Comic book conference marks 70th year of Superman

BOWLING GREEN, O.—To mark the 70th anniversary of Superman’s debut, the Center for Popular Culture Studies in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University will host a conference Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24 and 25, on “The Comic Book in Popular Culture.”

One of few art forms pioneered in the United States, the comic book first gained widespread popularity with the publication of Action Comics #1 in 1938. The debut of Superman in that issue forever changed American iconography and popular culture, and arguably changed the way Americans think of themselves and their relationship to the rest of the world. Superman opened the floodgates of the imagination, and led a vanguard of costumed characters in a propaganda victory against the Axis powers in World War II. Captain America slugged Adolf Hitler on the cover of his comic book months before Pearl Harbor.

“People around the world have always had an interest in heroes,” said Dr. Angela Nelson, chair of the popular culture department. “There are so many religious, cultural and ethnic connections.”

People the world over also enjoy comics, she added. “It seems to speak to people to see a story in a visual style, and comic themes are also often based on moral values.”

Dr. Charles Coletta, an instructor of popular culture, conceived the conference. Coletta, who taught in Cleveland before coming to BGSU, noted the Ohio connection to Superman—American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster created him while both were living in Cleveland. The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage there also has a current exhibit on superheroes (See Representatives from Maltz will participate in the BGSU conference.

Cleveland is also a site of the Comic Book Project, which supports children’s literacy while reinforcing social awareness and character development.

Sessions and keynotes
The conference’s three general sessions will feature keynote addresses by cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud, comic book artist and editor Jamal Igle and Dr. Amy Kiste Nyberg of Seton Hall University. All general sessions are free and open to the public.

McCloud will give the first keynote address, “Comics: A Medium in Transition,” at 6:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 24) in 206 Bowen-Thompson Student Union. On Saturday, Igle will speak on “Black in a Four-Color World,” at 11 a.m. in 204 Fine Arts Center. Nyberg will give the final keynote that evening, on “The Death of the Comics Code,” at 5 p.m. in 308 Union.

Complementing the conference will be an exhibition in the Fine Arts Center titled “Graphic Language: The Art of the Comic Book.” Opening Saturday and running through Nov. 19, the exhibit will include graphic novels by McCloud, Igle and others. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 6-9 p.m. Thursdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays.

About 20 panel sessions featuring faculty, independent scholars and writers, and graduate students from the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom will address research on topics related to comic books (superheroic and nonsuperheroic) in particular and comic art in general. Scholarly presentations will focus on such topics as the hero, race and ethnicity, graphic novels, history, theology, psychology, gender and sexuality, comic book audiences, criticisms of the superhero, politics and journalism.

Nancy Down, head of the Browne Popular Culture Library, will speak on the graphic novel collection in the library at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in 314 Union; a tour of the library, located on the fourth floor of Jerome Library, will be given at 1 p.m. Friday.

The cost of the conference for faculty, administrative staff and professionals is $110; students with ID (graduate or undergraduate), retirees and the unemployed may attend for $90.

To register, visit, email or call 419-372-0284.

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(Posted October 20, 2008 )

Updated: 12/02/2017 01:13AM