DRAWING A LINE / ESTABLISHING CONNECTIONS
The comics research group ACME (University of Liege) is pleased to present their forthcoming conference entitled “Independent Comics Worldwide. Drawing a Line / Establishing Connections”. Held at the University of Liege, Belgium, from Wed 16 to Fri 18 November 2011, the conference seeks to discuss comics (including graphic novels) from all over the world in their most innovative, subversive or dissident manifestations by focusing on the publishing structures – independent or claiming to be – hosting them.
As a consequence of the rationalizing of means in the publishing business, in concert with the emergence of new participants in the sector (heavy industry, communication groups, investment banks), a more profit-oriented mentality has severely changed the principles governing the production and distribution of cultural goods in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The demand for economic guarantees now underpins harsher editorial gatekeeping practices and has created a threshold for works that are deemed less likely to bring in the financial revenues the publisher counts upon.
Reacting against such economic strategies, new structures have surfaced in order to challenge the existing system. Whether they are called “independent”, “alternative”, “underground” or “avant-garde”, these initiatives share a common goal in their activities. They are dedicated to the development of an original catalogue, in which thematic and aesthetic otherness is considered a plus. Moreover, they firmly believe in the “small is beautiful” approach to publishing.Following the examples set by painting, cinema and music, the publishing business, in its broadest sense, thus seems to have reached a point of self-contradiction.
Part and parcel of the publishing industry, comics have likewise undergone the effects of the janus-headed couple commercialization/rebellion and the fracturing of allegiance it entails. In the Franco-Belgian scene of the 1990s, a wave of independent publishing houses such as L’Association, Cornelius, Amok, Fréon, ego comme x or Les Requins Marteaux, defended the possibility of a “different” kind of comics. Assuredly, these publishing structures had their precursors, one thinks for instance of Futuropolis, les Éditions du Fromage, Audie or Artefact and their attempts at contravening a status quo established by an order all too intent on defending its own premises. Unprecedented in the 1990s was the emergence of a group of self-conscious publishers whose raison d’être was, and still is, a willingness to counterbalance the massive industrialization of comics. This group — or should we call it a generation — drew a line under standardized business practice, under traditions and codes of mainstream comics, but also established its own connections with chosen predecessors, local peers or similar enterprises abroad.
Straddling all frontiers, similar reactions against the norm have emerged elsewhere. The underground movement that developed in the U.S. at the end of the 1960s, for example, has given rise to important publishers such as Kitchen Sink Press or (a little later) Fantagraphics Books. From the 1980s onwards, these publishers were home to “alternative” comics. The authors of these comics went on to become key figures of the “graphic novel”. But apart from new authors, this new kind of publishers also reprinted and rehabilitated chosen predecessors. Moreover, professional self-publishing and a vivid scene of “minicomics” — either xeroxed or published online — have extended the field of possibilities for American cartoonists who wanted to make comics without resorting to the ubiquitous studio system.
Without denying the particularities of each geographic area, it can nevertheless be affirmed that the independent movement in comics is currently a worldwide phenomenon, in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, in Italy or Switzerland and, outside Europe as well, in Asia, America or even South Africa.
Inspired by this creative rebirth, the conference “Independent Comics Worldwide. Drawing a Line / Establishing Connections” seeks to discuss comics and graphic novels from all over the world in their most innovative, subversive or dissident manifestations by focusing on the publishing structures – independent or claiming to be – hosting them.
A first panel of the conference will discuss the concepts that are called upon to make sense of this new aesthetic vitality in comics. However interchangeable they may seem to be, the terms “independent”, “alternative” “underground” or “avant-garde” (often set in contradistinction with “mainstream” or the French “BD”) are not devoid of connotations or prejudices in certain types of discourse. Unravelling the complexities of this terminological profusion and the agenda behind its uses becomes therefore an urgent task.
A second panel will analyse the stylistic and thematic similarities and contrasts that can be observed among countries and regions, as well as independents in distinct publishing houses. On a formal level, possible points of comparison include the increased page count, the preference for black and white and/or for pictorial or minimalist drawing styles, and so on. On a thematic level, the tendency towards introspection, the exploration of unfamiliar types of realism, the inclination towards political activism or towards gender-related themes are possible angles from which to approach the production of both authors and publishing houses.
A third panel will tackle the socioeconomic and political aspects of independent comics worldwide. Possible topics are the nature of the independent character in relation, for instance, to a powerful industry, an insecure market or an intrusive authority, the diversity of technical methods used by the publishing structures (production, distribution and commercialization), the appreciation of and support for these structures by public institutions (if any), the collaborative efforts made by these structures (if any), the possibilities of contacts abroad (translation or others: rights markets, festivals, informal contacts) or the ways to legitimize and collect their aesthetic experimentations (targeted anthologies, book fairs and festivals or thematic exhibitions).
Please e-mail anonymous abstracts of about 300 words (in English or French) to firstname.lastname@example.org before March 15th, 2011. Please send one file (MS Word or pdf) with the abstract on one page and the contact details on another.
Notification of acceptance: May 1st, 2011.
Conference languages: English and French.