncratic, rowdy and often disturbing stop-motion animation centered around desire, lust, and the inevitability of human decline. Their work typically features grossly deformed personas that prey upon one another, are taken apart and then reassembled or simply wander around to their impending doom, accompanied by soundscapes that, thanks to the setup of the exhibition, blended together in an almost hypnotic, alienating experience. Even though its link with comics as such may have been tenuous, it was a strong show, both artistically and in terms of message. 


Plenty of comics content was present in Peter Poplaski’s The Curse Of Zorro exhibit, the Festival’s main event and housed in a rather dilapidated old warehouse. For his show, the American cartoonist selected a large number of items from his personal collection, as well as original artwork from himself and other cartoonists, to sketch an alternative history of the (super-) hero as the typical archetype of the Twentieth Century. While Poplaski’s main argument, that modern superheroes are the direct descendants of ancient gods' pantheons and of the characters from late medieval chivalry, and play the same role as aspirational examples, may be tenuous, disputable and quite likely very American-centered, the show itself was interesting and entertaining, with numerous old editions of Zorro stories (Poplaski’s personal favorite and obsession), as well as board games, action figures, movie posters and the like. 


Peter Poplaski's The Curse Of Zorro

The long list of additional features and events on the Festival’s program proved to be mainly showcases of artists or books in various shop windows around the city, mostly without any context or information, and often so small you walked past looking for them before you knew it. One notable exception was the tiny but exquisite exhibition of original artwork that local cartoonist Pirmin Beeler had assembled with pages from his latest graphic novel, Das Leuchten Im Grenzland (The Glow in the Borderlands, Edition Moderne, 2022). With his delicate lines and subtle pastels, Beeler is a name to keep track of.

Even though separately these shows and events certainly were not without value, on the whole the Festival left this visitor rather unsatisfied, and constantly checking the program to see if he wasn’t overlooking anything, after all? Was this really everything, not just in numbers, but also in quality? Indeed, with the possible exception of the Djurberg-Berg presentation, none of the Festival’s offerings really went beyond just acceptable in terms of content, presentation or urgency. At the FIBD in Angoulême, the Poplaski show would at best have been an also-ran, a nice addition to the Festival’s main events.

Pirmin Beeler' beautiful artwork


It is unclear whether this year’s Fumetto attracted the 40,000 visitors that it boasted ten or fifteen years ago. We visited the Festival, which was said to run from April 2-10, during its first weekend when, indeed, there were some people around. The presentation of this year’s Stipendien (or grants) filled a small auditorium, and visitors did show up for the exhibitions. But there were no lines for the ticket booth or information stands, no throngs to wade through to see that one piece, no presence in the streets. On Monday, the Festival was basically dead.

Restarting a public event after a long and difficult period like the Covid-19 pandemic is a hard and risky endeavor. In the coming years Fumetto may indeed grow again to dimensions on a par with its reputation. The question, however, is whether that is the Festival’s current direction. 2022’s Festival clearly showed a narrow, quite exclusionary view on comics. Except for the book store, mainstream comics, and even literary comics aimed at a larger audience, were completely absent, while this year’s awards went to niche or activist cartoonists.

This analysis, of course, may be just Hineininterpretierung (German for interpreting in meaning that doesn't exist) from an unprepared guest who did not have the right expectations, or it could be an explicit, and doubtlessly meritorious view on what the Festival should be. Maybe the Festival’s directors feel that the Festival’s future in changing times, and a changing landscape, is not so much in inclusion, but rather in focus on specific audiences and themes, a smaller scale and an explicit view on artistic politics. But in my personal view, it would be unwise to limit the scope of one of the most venerated comics festivals in Europe to just that, especially in a time when the importance and weight of the medium as we know it is not what it used to be.

 A version of this review will appear in print in IJOCA 24:1.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

IJOCA electronic issues and subscriptions available

(apologies for cross-posting)


For the first time in its 22-year history, IJOCA is offering digital versions of some of its issues thanks to original layout editor Jae-Woong Kwon and digital conversion editors Mike Rhode and Simon Wigzell. By the end of the summer, we plan to offer all 46 issues.


If you're not a subscriber, and wish to buy issues at $20 each (at least a 10% savings from the print version), Paypal John Lent at specifying which issue(s) you're buying in your text. When you get your receipt, send it to and you'll be sent Dropbox links to download the files. Print subscribers and contributors have been sent the links to the first issues converted; if you contributed to an issue and want a digital version, please let us know.


If you also need the very large original file as used by the printer, as opposed to the reduced size version which may be best for the average user, let us know.


We have the following issues available (links go to the table of contents).


The earliest issues we no longer have the production files for and are scanned:


Vol.1, No.1


Vol.4, No.2 

The following are from the original layout files:


Vol.15, No.1


Vol.15, No.2


Vol.16, No.1


Vol.16, No.2


Vol.17, No.1


Vol.17, No.2


Vol.18, No.1


Vol.18, No.2


Vol.19, No.1


Vol.19, No.2


Vol.20, No.1


Vol.20, No.2


Vol.21, No.1


Vol.21, No.2


Vol.22, No.1


Vol.22, No. 2


Vol.23, No. 1


Vol.23, No. 2


Feel free to write with any questions.


Mike Rhode

Ass't editor


Superheroes and Excess, an Oxymoron: A Review Essay

 Superheroes and Excess, an Oxymoron: A Review Essay


Eric Berlatsky


Jamie Brassett and Richard Reynolds.
Superheroes and Excess:  A Philosophical Adventure. New York:  Routledge, 2022. 288 pp. ISBN:  978-1-1383-0453-6. US $160.00.


Jamie Brassett and Richard Reynolds’ new book Superheroes and Excess (Routledge, 2022) has the significant benefit of bringing together two topics/discourses that have rarely, if ever, been previously wed. The concept of “excess” is, of course, a slippery but important one, particularly in philosophical circles, as the editor’s note in the introduction, invoking the names of Gilles Deleuze and Georges Bataille, among others, in order to define and clarify the term. Brassett, Reynolds, and other contributors assert confidently (and no doubt correctly) that “excess” is an integral element of the superhero genre--as superheroes inevitably have an “excess” of power, skill, size, strength, speed, and often morality, when compared to the “ordinary” human populace. It might likewise be said that superheroes “exceed” the law, as they frequently operate as vigilantes (breaking the law), even though they are typically understood to be in support of the “justice” that the law is purportedly meant to represent. Excess has also been used (perhaps paradigmatically by Bataille, but also through the Kristevan abject and the Freudian excremental) to that which exceeds the boundary of the body, or the unitary subject, or both. Science fiction’s collection of monsters and aliens (frequently oozing themselves or oozing out of someone else’s less gelatinous body) is representative of such excess, and insofar as the superhero genre grows out of SF, this abjected version of excess finds a home in the world of the superhero as well (particularly in the various heroes and villains whose bodies stretch, disappear, burst into flame, etc.). In addition, the economic sense of “excess” as that profit which is beyond need, or the expenditure of money far beyond the sensible, might easily be applied not only to billionaire superheroes themselves (Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark as the most paradigmatic examples) but also to the corporations/movie studios who spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make superhero films that bring in billions in excess profits.

All of the above iterations of the term “excess” (and others) are elaborated upon by the editors in the introduction and conclusion and are fruitful lines of inquiry for interrogating the figure of the superhero and the narratives that surround them in whatever media. Indeed, when the collection’s contributors clearly address the idea of excess (in any of its many iterations), the book succeeds in approaching the idea of the superhero from new perspectives and promises to push the field in fruitful directions. At the same time, there are disappointing moments in the collection when some contributors fail to clearly articulate the ways in which their chapters define excess and its relationship to superheroes. In these cases, the chapters fail to build upon the fascinating architecture articulated by the collection’s editors.

Fortunately, many of the chapters do fulfill the promise of the book’s concept, and it is only fair to discuss these first. The first chapter, by Anna Peppard, is one such, as it takes on both the physical excesses of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Silver Age Fantastic Four and their relationship to the Cold War, in particular the idea that communism was “exceeding” its national boundaries and needed to be “contained” through U.S. national policy and, in the comics, through the intervention of the FF. As Peppard discusses, the model of excess and containment itself “spilled over” from the realm of international politics into conceptions of gender and its relation to the monstrous. Peppard argues that monstrousness typically revolves around the conflict between the body and the mind (in Cartesian fashion) and the degree to which the body “exceeds” the control and the rationality of the mind. Likewise, the body’s unruly and chaotic nature (18) is typically associated with women and femininity (particularly through the premise of uncontrollable fluids as in menstruation and lactation), while the controlling rationality of the mind is (misogynistically) understood to be masculine. Peppard contrasts the unruly chaotic bodies of the Human Torch and the Thing (therefore in some way feminine, despite ostensibly being men) and the more contained and container-like (and therefore masculine) bodies of the Invisible Girl/Woman and Mr. Fantastic. Peppard is not blind or inattentive to the ironies within this characterization, noting the ways in which, despite her seemingly masculine powerset, Invisible Girl/Woman is nevertheless rendered subservient and feminine in a number of other ways. Peppard’s turn to a discussion of the villain, Sandman, an even more uncontainable and unruly body, allows for an even more fascinating discussion of the excesses of monstrous bodies and the role the FF play in the metaphorical “containment” both of communism and the feminization it brings with it.

Brassett’s chapter on the Marvel mutant Legion, is also fully engaged with the philosophical concept of excess, and productively so, borrowing liberally from Deleuze and from the concept of the musical “fugue” as discussed by Deleuze and frequent partner Felix Guattari. Legion, aka David Haller, the son of Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, is excessive, as Brassett explains, because of the cornucopia of personalities (each with its own mutant power), contained within his body. Brassett explores how Haller’s lengthy project of organizing his disparate powers and personalities under “one” metapersonality, project, or banner embodies the struggle between the singular body and “self” that we all purportedly possess and the conflicting personalities, ideas, and perspectives within all of us that threaten to exceed it. Brassett discusses the ways in which the repeated return of personalities or “themes” in Haller’s personality can be linked to the metaphor of the fugue, and how the fugue, though frequently understood to be organized around variations from a primary melody, can also be understood very differently if a “repetition” is taken to be the “primary” or if no iteration is accepted as the “primary” just because of chronological precedent. Brassett applies this logic to Haller’s mind in order to elucidate the ways in which comics that focus on Legion can be said to re-evaluate the nature of the subject not as singular, but as many--and thus excessive (thinking of the self as the swarm of bees, rather than each bee itself as an individual) (43). Particularly, through a reading of Simon Spurrier’s X-Men:  Legacy, Brassett examines the idea that the attempt to bring our multiple selves under some kind of authoritarian order may be just as dangerous as allowing our “excess personalities” to anarchically run amuck and that leadership and control are far from synonymous.

Brassett’s Deleuzian focus on multiple subjectivities is mirrored later in the volume by Scott Jeffery’s discussion of superhero comics’ predilection for incessant repetition. Jeffery cites Deleuze in order to assert that while repetition might initially be understood merely as a reproduction of sameness, in fact repetition is precisely that which introduces difference:  “‘difference is not the difference between different forms, or the difference from some original model; difference is that power that over and over again produces new forms’” (144). As Jeffery asserts, even if a story is reprinted with precisely the same words and pictures, its introduction into a new context makes it, in some sense, new, giving it new meaning as it implicitly comments on its new surroundings. Even beyond this, however, Jeffery focuses on the frequent repetition of, for instance, superhero origin stories (discussing Spider-Man’s, in particular) (146) and how each retelling introduces new elements, characters, contexts, and perspectives. For Jeffery, as for Brassett, multiplicity and difference are values in themselves, opening up the world to “radical imagination” reflective of that world itself and which asserts “a kind of morality unique to the genre…one that speaks for…the potential of becoming…” (156). While, occasionally, Jeffery brings this assertion in proximity to questions of ethics, morality, and “diversity” in a more social and political sense (particularly through the brief discussion of Into the Spider-Verse) (156), these assertions are unfortunately tentative at best. In Jeffery’s chapter, convincing in many ways, the morality and ethics of “difference” seems to mean something more metaphysical than prosaic questions or racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender diversity, the most significant weakness in a compelling essay that builds on Brassett’s observations.

This weakness is countered by Lorraine Henry King’s very strong essay on Black Panther and its confrontation with a history of public discourse that defined Black men, and particularly Black male bodies as “excessive,” or beyond or outside of “civilized” white society. As King points out, superhero narratives have historically been built on male physical strength and powerful masculinity wedded to moral authority. In the racial and racist history of the United States, however, the physical strength of Black men has never been discursively attached to morality. Instead, powerful Black masculinity has been feared and defined as a threat to racial purity and particularly white femininity. As such, argues King, a film like Black Panther is not simply a shift of the overwhelmingly popular superhero archetype to include Black characters and Black actors, but is actually an attempt to intervene in the discursive construction of Black masculinity and to counter the definition of Black masculinity as itself “excessive.” Beyond this, King discusses Panther’s resistance to the frequently used filmic spectacle of dead Black male bodies, and its exploration of Black skin as a superhero costume. All in all, King’s essay’s roots in the social and political impact of media representations serves as a powerful reparative to those essays in Superheroes and Excess that tend toward more abstruse metaphysics.

Another very strong chapter is Tiffany Hong’s on Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision miniseries (itself one of the influences on Marvel Studio’s television show, Wandavision). In the series, the synthezoid/android Vision builds a family for himself and moves them into a bourgeois suburb. Perhaps the most obvious pathway for analysis of the series is as a metaphor for race relations, as the Visions are not welcomed to the neighborhood, but Hong is almost completely uninterested in this interpretive possibility. This is unfortunate simply because her examination of the phenomenological and narratological elements of the story might well dovetail into valuable political or sociological insights if given the chance. Instead, Hong focuses on the ways in which the Visions’ perceptions exceed that of ordinary humans (through their capacity for infallible memory, physical manipulation of bodily density--including phasing through matter--and the ability to turn on, or shut off, their emotions) and the ways in which these excessive powers are reflected through the storytelling elements of the comic. This becomes a fascinating discussion of the interaction of form and content and the “multimodal treatment of android interiority” (103) though what insight it might give into human experience, whether social, political, or otherwise, is not always clear.

As in Peppard’s essay, Hong’s engagement with the idea of gender is perhaps most persuasive, as she (like Peppard) discusses the ways in which the Visions’ powers (especially as used by Vision’s wife, Virginia) comment productively and critically on stereotypical understandings of women as uncontrollable and chaotic bodies, and as an “overdetermined locus of interpenetrative possibility” (109). Nevertheless, it is not always clear if Hong sees the series’ depiction of Virginia “as a site of failed womanhood” (because of her inability to procreate) as itself a misogynist depiction--or if she sees the series as implicitly critiquing misogynist notions of femininity (or a little of both). That is, while Hong does an excellent job of teasing out some of the implications in the series, she is not always willing to draw more definitive conclusions about what these implications ultimately mean. Her discussion of the contradictory and incommensurate voices of the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness as narrators suggests that there is room for an understanding of the series as Brechtian in its effort to make the readers question whatever “truths” its narrative offers, but Hong also implies that most readers may never interrogate those “truths” given the series’ “affective closure” (aka happy ending) (113).

Geoff Klock and Mitch Montgomery’s chapter on the final (?) Hugh Jackman/James Mangold Wolverine film, “Logan,” returns to familiar terrain for Klock (in particular his seminal book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why?). As in that book, Klock and Montgomery invoke Harold Bloom’s idea of “the anxiety of influence” and propose that “Logan” serves to “strongly misread” previous superhero films, X-Men films, dystopic films, Westerns, and select films from the directors’ and actors’ filmographies, in order to pioneer a “new” form of superhero film, rooted more in realism, relationships, and closure than in special effects, spectacle, and open endings that serve as advertisements for sequels. For Klock and Montgomery, the film opens itself up to the “excess of tradition” (128) in order to create something truly new. While I am skeptical of the idea that “Logan” is immune to the tyranny of the sequel and that it somehow delivers a message of acceptance and adaptability of which previous X-Men or superhero films were incapable, the argument is built upon compelling close readings that reveal elements of the film, and the genre, that are not immediately obvious. In this, the chapter does what good criticism should, making me wish to return to the film both for pleasure and for intellectual consideration.

Like Klock, Richard Reynolds’ essay follows an influential book Super Heroes:  A Modern Mythology, a very early contribution to the academic study of superheroes from 1994. “Superheroes at the Vanishing Point” is not as clearly a direct descendant of the earlier work as Klock’s chapter is, though Reynolds’ deep and wide knowledge of the superhero genre and his capacity for insightful close readings remain intact. In this chapter, Reynolds looks most searchingly at the MCU’s Infinity Saga films, particularly “Iron Man,” “Avengers:  Infinity War,” and “Avengers:  Endgame.” In these films, Reynolds traces the superhero genre’s tendency to locate new “planes of action,” pushing toward new frontiers and beyond typical viewpoints. He compares the superhero genre, then, to the Western, and to space travel films like “The Right Stuff.” Taking the Avengers both far into outer space and back and forth in time, argues Reynolds, is a new kind of “frontier” or Western film that restlessly seeks to push “beyond the vanishing point” of the genre. Likewise, Reynolds is keen to explore the superhero genre’s interest in contrasting scales, juxtaposing the secret identity (a “normal” person) with the abnormal alter ego, as well as prosaic settings (Starlord’s origins on 1970s/1980s Earth and the mixtape that it engenders) with the outré and bizarre (the outer space and distant planets that Starlord explores with the Guardians of the Galaxy). Reynolds acknowledges that time travel and space flight are more typically seen as part of the science fiction genre and that superheroes might be understood as an offshoot of science fiction, but this does not prevent their particular power to gesture beyond the limitations of the present and “deliver their audience from a collective anxiety about their future…” (242).

All of the above is to indicate that the collection has many insightful and useful essays that more than make up for the weaker ones, which I will try (and perhaps fail!) to cover in less detail. John McGuire’s essay on the ways in which 1980s Captain America comics challenge and critique the excesses of the Reagan Era does not live up to its promise both because its close readings of that era fail to account for many elements of their critique (for instance, J. M. DeMatteis’ introduction of a childhood best friend of Steve Rogers’, Arnie Roth, is ignored in the chapter, despite the obvious relevance in critiquing Reagan-era AIDS policies), and because of its seeming ignorance of important history of the character. McGuire discusses the anti-U.S. government elements of the 1980s Cap comics as if the critique of U.S. presidents and their policies had not been part of the series for some time. The introduction of Richard Nixon as the “surprising” head of the Secret Empire in Captain America #175 (released in May 1974) and Captain America’s subsequent decision to disassociate himself from his country by dropping his superhero identity in favor of another (Nomad, the Man Without a Country!) is ignored here, despite its role as obvious precedent to and influence on the 1980s stories McGuire analyzes. McGuire’s argument that 1980s Cap comics make an effort to present an alternative patriotism to that based on capitalistic excess and neoliberal “free markets,” seems accurate, but his implication that this was something new to Reagan-era Cap, his substantively incomplete discussion of the comics’ engagement with Reagan’s policies, and his unwillingness to engage with the recent history of Cap, leaves the chapter somewhat disappointing.

Also disappointing is Lillian Céspedes González’s chapter on Image Comics, which relies on a survey of 55 seemingly random people (a substantial percentage of whom knew nothing at all about said comics) to define what “excess” means and whether or not 1990s Image successes like Spawn and Witchblade fit the definition as proposed. The premise of this chapter eluded me almost completely, as if one wanted a truly representative view of Image’s excesses from the “people on the street,” surely one would need to survey more than 55 people, and have some kind of scientific way of determining if those people are representative of anything in particular. Likewise, if one wanted a comics reader’s or connoisseur’s understanding of the importance of Image (a definitively important publisher for creator’s rights), why would 20 percent of the people surveyed be all but ignorant of the publisher, the genre, or the industry? Thus, the methodology of this chapter, as well as its conclusions (understandably tentative at best given the methodology), never coalesce into a convincing argument about the comics or the company.

Equally frustrating is Derek Hales’s essay “Design Fictions from Beyond:  A Pataphysics of Objectile Excess,” the title of which is indicative of the dense jargon to be found within. Hales’s goal in the chapter seems to be to simply list or identify a number of objects in superhero stories that qualify as “pataphysical”--parodically beyond or outside of normal physics (if I understand correctly), or “sublime” (beyond description), particularly through the prism of Lovecraftian heuristics in which creatures and objects are too horrible, large, monstrous, indistinct, multidimensional, or etc. to beggar description. It certainly makes sense to bring a discussion of such objects and creatures into a book about superheroes and excess, but what point Hales is making about them other than to point them out is beyond my capacity to determine. There does seem to be some hint at the idea that such fictional designs or creatures serve the purpose of “futuristic design” and to perhaps inform the design of objects in the present, but while my eyes were alert to this claim and any insights derived from it, I was continually stymied by the convoluted syntax, impenetrable jargon, and opaque argument of the chapter. Perhaps the chapter itself was meant to be understood as pataphysical, in which case it succeeds admirably, but it does not succeed in more conventional ways.

Joan Ormrod’s chapter on Wonder Woman (“Too Many Wonder Womans”) has the great benefit of being much more readable, though it too is disappointing in some ways. Ormrod discusses the fact that Wonder Woman (like most superhero IP’s) is a character with many different versions, not just the comics, film, and television “versions”--but the many different versions within each of these media and others (video games, prose fiction, etc. etc.). Ormrod is particularly interested in how the character appears in the “Super Hero Girls” DC animated television franchise, which has had, to date, two distinct iterations. The first placed several of DC’s superpowered women, both heroes and villains, in a high school setting, in which the characters were “aged down” and took on many of the trappings of stereotypical femininity. The reboot made the heroes and villains antagonists once more, rather than classmates, and re-introduced elements of the more violent and stereotypically masculine superheroics of more recent comics and films. Ormrod discusses the details of these series, as well as the fan response, in order to make the point that neither of these “versions” can be (or should be) considered “original” or “primary” and that one’s relationship to the narrative is largely dependent upon one’s own wishes and expectations, as well as which version the audience member watches first and is therefore “original” to them. While this is true as far as it goes, and although Ormrod does engage with the gendered implications of each version of “Super Hero Girls,” she does not discuss the “value” of each series in any context other than “what the audience wants” and “what the audience likes.” This is frustrating given the relatively obvious feminist critique some other critics have made (and which Ormrod references briefly). That is, it is worthwhile considering the political, social, or ideological messages of these shows apart from their relative and supposed “authenticity.” Surely Ormrod is right that there is no way to judge one or the other of these shows as “better” simply because they are closer to the “true Wonder Woman” (the idea of which seems like a chimera), but one can surely judge them “better” or “worse” by other criteria, an idea studiously ignored here.

In addition, it seems odd that Ormrod ignores the one version of the character that might have some claim to authenticity, the 1940s comics version of the character as written by creator William Moulton Marston and drawn by H. G. Peter. The Marston/Peter comics have received much critical attention for their strange and daring combination of BDSM, lesbianism, polyamory, mythology, and Nazi-punching, all in the context of a comic book meant for children! While Ormrod is far from obligated to revisit this terrain at any length, if there is a Wonder Woman that could be defined as both “authentic” and “excessive,” it is the original version, an idea that should at least be engaged in any discussion of the later versions. Excess, as a concept, is indeed lost, for the most part, in this essay, and is confined to the initial notion that perhaps there are “too many” versions of Wonder Woman. In fact, however, Ormrod takes the opposite position, that there is nothing excessive here at all. Rather, for Ormrod, the presence of multiple Wonder Women is neither a problem nor a concern, as we should simply take each as we find her. Given the degree to which this asks us to avert our critical eyes, Ormrod’s essay stops short of providing real insight, although her fundamental notion that multiplicity is itself a good (or at least not bad) factor is not far from the claims of Brassett and Jeffery, as discussed above.

As with most edited collections, then, this one can only be judged by the strengths and weaknesses of its individual essays. In this case, there are more strong essays than weaker ones, and most of the weaker ones nevertheless contain something of value. More than anything, the book opens up the superhero genre to fresh critical terrain and many vectors to follow, as its conclusion indicates. I am hopeful that these vectors will be followed by these and other scholars and yield additional insights.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Exhibition in photos: Loo Hui Phang at the 49th Angoulême International Comics Festival

 Loo Hui Phang, écrire est un métier. Loo Hui Phang. Angoulème. Espace Franquin. 17-20 March 2022. 


As the recipient of the 2021 Prix René Goscinny for the scenario of BLACK OUT (illustrated by Hugues Micol, published by Futuropolis in 2020), prolific Franco-Laotian author Loo Hui Phang was celebrated for the second time in five years at the Angoulême International Comics Festival with an exhibition sponsored by the Institut René Gosninny. Her first exhibition Synoptique back in 2017 offered a career overview of her work as a writer, not only for comics but for stage and screen too. In 2022, the same exhibition space in the Espace Franquin was given to Loo Hui Phang, who rightfully recognized that it was much too soon for another retrospective of her work.  Instead she conceived an atypical exhibition to mount - in naming it "Writing is a Profession", Loo Hui Phang chose to pay tribute to the legacy of René Goscinny and the spirit of the prize that bears his name. Rather than keeping the spotlight on herself or focusing on the traditional display of original artwork, she structured her exhibition into three distinct sections that each addressed her relationship with the act and profession of writing itself, particularly in the milieu of comics and bande dessinée. 

The first section is on immediate display outside of the entrance, serving as the exhibition's installation centerpiece. Visitors are offered a glimpse into Loo Hui Phang's personal/professional writing environment through an exact physical replica of her desk placed in a room that also abstractly presents key elements that help structure her creativity (documentation, character, dramaturgy, dialogues, and inspirations). This installation can be viewed from two perspectives: the first is behind a display window at the entrance of the exhibition; the second is through a cut-out section of the wall that is located at the tail end of the second section of the exhibition. The setup suggests an implicit invitation to revisit an initial consideration of this installation following the experience of entering into and engaging with the information presented in the next section of the exhibition. 


Loo Hui Phang at the replica of her desk


The second section situates the overall parameters of the exhibition's use of the term scénariste (scriptwriter) as attributed to René Goscinny and his efforts to raise technical and legal attention to his profession. Noting that the work and plight of Goscinny and his contemporaries have inspired generations of authors who followed in their wake, Loo Hui Phang reached out to her colleagues in an effort to present a group portrait of comics writers across several generations and horizons. 32 comics authors responded to her call, each of them offering a glimpse into their individual and idiosyncratic writing processes, habits, environments and inspiration. Their contributions, which came in the form of responses to a questionnaire that Loo Hui Phang composed, were edited and arranged on large vertical display panels, accompanied by a photo of the writer in their own writing environment and select facsimiles of notes, draft pages of scripts, sketches, thumbnails, photos, ephemera and any other material object that served as either a source or result of inspiration. These panels were arranged in alphabetical order of the authors, adjacently covering the entirety of the walls of the second section.

Loo Hui Phang (centre) discussing her exhibition with visitors

Below are 12 of the questions that were asked of the authors. They were not obliged to write answers for every single question.

1. Which authors inspired you to write for comics? 

2. Describe your writing career trajectory.

3. Where do you work?

4. When do you work?

5. What rituals or habits help you enter into writing?

6. What is your sonic environment when you write?

7. What is your writing process?

8. How long does it take you to write a scenario?

9. Can/do you work on multiple projects simultaneously?

10. Do you have other work outside of writing?

11. How much does comics writing factor in your revenues?

12. What are your ideal sites and conditions for writing?


A sound shower played an edited soundtrack of archival recordings of comics writers speaking about their craft.



















The final section of the exhibition draws attention to the labour plight of the contemporary comics writer in France, a struggle for recognition and legitimation that Goscinny fought during his career. A crescendoing collection of sobering facts and statistical data about the working and wage conditions of comics writers is presented on colored panels arranged at eye-level along the rest of the walls. This installation strives to inform, provoke thought, and hopes to incite action for the importance of the contribution and the compensation for comics writers, ending with a imploring declaration to defend this unique and necessary profession.






























































































































There is no question about the level of thought and consideration put in by Loo Hui Phang and everyone participating in this exhibition. The main regret of this exhibition is that all of this information, especially the individual author responses to the questionnaire, can only be read at the exhibition space itself on the panels rather than a booklet that collects their entirety, to be read at one's own time and leisure to fully absorb everything that the exhibition wishes to transmitted. While the original installation of this exhibition only lasted the duration of the Festival, its shelf life (alongside that of the René Goscinny exhibition) has been extended for another showing in France, this time at the Château de Malbrouck from 9 April to 13 November 2022. This extension ought to give visitors more time to contemplate the wealth of information that is provided and to confront the brute reality behind the trade.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Below are photos of all of the author panels in this exhibition, presented in the order of their installation. Click on each photo and zoom in to get a read the panel text (in French only).