Temple University Hosts One-Day Conference On Social and Political Influence of Comics

Temple University's College of Liberal Arts held a one-day conference, GRAPHIC THINKING, examining important social and political questions  through the lens and medium of comics and graphic illustration. The conference featured five panel discussions and two historical exhibits with the aim to understand and reconize the value of liberal arts - critical thinking and analysis - in the contemporary world. With a highlights on free speech and censorship, careers in Liberal Arts, representation and identity, and comic illustration, style, and technique, the panels provided a wealth of information about real-world social issues and how they relate to the comics format.

The featured historical exhibits were put together by Paley Library Special Collections and the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, and showcased African American culture and experience through the comics medium throughout history. In addition to the panels, these exhibits aimed to explore how graphic and visual communication changes people's perception of the world. “It’s an intersection of ‘comix,’ society and academia,” said Paley Library Special Collections curator JT Waldman, a Philadelphia-based digital designer. 

The spelling change of comics to comix debuted in the 1960s and refers to the subgenre of "underground" comic books that incorporate more mature themes like sex, drugs, and violence to express the modern world of the time. “It became a way of showing it was adult and not funny like newspaper comics,” said Waldman, who got involved with the exhibit through connections in the Honors Program according to The Temple News

Diane Turner, curator for the Blockson Collection, focused on the same theme for the second exhibit during the conference, focusing on items that date back to the 1940s and include political and social issues in their content. One such item was the political illustrations from Oliver Harringotn, a 20th-century Black satirist and cartoonist, work by Jackie Ormes, the first African-American woman cartoonist, the series of graphic novels March by Georgia congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, as well as the rebooted Marvel comic book series Black Panther.

“[These creators] were trying to make history accessible to young people,” Turner said of the graphic and comics medium.” And the inclusion of the modern day Black Panther "gives us the opportunity to revisit and reintroduce African-American superheroes," she continued. "As opposed to African-American criminal stereotypical images that are applied to the whole group."

Dustin Kidd, a sociology professor at Temple University, also supported the use of graphic novels as an importatn teaching tool. “It helps us engage in the parts of literature that we often forget to engage [in],” Kidd said. “This show explores new ways to solve problems, be creative and think about the world.” 

“In terms of teaching, it is critical to be able to explain, and then eradicate, Black stereotypes in popular culture related to both race and gender," Walden added. She continued by explaining the impact of graphic art has an extensive history of African-Americans being assaulted in popular culture through the harmful images or exclusion in narratives overall. “It’s important to include unrepresented artists in comics and illustrations in order to move beyond the stereotypes of traditional comic art,” Turner said. “It is imperative to highlight the rich expressions of Black artists both past and present. This gives us the opportunity to do that.”

The GRAPHIC THINKING conference reflected the College of Liberal Arts and Intellectual Heritage group's semester theme, and was open to all current undergraduate and graduate students. Panelists included Melissa Hamilton, Director of Community Enegagement, CultureWorks; Ariell Johnson, Owner, Amalgam Comics; ennifer Turnbull, Interim Executive Artistic Director, SpiralQ; Steve Burns, Project Director, Apiary Magazine. 

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