Comics symposium explores race, gender, and the future of superheroes

NewFacesOldMasks_SliderOn Tuesday, September 22, 2015, LSU Libraries Special Collections hosted a symposium entitled “New Faces under Old Masks: Race, Gender, and the Future of Superheroes.”

Recent years have seen increasing attention from critics, readers, and publishers to issues of diversity in the superhero genre. Superhero comics and graphic novels have increasingly come to be regarded as valuable sources for understanding and investigating cultural attitudes surrounding the morality and ethics of power. So what does it mean when these narratives traditionally featuring white men, and produced by an overwhelmingly white and male comics industry, are revised to feature women and people of color?

How does our understanding of the cultural significance of superheroes change when Captain America is African American, Thor is a woman, or Ms. Marvel is a teenaged MuslimFanstatic-Four-issue-1-cover-page-edit girl? What tools do the familiar features of the superhero genre – secret identities, startling physical transformations, astonishing powers – offer for thinking through the complexities of race and gender in contemporary America?

At this symposium, three distinguished figures from the world of comics and comics scholarship brought their unique insights to bear on intriguing and complex questions surrounding the evolving treatment of race and gender in superhero comics and even film: Jonathan Gray, Associate Professor of English at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Conseula Francis, Professor of English and Associate Provost at the College of Charleston; and David Walker, filmmaker, author, and acclaimed comics writer of series such as Shaft and Cyborg.

Each panelist delivered a short presentation, followed by a roundtable discussion and Q&A with the audience. This event accompanied the library’s exhibit, “Graphic Sensibility: Selected Comics and Illustrations from DC to Durer” co-curated by Brannon Costello, Associate Professor in the LSU Department of English, and Jenny Mitchell, Head of Manuscripts Processing at Hill Memorial Library. The exhibit was inspired by the filming of the film, Fantastic Four, which had a scene shot in the lecture hall at Hill Memorial Library, the location of the talk. Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Head of Special Collections, provided opening remarks, and Brannon Costello emceed the symposium.

This event was sponsored by the LSU Libraries, the LSU Office of Diversity, the College of Art and Design, the School of Art, the Department of English, African and African American Studies, and the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts program

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