What if superman didn’t exist?

Virtual symposium highlights comics’ role in society

Zachary Rondinelli, a PhD student at Brock University, is an organizer of 80 Years and Beyond: A Virtual Symposium on Canadian Comics. (Supplied photo)

On Oct. 15 and 16, 80 Years and Beyond: A Virtual Symposium on Canadian Comics highlighted speakers from across Canada and brought the world of Canadian comics into the limelight.

The event united over 40 people from academia, the arts and the comics industry to share knowledge and experiences about Canadian comics. There was also discussion about the current and future challenges in the Canadian comics industry, including the need for a national repository for Canadian comics art.

Dr. Candida Rifkind is a University of Winnipeg English professor who specializes in alternative comics and graphic narratives, Canadian popular and political writing and feminist auto/biography theory. She is on the organizing committee for the virtual symposium.

“It’s important for academia to take comics seriously,” Rifkind says in an email to The Uniter. “They are important cultural artifacts that tell us a lot about who we were and are and who we want to be (or don’t want to be). Since the birth of modern newspaper comic strips in the 1890s, comics artists have been telling stories about everyday life as well as huge global events, and comics are just a medium that can carry any kind of story.”

Comics have played a significant role in many lives, even for those who have maybe never picked up a comic book before.

“Comics have not only been shaped by society, but society has been shaped by comics,” Zachary Rondinelli, a PhD student at Brock University and symposium organizer, says in an email to The Uniter.

“I believe that examining and exploring that impact has profound implications for the way we understand our world today. How different would the world be today, for instance, if Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel hadn’t created Superman?”

“This event will be the first gathering of Canadian comics researchers, teachers, artists and industry professionals where we can talk about the past, present and future of comics in this country,” Rifkind says.

“We won’t all agree, and that’s okay, because we need to hear where everyone is coming from to get a sense of the diversity represented by Canadian comics.”

The growth and development of comics over the last 80 years has been major, as social media, new hot topics and the need for equitable representation of all people have impacted the industry.

The organizers of the symposium developed a thoughtful schedule for the event that prompted meaningful conversations about what the world of comics should look like moving forward to ensure everyone can feel represented within the mosaic of Canadian comics.

“Being able to share those viewpoints and discuss the nuances of how and where these processes happen can only lead to a meaningful symposium, I think,” Rondinelli says. “Bringing us all together like this also breaks down invisible barriers that can sometimes be created ... we want to celebrate everyone who is a part of this wonderful tapestry of Canadian comics!”

Published in Volume 76, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 21, 2021)

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