Call for Papers — Comics Picturing Girlhood

Sugar and Spice and the Not So Nice: Comics Picturing Girlhood
International Symposium 22- 23 April 2021

Comics have long relied on reinforcing reader identity formation whether through interest, age group or hobbies. Constructed and largely mythical notions of gendered readership consequently became one of the most defining aspects of many of these comics. As gendered products, comics have constructed feminine role models and identities to which girls have replied with both rebellion and conformity. The aim of this symposium is to inspire and promote discourse around comparative constructions of girlhood. This exploration will consider relationships between and influences on European girls’ comics in the twentieth and twenty-first century. We invite paper proposals under four key areas which can include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • Genre and Categorisation. What (un)acceptable genres for what girls? We seek further understanding of the historical, social and economic preferences for and divisions between gendering of different genres through discussion of more familiar genres such as romance, as well as girls’ relationships with less frequently studied genres such as gothic or fantasy/adventure.
  • Representations of Girlhood.  What does the representation and embodiment of girlhood look like in comics? How do comics depict girls’ physicality? We want to examine different kinds of protagonists, alternative identities of girlhood and the impact of female role models and feminine role play. We are especially interested in papers that deal with marginalised identity categories, making explicit room for work on disabled, black, and trans girls, both diegetic (the characters in the texts) and real (the writers, illustrators, editors, researchers).
  • Emotional Impact and Response.   How do emotionally loaded representations of girls such as the coquettish, nymphetic, cute or grotesque impact readers? We invite a re-consideration of both conventional and radical aesthetic notions associated with girlishness which are perpetuated by comics. We additionally strive to illuminate models of good practice in girlhood comics studies by engaging with the problematic ethical and emotional questions of how personal identity, readership and scholarship impact upon one another, and what implications this has.
  • Practices and Interactivity. How do girls play with their comics? Papers could contemplate the differing ways in which children are encouraged to act as more than just readers. Does gender play a role in interactions, whether through scrapbooks or paper doll construction, comics collecting, fandom or letters to the editor?

Please submit a proposal of approximately 400 words for a 20-minute paper, together with a biographical note (100-200 words), to by 15 September 2020. You will be notified of acceptance by or before the 15 of October 2020. The conference language is English. For any questions, please contact us on the above email address.

The keynote lectures will be delivered by Prof. Mel Gibson (Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing, Northumbria University Newcastle), Dr. Julia Round (Faculty of Media and Communication, Bournemouth University)  and Dr. Joe Sutliff Sanders (Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge). The conference will also involve a book presentation by comic artists Valentine Gallardo and Mathilde Van Gheluwe.

This symposium will be organised by Eva Van de Wiele and Dona Pursall, doctoral researchers of the COMICS project: An Intercultural History of Children in Comics from 1865 to Today. The conference will be based at Ghent University, Belgium, if health conditions allow. Arrangements for an online venue will be made if conditions do not allow for an in-person conference, therefore we ask that you commit to presenting a digital version of their papers.

This symposium is part of the COMICS project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 758502)


Andrews, M., & Talbot, M. M. (2000). All the World and Her Husband: Women in the Twentieth-Century Consumer Culture. London: Cassell.

Cross, G. S. (2004). The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture. Oxford University Press.

D’haeyere, H. (2012). Stopping The Show Film Photography in Mack Sennett Slapstick Comedies (1917-1933).

Gibson, M. (2015). Remembered Reading: Memory, Comics and Post-war Constructions of British Girlhood. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Gordon, I. (2016). Kid Comic Strips: A Genre Across Four Countries. New York: Palgrave Pivot.

Hatch, K. (2015). Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood. Rutgers University Press.

Heimermann, M., & Tullis, B. (Eds.). (2017). Picturing Childhood: Youth in Transnational Comics. University of Texas Press.

Ngai, S. (2015). Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

Round, J., (2019). Gothic for Girls: Misty and British Comics. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Smith, F. (2020). Bande de Filles: Girlhood Identities in Contemporary France. New York: Routledge.

Tinkler, P., & Taylor & Francis. (2014). Constructing girlhood: Popular Magazines for Girls Growing up in England, 1920-1950. London: Taylor & Francis.

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