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Blog: Academic Experimentalism

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I spent a large chunk of Saturday at WORK this weekend... or at an old work anyway. For LO! I was attending Transitions 8, the Comics Studies conference that takes place at Birkbeck College where I spent MANY years in gainful employment. It was slightly odd being back there, although it was reassuring that, even after so long away, I was still able to get Mildly Lost trying to get to another floor. Some things never change!

The highpoint of the day for me was right at the start, when Dr M Gray gave the keynote which was party about her book on Alan Moore but also contained a range of "beefs" she has about the field of Comics Studies. It was all very politely done, including the complaint that Comics Studies is too polite. She was saying, as I understood it at least, that the FIELD should be more confident in itself so that different theories/schools/ideas could argue with each other, rather than all trying to be Team Comics. She also mentioned that Comics Studies had a lot of FORMALISM in it (i.e. talking about the structure, the panels, the FORM of comics rather than what's in them or how they came to be or what they MEAN), to the detriment of other areas of interest, which led to people throughout the rest of the day saying "Sorry, I'm a formalist" in a very polite way. It was dead good to have something right at the beginning which put the cat amongst the pigeons a little bit, and rather pleasantly WARPED all the talks for the rest of the day.

I am very much NOT a formalist so I must admit I did find some of the talks about... well, formalist, but there was plenty of good stuff too. My main concern, I must confess, was my OWN talk, which was coming at the end of the day. When I first arrived the organisers came over to apologise for sticking me and my fellow PhD-er Mr G Lawley on at the end, and then for the fact that they'd had to move around various parallel sessions so that we were the only thing on in that last slot. "You mean we're HEADLINING?" I asked. Apparently you CAN look at it that way, but i don't think anybody else was.

When our session finally came it was, to be honest, GRATE fun. Guy did an EXTREMELY interesting talk about the history of American comic books before Superman, which consisted, amazingly, of only five years of STUFF. There were descriptions of Cultural Production, there were interesting What Ifs, and there was a demonstration of How Comics Are Made using a folded up broadsheet newspaper that was FASCINATING, also ILLUMINATING!

My talk was called "Doctor Doom as The Avatar Of Supervillainy In Not Brand Echh" and it was based on a bunch of BLOGS wot I'd written a while back for my Marvel Age Doom blog. I was a bit NERVOUS about it because I was trying a different presentation technique, as I've always been a bit disappointed in how my previous comics talks have worked out. For each one I'd pretty much written the whole thing down and then read it out - I've done my best to LOOK UP and engage a bit, but someone reading off a piece of paper is always a bit DULL, and I always think that if you're going to WRITE a paper then the best thing to do would be to ask people to READ it themselves, so I was determined to improve my SKILLZ in this regard.

I've also been doing quite a lot of presentations at WORK since I started my current job, and that's really made me see that it's better to try and say LESS in order to get more Actual Information across. ALSO it turns out that slides are NOT just for either a) lists of words or b) Dave Gorman-style gags but can ACTUALLY be used to c) guide YOURSELF through what you're talking about. THUS I tried to carry this over to my Comics talk, and built a set of slides to help ME as well as the audience.

On top of all of that, I wanted to set myself up for something where I could ENJOY myself and tit around a little bit, like what I do at gigs. As it turned out this, and all of the above, TOTALLY happened. It was FAB! There were actual GASPS when I did a slide showing the enormous number of comics I was looking at, which was EXTREMELY gratifying, and at one point I saw a Leading Comics Academic wiping ACTUAL TEARS of LARFTER from his eyes.

I was a bit worried about what would come in the questions, so was a bit surprised when the above Notable Thinker put his hand up and asked "Do you ever find out what's under Doctor Doom's mask?" but luckily I have extensive experience of answering questions like that from my NEPHEW, so was able to fully respond. Someone else asked WHY Marvel thought it could do humour, and where it had come from, and this forced my BRANE to think on the spot and come up with a Fairly Sensible Answer.

What I am trying to say is that it went DEAD WELL and I was, and am, VERY PLEASE about it. It does feel at the moment that all of the Transferable Skillz wot I picked up in all these years of ROCK are finding new homes in other areas, and I have to say that I rather like it!

posted 12/11/2018 by MJ Hibbett

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