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December 05, 2010, 2:30 PM

The Art of the Graphic Novel

Participants: Lynda Barry, Hillary Chute (moderator), N.C. Christopher Couch, Ben Katchor, Françoise Mouly

The underground comics movement in the 1960s and '70s and the avant-garde RAW magazine in the '80s and '90s established comics as an important medium for storytelling and self-expression. Since then the field has opened in many new directions. Today there are cartoonists such as Joe Sacco publishing four-hundred-page works of comics journalism about Gaza, and Alison Bechdel publishing comics-form book reviews in The New York Times Book Review. An unprecedented critical and popular interest in "graphic novels," book-length fiction in comics, has emerged in recent years. Why is there such enthusiasm about comics in our current moment, and where is the form headed? What can this intricate, double-tracked narrative form, composed of words and images, bring to journalism, or to memoir, or to the art of fiction? How are politics and aesthetics intertwined in comics, and how are popular and so-called high cultures melded in the form? This roundtable will bring together some of the foremost cartoonists, publishers, and critics in the field to explore current and future avenues for the comics form—its strengths and capacities, and where it is headed.

Lynda Barry has worked as a painter, cartoonist, writer, illustrator, playwright, editor, commentator, and teacher—and found they are very much alike. She is the creator behind Ernie Pook's Comeek, featuring the incomparable Marlys and Freddy, as well as the books One! Hundred! Demons!, The! Greatest! of! Marlys!, Cruddy: An Illustrated Novel, Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies! Naked Ladies!, and The Good Times are Killing Me, which was adapted as an off-Broadway play and won the Washington State Governor's Award. Her bestselling book What It Is won the Eisner Award for Best Reality Based Graphic Novel and the R.R. Donnelly Award for highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author. Forthcoming from Drawn and Quarterly Publications is a multivolume collection of Barry's seminal comic strip, which was syndicated across North America in alternative weeklies for two decades; her next prose novel; and the creative drawing companion to What It Is, entitled Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book.

Hillary Chute is the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Chicago. Previously, she was a Junior Fellow in literature at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She is the author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics, and Associate Editor of the project MetaMaus, by Art Spiegelman, coming out in 2011 from Pantheon. She was a contributing editor on graphic narrative for the latest edition of the Heath Anthology of American Literature, and her essays have appeared in American Periodicals, The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, Literature and Medicine, Mfs: Modern Fiction Studies, PMLA, Postmodern Culture, Twentieth-Century Literature, and WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, among others. Chute has also written on comics and culture for The Village Voice and The Believer, and is the founder of the Modern Language Association's discussion group on Comics and Graphic Narratives.

N.C. Christopher Couch is an art historian who teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is the author of several books and articles on Latin American art, and on graphic novels and comic art, including The Will Eisner Companion: The Pioneering Spirit of the Father of the Graphic Novel (with Stephen Weiner), Will Eisner: A Retrospective (with Peter Myer), Faces of Eternity: Masks of the Pre-Columbian Americas, and The Festival Cycle of the Aztec Codex Borbonicus. He has curated exhibitions at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, the American Museum of Natural History, the Americas Society, the Oklahoma Air and Space Museum, and the Smith College Museum of Art. He was senior editor at Kitchen Sink Press and editor-in-chief at CPM Manga. Current publications include the edited volume Conversations with Harvey Kurtzman, and a book on Batman artist and editorial cartoonist Jerry Robinson.

Ben Katchor's picture-stories and drawings have appeared in the Forward, Metropolis Magazine, and The New Yorker. His weekly strips include Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer; The Jew of New York; The Cardboard Valise; Hotel & Farm; and, most recently, Shoehorn Technique. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and was awarded fellowships at The American Academy in Berlin and the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Katchor's libretto and drawings for The Carbon Copy Building, a collaboration with Bang on a Can, received an Obie Award for Best New American Work. More recently, he has collaborated with musician Mark Mulcahy on The Rosenbach Company, a musical biography; The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, which won an Obie Award in 2008; and A Checkroom Romance. He is an Associate Professor at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City.

Françoise Mouly founded Raw Books & Graphics in 1977 and published the pioneering avant-garde comics anthology RAW, which she co-edited along with her husband, cartoonist Art Spiegelman. RAW first brought acclaim to artists Charles Burns, Sue Coe, Gary Panter, Chris Ware, Lorenzo Mattotti, Joost Swarte, Xavier Mariscal, and many others. Mouly joined The New Yorker as art editor in April 1993. In 2000 she launched a RAW junior division, publishing books of comics for kids by star writers, children's book artists, and cartoonists, including Maurice Sendak, Paul Auster, Ian Falconer, David Sedaris, Jules Feiffer, Lemony Snicket, Gahan Wilson, and Neil Gaiman. In the spring of 2008, Ms. Mouly launched TOON Books, her own imprint of hardcover comics for emerging readers.

This program is supported in part by funds from the New York Council for the Humanities, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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