January Meeting Recap: You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife edited by Kel McDonald and Andrea Purcell

Chosen by J.J. Pionke, notes by Kelli Trei.

The January 2022 meeting of the U-C Comics Colloquium discussed You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife edited by Kel McDonald and Andrea Purcell. This anthology captures different artist and author takes on the concept of the afterlife.

Cover image of You Died: An Anthology of the Afterlife. There is a skeleton in the background in grey overlaid with pale mushrooms and bright red flowers in the foreground.
Cover Image: The Mushrooms and Moths depicted glow in the dark.

Forward by: Caitlin Doughty. Caitlin has written multiple books on the subjects surrounding death and has an incredible YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi5iiEyLwSLvlqnMi02u5gQ.

Contributors to the Anthology: Holly Adkins, Ahueonao, Jordan Alsaqa, Shae Beagle, Luyi Bennett, Sally Cantirino, Se Case, Danielle Emile Varona Chuatico, Angela Cole, Dani Colman (Jackie Crofts, Rhandi Fisher, Grace Fong, Casey Gilly, Ale Green, Karoline Grønvik, Maddie Kathleen, Laura Ketcham, Megan Lavey-Heaton, Jeremy Lawson, A. ‘Miru’ Lee, Kirstin Lee, Juliette G.M.M. Lopez, James Maddox. Isabelle Melançon, Oliver Northwood, Rhiannon Rasmussen, Fanny Rodriguez, Nadia Shammas, Lisa Sterle, Raina Telgemeier, M.Cat.White, Letty Wilson, James F. Wright, Cheryl Young

This comic was published in March of 2021 and was part of a Kickstarter campaign by Iron Circus Comics. It is safe to say the topic of death has been on many minds in the wake of the global pandemic. It certainly was on the minds of the attendees, and in the wake of our collective COVID exhaustion, we embarked on a lively discussion about the anthology as well as death itself.

Some stories in the anthology flourished in a graphic form: Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld was one such story that was captured well by this medium. There was welcome humor found in many of the stories as well, such as Funeral in Foam by Casey Gilly & Raina Telgemeier. The group discussed at length the repetition present among many of these stories: through companions explaining death, the notion of letting go and moving on, and even within the concepts of an afterlife. While we appreciated the idea that much of our experience and experiences with death may be quite similar, we felt more BIPOC experiences of grief and death were missing.

Shows a panel from "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld" in which the character Ninshubur is offering supplication to her mistress Inanna. Panel is in greyscale.
From Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld, by Ahueonao, page 21

What this work did more than anything else was open our group up to a lovely conversation surrounding our own feelings about death. Where might we want our bodies to go, perhaps a body composting facility, cremated and scattered, laid with others we once knew? We contemplated how we wanted to be remembered, if at all, and what honoring someone in death ought to look like. This meeting produced a spirit of kinship as part of such a complex and personal conversation, and I enjoyed our ability to discuss and share what our own short story might reveal about our connection with death.

Further reading recommended on the theme of death by members of the group were the following:

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

The group also created a Spotify list comprised of our ‘funeral songs” or music we listened to when we contemplated death. Feel free to listen here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5Xf1qV333eZU03bAKTR9PO?si=310e9ac3b8c9429e

November Meeting Recap: Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Chosen by Kelli Trei, notes by J.J. Pionke

The November, 2021 meeting of the U-C Comics Colloquium discussed Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá.  This Eisner Award winner came out in 2011 and was based on a limited series from 2010.  The book is a meditation on the meaning of life and how life happens to us when we aren’t thinking about it or looking for it.  Beautifully drawn and colored, each chapter evokes the story and emotions of the life of Brás.  The chapters are loosely connected but also end in Brás’ death each time, making for an examination on life and death.

A scene from Daytripper showing a father telling his son about life and death
A panel from Daytripper (p. 218) in which Brás talks to his son about life and death.

The group focused on a variety of topics, including but not limited to, misogyny, sexism, racism, magical realism, patriarchy, the presence of family and how the main characters are and are not involved, and the meaning of life.  There was a spirited debate about culture and time, especially since the stories of the book take place in South America and the book came out 10 years ago.  We also discussed how death played out in the book and how sometimes the deaths were entirely contrived and sometimes they were not.  While there is a lot of problematic events within the book, the overall feeling from the group, for the most part, was that the book was gorgeously drawn and colored and that the story/ies, in their magical realism, narrate the many lives of Brás in ways that delineate that life is essentially what happens when you aren’t paying attention.

October Meeting Recap: Sarah Andersen, Fangs (2020)

Chosen by Cait Coker, notes by Shawn Gilmore

The cover of "Fangs" by Sarah Anderson.
The cover of “Fangs” by Sarah Anderson.

The October meeting of the U-C Comics Colloquium focused on Sarah Andersen’s Fangs (Andrews McMeel, 2020). Best known for the “Sarah’s Scribbles” webcomic, Andersen here presents a loose story of the early stages of a romance between Jimmy, a werewolf, and Elsie, a vampire. Punctuated by gags (“Did you ever date a vampire?” “Yeah! He sucked.”) and relationship foibles big and small (accidentally eating garlic before a kiss), Jimmy and Elsie’s relationship develops, with only a few conflicts along the way. Fangs is presented in a lovely, minimal style, in staccato vignettes, helping to contribute to the lightness of the narrative, which jumps forward quickly and easily.

Our discussion focused on the charms of the book, particularly how the story avoids some of the genre traps that can make sure stories both dour and dire. Described by members of the colloquium as “sweet” and “lovely,” Fangs rejects the trappings on something like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, pushed away by Elise on page 77, in favor of playing out the simple (and silly) pleasures of a new and evolving relationship. Matters like consent and relationship trauma are deftly addressed along the way, presented not as burdens, but as natural aspects of the interplay to two individuals coming to understand one another.

Examples of panels from "Fangs" showing the artist's style.
A vampire-werewolf meet-cute from the first pages of “Fangs”.

Though a somewhat slight book, Fangs proved to be a pre-Halloween hit, combining charming content and presentation, while avoiding the problems such a narrative might have contained.

September Meeting Recap: Sweet on Sweet Tooth

By: Scott Zrebiec

This month we had the pleasure of reading Sweet Tooth. Sweet Tooth effectively employed interesting artistic and story elements to create a dark post-apocalyptic tale. It was enjoyed by all present. 

Cover image of Sweet Tooth Book One
Cover image of Sweet Tooth Book One by Jeff Lemire.

The story is a complicated take on a post-apocalyptic world, where all adults are dying of an illness while all children are born with heads that have animal characteristics. A central theme of the story is the clash between the callousness of the remaining adult population and the innocence of the neglected and abused kids. At times the work feels like other apocalyptic stories, e.g. The Road, The Walking Dead or Y: The Last Man, but it differentiates itself well in the conflict between adults and children and being focused on discovering what is going on, rather than just being a story of accepting and surviving a hostile world. Additionally, it is a story about Gus growing up and overcoming adversity.

The art of the comic book is key to the success of the story. The world is built up through techniques such as the use of light to display the darkness of the setting or the use of gore to show the violence and Gus’ powerlessness in the face of foes. Another frequently used interesting style creates fluid dream/hypnosis sequences, e.g. showing characters explore a character’s memories by taking a trip along his antlers, or showing Jeppard shooting Bambi in a dream sequence. The drawing is also consistently interesting: it is one part abstract and three parts realistic, with surreal sequences. Given the role that the art had in building the story, it will be interesting to see how effective Netflix’s adaptation is, which will be viewed by the group at a later date.  

Monstrous Women in Comics: A Conversation with Samantha Langsdale

The U-C Comics Colloquium, The University of Illinois Library, and the Humanities Research Institute invite you to

Book Cover

Monstrous Women In Comics:
A Conversation with

Dr. Samantha Langsdale

February 18, 2021
7:30 p.m. Central

Samantha Langsdale is a Research Fellow with the Department of Rhetoric and the Program for Critical Theory at the University of California Berkeley. Monstrous Women in Comics (2020, University Press of Mississippi), co-edited with Elizabeth Rae Coody, explores the coding of woman as monstrous and how the monster as dangerously evocative of women/femininity/the female is exacerbated by the intersection of gender with sexuality, race, nationality, and disability. To analyze monstrous women is not only to examine comics, but also to witness how those constructions correspond to women’s real material experiences.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Register Here

February Comics Brunch: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Join us for our discussion of Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ryan Estrada, and illustrator Hyung-Jo Ko. Iron Circus Comics, 9781945820427, 192pp.
Publication Date: May 19, 2020.

Saturday, February 13, 2021 11:30 a.m.

In BANNED BOOK CLUB, Hyun Sook shares a dramatic true story of political division, fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, the death of democratic institutions, and the relentless rebellion of reading.

To receive the Zoom information, subscribe to the U-C Comics Colloquium List.

Reflections on Captain America

Reading Truth: Red, White and Black and Winter in America

Over a year into our colloquium and we finally dip our toes into the world of superhero comics. Captain America is one of the classic figures in American comics, first appearing in March 1941 (cover-date; first sold in December 1940) punching Hitler on the jaw, briefly resurrecting in 1950s in an ill-conceived anti-Communist title, and then being re-introduced in main Marvel continuity in 1963 by Stan Lee. In the nearly six decades since, Cap has consistently reckoned with America’s own problematic legacy on the national and world stage while forever remaining the “Man Out of Time.” The titles we read for our meeting,  Truth: Red, White and Black (Robert Morales, 2003) and Winter in America (Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2018) both engage with Cap’s legacy in the twenty-first century.

Captain America Punches Hitler: "Smashing thru, CAPTAIN AMERICA came face to face with Hitler..."
Captain America’s 1941 debut, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Continue reading “Reflections on Captain America”

African Futurism Comics Brunch

For our July meetup, we’re meeting a little earlier in the day for a comics brunch. We’re reading Laguardia, by Nnedi Okorafor with Tana Ford and James Devlin. We’re also reading/viewing a couple of supplementary items to get Okorafor’s view on Africanfuturism.

Saturday, July 25, 2020 11:00 Central Time.

And, since it’s hot out and to help us get into the spirit of things, here’s a list of some African cocktails, many with non-alcoholic variants.

Contact the organizers to get added to the group for Zoom details.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Our October meet up is Saturday, October 12, 2:00 p.m. at Riggs Beer Company in Urbana.

October is LGBT History Month, so for our October meet up, we’re reading the queer YA graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Illustrator). We’ll be back in the game room at Riggs on Saturday, October 12 at 2:00 p.m.

To set up our conversation, Uni High Library GA Cynthia Medrano Torres shared a reflection on the book:

Continue reading “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me”

They Called Us Enemy and Citizen 13660

For our September meeting we read They Called Us Enemy, the 2019 graphic novel by George Takei, along with excerpts from Miné Tokubo’s 1946 graphic narrative Citizen 13660. The U-C Zine Library hosted the meet up. While we found Tokubo’s classic work compelling, Takei’s graphic novel didn’t quite make the grade.

Continue reading “They Called Us Enemy and Citizen 13660”