The University of Iowa

Studying superheroes: UI to host ‘Comics, Creativity and Culture’ events throughout fall

September 19th, 2011

University of Iowa News Release

Photos: (top, right) Photo illustration by Tom Jorgensen, UI Communication and Marketing

(bottom, left) Matt Madden (American, b. 1968); Odds Off, Page 117; Highwater Books, 2000; Non-Photo Blue Pencil, ink on Bristol Board; Size: 11″ x 14.5″; Courtesy of UIMA School Programs Collection

This fall, the University of Iowa will bring together students, faculty and the community for a wave of events focused on the ever-growing world of comics — including comic strips, comic books and graphic novels.

The UI will host a wide variety of hands-on activities, exhibitions, discussions and other public events. Leading comic artist-authors and scholars will meet Oct. 5-8 in Iowa City for “Comics, Creativity and Culture: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” a symposium sponsored by the university’s Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, International Programs, and the UI Museum of Art (UIMA).

The symposium is organized by three faculty members in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Ana Merino in Spanish and Portuguese, who teaches courses on Hispanic comics and Jewish presence in comics and is the author of an academic book called “El Cómic Hispánico;” Corey Creekmur in English and Cinema and Comparative Literature, who teaches comics courses through the Center for the Book and is editing a new “Comics Culture” book series from Rutgers University Press; and Rachel Williams in Art and Art History and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, an artist who teaches people to tell stories through comics and also creates her own.

“When you read the best comics, it’s like watching a foreign film with subtitles,” Williams said. “The words become voices in your head, and you don’t realize you’re reading. The brain fills in gaps between the images, very much like film.”

Creekmur said comics feel like one of the last areas of pop culture to be studied, except maybe video games, which comics of course precede by more than a century.

“It’s wide-open territory. There’s still not that much critical work out there,” Creekmur said. “We don’t have a long history of feminist or other critical approaches to comics. We don’t even have an agreed upon formal vocabulary to describe comics conventions — we’re inventing it right now. Take the term ‘comic book.’ Comic books aren’t often comic, and they’re not books — they’re periodicals.”

Merino, who serves on the board of directors of The Center for Cartoon Studies, a Vermont-based MFA and certificate program, said this fall’s symposium will be unique in the academic sense.

“The best comics conferences mix artists and scholars in open dialogue,” she said. “Here we have that opportunity. Corey and Rachel and I are working together like a league of superheroes from all aspects of society. We want to ensure a diversity of artists and materials.”

The free, public events are as follows:

–WorldCanvass on “Comics, Creativity, and Culture” with host Joan Kjaer with guests Creekmur, Merino, Williams, and Kathy Edwards, co-curator of the exhibition and chief curator of the UIMA, among others, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, Old Capitol Senate Chamber. WorldCanvass explores international topics through lively conversation in front of a live studio audience. The show is recorded for broadcast on UITV, Iowa cable television systems, iTunes, Iowa Public Radio and Public Radio Exchange. KRUI-FM provides a live broadcast and video streaming is available online. For more information, visit

–”Graphic Language: The Art and Literature of Comics,” an exhibition of almost 100 pieces of original comics art — from historical figures like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to contemporary artists Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel. Presented by the UI Museum of Art, the exhibit runs Sept. 24 to Dec. 11 at the Iowa Memorial Union’s Black Box Theater, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. A grand opening with the curators will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 in the North Room, IMU.

The exhibit shows the process of creating comics, Creekmur said. Original pages may include all the scribbles and corrections, which are especially illuminating alongside the final version all lettered and often colored.

“The exhibit combines pieces from two or three local collections, ranging from the 1900s up to recent work,” he said. “The fascinating thing is this work wasn’t supposed to be seen in this state, especially the early material. Some originals are amazing next to their final versions. We have a Wally Wood page where you can see the artistry that went into the drawing, much of which was lost in the era’s cheap comic book printing.”

–Reading by Craig Thompson, author/illustrator of “Blankets,” 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, Iowa City Public Library. Thompson will read from his new graphic novel “Habibi.”

–”Conversation and Controversies” discussion of “Footnotes in Gaza” by award-winning comics journalist Joe Sacco, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, Times Club, Prairie Lights Bookstore.

– Comics display at Iowa City Public Library (second floor), October 2011, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

–”Thought Balloons: Talking About Comics,” brown-bag lunch at the UI Main Library’s Comic Book Café, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4. Share thoughts about creating, reading or collecting comics.

–”Comics and Creativity:” A 7th-12th Grade Student/Teacher Workshop, Wednesday, Oct. 5, IMU Main Lounge. The UI Museum of Art is hosting a day of interactive workshops for 7th-12th grade students will include presentations by James Sturm, director of the Center for Cartoon Studies; Jessica Abel, co-author of “Drawing Words and Writing Pictures” and John Porcellino, creator of the long-running mini-comic “King-Cat Comics.”

–Symposium: “Comics, Creativity, and Culture: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” Oct. 5-8. Keynote lectures: underground legend Phoebe Gloeckner, 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, IMU Main Lounge; comics journalist Joe Sacco, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, Shambaugh Auditorium; Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, creators of the influential independent comic “Love and Rockets,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8; Special presentation by Iowa native Craig Yoe on editing and publishing comics, 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, UI Center for the Book, North Hall. Through his company YOE! Books, he has edited and designed many books devoted to reprinting and imaginatively presenting classic comics to modern readers.

–Comic themed First Friday, a monthly reception hosted by the UIMA, at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, Englert Theatre. Bring your super hero attitude and join symposium presenters, curators and others for a light cash bar and refreshments.

–Drawn into Learning workshop, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, Room 2390, University Capitol Centre. UI faculty and teaching assistants can find out how to help students tap into deep learning—and their visual and kinesthetic learning styles—by creating cartoons and comic strips. Led by Rachel Williams and Mark Isham, a cartoonist and an adjunct UI faculty member who uses cartoons to teach processes to engineers and students.

–Political cartooning exhibit, Nov. 9-10, Iowa City Sheraton Hotel lobby (held in conjunction with the UI Public Policy Center’s civil discourse symposium).

For more information, including contacts for and additional details about each individual event, visit

The events are sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Annual Humanities Symposium, an International Programs Major Projects Award, the Arts and Humanities Initiative Conference Grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Ida Beam Visiting Professorship Program, the UI Lecture Committee and the UI Museum of Art. Additional support is provided by the UI Center for the Book, the Iowa Youth Writing Project, Prairie Lights Bookstore, UI Libraries, the Center for Teaching, Daydream Comics, the UI Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry, and the Department of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.