Conference to bring together influential cartoonists

Susan Allen
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesUniversity Communications

Update: 'Comics: Philosophy & Practice' will be webcast live on May 18-20. More information is available here.

An upcoming conference at the University of Chicago will bring together 17 world-renowned cartoonists for three days of discussion and public conversation about the past and future of graphic narrative. “Comics: Philosophy & Practice” will take place May 18-20 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

This unprecedented gathering is the first in an annual series of conferences sponsored by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, a major new arts initiative aimed at fostering creative innovation at the intersection of academic inquiry and artistic practice. Artists attending the conference will include Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Lynda Barry, New Yorker art director Françoise Mouly and numerous artists who have created cover illustrations for the New Yorker.

"This is a historic gathering of the generation of cartoonists who defined the contemporary field, and I’m so pleased it is taking place at a university that has been a longtime location for word and image studies,” said Hillary Chute, the conference organizer.

Chute, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature, is a leading expert on the study of comics and the associate editor of Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus. She is the author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics, which analyzes the work of conference participants Barry, Alison Bechdel, Phoebe Gloeckner and Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

The conference will feature lectures, panel discussions, public conversations and a workshop with Barry, creator of the influential comic strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek. Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic narrative Maus, will deliver the conference’s opening lecture, “What the %$#! Happened to Comics,” on Friday, May 18. On Saturday, May 19, Françoise Mouly will join noted cartoonists Crumb, Chris Ware and Dan Clowes to discuss her book Blown Covers and the process of creating the New Yorker’s distinctive cover art. 

Other events include a public conversation between Chute and conference co-organizer Alison Bechdel; a panel discussion on the aesthetics of comics with Barry, Crumb, Ivan Brunetti, AB’89, and Gary Panter; and a lecture by Ben Katchor, author of the long-running comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. Katchor is the first cartoonist to have won a MacArthur “genius” award.

“The conference participants are not just groundbreaking practitioners of comics, they’re also people who have thought very incisively about what comics are over the past couple of decades. Getting them all together in the same place is a rare chance to deepen and refine the conversation about what it means to tell stories with words and pictures. It’s still such a new and mysterious frontier,” said Bechdel. She wrote and illustrated the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and is the author of the graphic memoir Fun Home and the forthcoming Are You My Mother?

Bechdel and Chute organized the conference as the culminating event of their Mellon Residential Fellowship for Arts Practice and Scholarship. This Gray Center initiative, which is sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, pairs scholars and practicing artists, and provides support for transformative collaborative projects. Bechdel and Chute are among the Gray Center’s inaugural Mellon Fellows for Arts Practice and Scholarship.

Among their activities as Mellon fellows, Bechdel and Chute will jointly teach a seminar at UChicago during spring quarter and undertake a collaborative exploration of the aesthetics and practices of producing a graphic memoir. 

“This summit meeting not only brings together an extraordinary group of artists, but also engages them and their work in a conversation with a cross-section of scholars from a variety of fields,” said David J. Levin, Professor of Germanic Studies, Theater & Performance Studies, and Cinema & Media Studies, who serves as the Gray Center’s inaugural director.  

The conference will take place at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, a new hub of arts activity on the UChicago campus. Set to open for classes and limited events this spring, the interdisciplinary arts facility houses classrooms, studios, rehearsal rooms, as well as exhibition and performance spaces. A grand opening celebration is scheduled for this fall. “Comics: Philosophy and Practice” will be the first major conference held in the Logan Center.

“Comics: Philosophy and Practice” is free and open to the public. Registration is required and will open on Friday, April 13. For more information on registration and a list of participants, please visit the conference website.