This issue was built out of the “ImageNext: Visions Past and Future” Comics Conference1, which was held on the University of Florida campus in 2010. The ImageNext issue has been a long time in production, but we are now pleased and proud to present six works from conference participants, including—in a first for ImageTexT—an original drawing by conference guest artist John Porcellino.
In the Call for Papers for the ImageNext conference, participants were asked to present papers that dealt with time, change and history—both the history of comics and the histories presented within comics. Broadly speaking, the theme of the conference became a way for guests, speakers and attendees to think about time: how the concept of time itself is presented in various imagetexts and how historical times are reflected in media like the comic book. Many speakers gravitated toward the discussion of comics that reflect ‘the times’ in which they were created; other speakers looked at how comics (and other combinations of verbal and visual elements) could serve as windows into a past which preceded their creation.
The discussion of ‘history’ at this conference was not limited to addressing the graphic representations of factual historical narratives, however; historical revisions and the reimaginings of different time periods were openly encouraged as topics. Somewhat surprisingly, there were not many papers at ImageNext which addresed alternate universes and alternate histories. Andrew J. Friedenthal’s project makes up for this lack by tackling an entire multiverse. Friedenthal, in “Monitoring the Past: DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Narrativization of Comic Book History,” looks at how DC Comics revised the history of their comic-book titles within, and using the resources of, those titles’ shared world in the landmark series Crisis on Infinite Earths. Friedenthal breaks down, in detail, how the 1985 miniseries changed the presentation of history and continuity in mainstream superhero comics.
In “The Military Vanguard for Desegregtion: Civil Rights Era War Comics and Racial Integration,” by Christopher J. Hayton and David L. Albright, and “Urban America in the Newspaper Comic Strips of the Nineteenth Century: Introducing the Yellow Kid,” by Christina Meyer, the authors look backwards to crucial moments in the history of comics development. In “Urban America,” Meyer presents a thorough, analytical close reading of a single Yellow Kid comic which appeared in the New York Journal in 1896. Meyer dissects this page with an emphasis towards exploring the comic’s social and political significance in conjunction with the newspaper rivalries of the late nineteenth century. Hayton and Albright, in “The Military Vanguard,” put the spotlight on military comics from the civil rights era which offer positive representations of African Americans. “The Military Vanguard” presents a thoughtful and thought-provoking investigation of African American figures in comics from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Celebrated comics theorist and historian David Kunzle, who was a guest speaker at the ImageNext conference, offers readers a glimpse into not only comics history but into his own personal experiences in the publishing world, in this reprint of “The Parts That Got Left Out of the Donald Duck Book, or: How Karl Marx Prevailed Over Carl Barks.” This article was developed from a speech which Kunzle gave in 1976, and describes his journey in translating and editing the U.S. Edition of Para Leer al Pato Donald, or How to Read Donald Duck. “The Parts That Got Left Out” is an honest, humorous recounting of what goes into translating and editing comics theory.
Finally, David Steiling, in “Reading from Within the Panel,” looks to the future in his discussion of the Cosmix Project. Steiling examines a series of images, produced by his students at the Ringling College of Art and Design, that explore the possibilities of immersive projection. Steiling’s work suggests that the definition of “comics” may need to be expanded to suit its incorporation into fully immersive media environments.
The ImageNext special issue, then, is ultimately a vehicle for showcasing our contributors’ diverse modes of thinking about history: history in comics, history and comics and the (continuing) history of comics. The pieces collected here explore the past of and in comic books and comic strips, and look forward to comics’ future.