Greetings from Hoth! #mla17

The first big development of 2017 is the MLA conference which is taking place in Philadelphia. It’s excellent to attend a major conference without having to travel. However, this does entail regular turn-arounds in the neighborhood to walk the dog.

Actual photograph from Philadelphia.

The panel I participated in was Graphic Queer/Queer Graphics: Seriality and Sexuality in Graphic Form. It was organized by my esteemed colleague, Dr. Ramzi Fawaz, author of The New Mutants, one of the leading lights in queer & comics studies. I presided on the panel, giving me the honor of introducing these awesome scholars to our assembled peers. Something notable about our presentations: we all utilized the scholarship of José Esteban Muñoz, and several of us are fellow travelers of Queers & Comics.

1. “Serial Sex: Intimacy as Method and the Polaroid’s Queer Aesthetic Legacies,” Ricardo Montez

Ricardo Montez is Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at the New School for Public Engagement where he developed and chaired the curricular programs in Race and Ethnicity and Gender and Sexuality.  He is currently completing a monograph on the artist Keith Haring titled Keith Haring’s Line: Race and the Performance of Desire.

2. “Meanwhile: Passing Time with Danny the Street: Theorizing Trans-temporality with Doom Patrol,” Kadin Henningsen

Kadin Henningsen is currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he works on American literature and print culture. He holds a Masters in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance Art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

3. “The Pornographic Aesthetics of Fluidity in Comix,” Yetta Howard

Yetta Howard is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. Howard specializes in sexuality/gender studies and visual/auditory cultures of the American underground. Some of her work has appeared in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. Her book manuscript, Ugly Differences: Queer Female Sexuality in the Underground, is under contract with the University of Illinois Press.

4. “Desiring Blackness: A Motivated Reading of the Value of Black Panther, 1998-2016,” andré carrington (it’s ya boy!)

We enjoyed cooperative projector technology, which was essential given the visual nature of all our work. One thing that I’ve underscored in my writing, lately, is how juxtaposition serves as an important method, pedagogically and rhetorically, that we can learn from by studying comics. This was certainly the case for our panel.

Some reflections:

We all learned a great deal about how the construction of sexuality (and desire more broadly, and subjectivity more broadly, and identification more broadly) plays out in culture from our engagement with comics and comics-like forms.

At first glance, you have to stretch to reconcile Polaroids, alternative comix/underground comix, mainstream superhero comics, and comics-derived movies. But the questions of seriality and temporality that we all broached in our research are mutually informative. We also have in common specific attention to the graphic illustration of gendered and sexualized bodies–and places and objects, too!

Several of us made reference to film at various times, but I didn’t find that this discussion required borrowing terms from cinema studies. You’d think the study of comics would rely on mise-en-scene criticism, right? But there was very little investment in reproducing a specialized/stylized critical vocabulary. The most deliberate gestures to that effect occurred in Howard and Henningsen’s presentations, which broke down quite disparate terms: “rhizome” and “money shot.”

Finally, this presentation and the ongoing collegiality I’m privileged to enjoy with Ramzi Fawaz, Jen Camper, and Ivan Velez, Jr., are deepening my confidence in the forward-looking quality of work that learns from comics. I’ve turned a little ways away from queer as an analytical objective–one of my contentions in my interpretation of Black Panther is that the ontological (sorry) questions posed by Black being and presence are a source of deep trouble for queer theorization and methodologies. When it comes to learning from and doing popular culture, I have a different investment in Blackness than I have in queerness, and I think there’s a critical rationale for that in the body of scholarship that encompasses Muñoz’s “queer futurity,” Sara Ahmed’s “queer phenomenology,” and Christina Sharpe‘s “blackness and being,” as well as other work that’s alternately Afrofuturist and Afropessimist, by Alex Weheliye and Greg Thomas. To be continued.