CFP: Enabling and Disability Comics for/about Young People: Within the Panels and Without

In 2020, Amiens will be the European Youth Capital (Amiens for Youth). On that occasion and for the year of Comics, the University of Picardy is organizing, in association with the universities of Artois, Lille and Brighton, and with the association “On a marché sur la bulle” a three-day interdisciplinary conference on “Comics and Youth” on 3rd, 4th and 5th June 2020.

The research group CORPUS (Conflict, Representation and Dialogue in the English-speaking World, EA 4295) of the University of Picardy is planning an international study day on the representation of disability in comics about and/or for young people in Amiens on Friday 5th 2020.

Comics and graphic novels have recently become privileged media to express the experience of living with a physical or learning disability, and to increase the readers’ awareness of physical or mental a-typicality. With their focus on action and communication, comic books engage with mobility and physical impairment, relational disorders, mood disorders and isolation. Because of the sequential nature of the comic structure, they lend themselves to life writing, with its phases of initiation and the problems associated to the construction of identity. Pictures allow an approach to disability that is immediate and accessible, while preserving the appropriate distance. Chris Ware’s Building Stories broke new ground in 2012 as the heroine’s disability, which is hardly ever mentioned in the text and remains visually discreet, plays a major role in the construction of the stories.

Whether it be in the ever-renewed form of the graphic novel or the album format, comics possess creative possibilities that help address the challenge of representing disability while defying stereotypes, even in the case of visual impairment (Helen Keller et Annie Sullivan, 2013). According to Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, comics “explore the generative elasticity of human embodied experience” in a pleasurable way (Foss, ed., xiii). The stylization of comic characters creates difference and singularity, but it also facilitates the identification of the reader, thus allowing the experience of impairment to become universal. While Cece Bell’s El Deafo (2014) is set in a naively-drawn bunny world, the graphic novel is suited to both children and adults: the rabbits’ ears foreground Cece’s focus on her hearing impairment and hearing aids, yet they also facilitate the reader’s engagement with her interrogations about true friendship and her quest for a true friend.

The history of comics does not make it a likely showcase for limitations, disappointments and failure; comics are frequently associated with ability, even super-powers. However, some previous comic heroes, such as Daredevil, Oracle and Professor X, have overcome their disabilities, and many superheroes rely on technical aids. Today’s comics are revisiting their superheroic past to create male and female heroes whose impairments are integrated into positive self-images and successful lives, or who turn their disabilities into an advantage (Blue Ear, Department of Ability). By renewing didactic forms, comic books have confirmed that they need to be made available to everyone.

Internet has probably helped in the creation, publishing and advertisement of these texts by making it easier for people to relate to one another, to build communities and networks, as well as through the creation of online publishing tools and crowdfunding (Les Dessins du silence, 2018). These are trends in which young people have been particularly involved.

We welcome papers in English or French on comics and graphic novels in English or French. Possible topics include but are not limited to:

–        Authors with a disability

–        Disability and life-writing

–        Disability awareness, disability confidence, commitment to disability inclusion

–        Rewritings and revision

–        Comics in the classroom

Please send proposals (300 words) for 20-minute papers and a biographical notice to N. Saudo-Welby (nathalie.saudo [at] u-picardie.fr) by January 5th 2020.

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