CFP – “Reading Comics at the Threshold:” A Roundtable on Letter Columns & Other Comics Paratexts

The Middle Spaces, an award-winning blog that covers comics, music, and culture, invites submissions for an academic roundtable on the subject of letter columns and other comics book paratexts to be co-edited by Osvaldo Oyola and Leah Misemer and published in early 2020.

Literary theorist Gérard Genette defines paratexts as elements of a published work that are distinct from the text–titles, prefaces, introductions, flap copy, or illustrations–that provide a “threshold…a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction.” Or as Philippe Lejeune puts it, paratexts provide “a fringe of the printed text which in reality controls one’s whole reading of the text.” This intersection of transactional quality and framework for understanding the text (narratively, formally, and culturally) is perhaps most evident in the components common to the serial comic book, including the (curated) letters page, the editorial bulletins, and in advertisements, among other things. Whether these paratextual components actually “control” the reading of the texts or not, they definitely shape those texts and readerly engagement with them. That said, comic book paratexts are frequently ignored in comic studies and excised when comics are re-collected into bound editions or re-printed digitally. While some scholars like Ramzi Fawaz and Ian Gordon turn to the paratext as a parallel source of evidence regarding editorial policy, fan reaction, audience make-up, and cultural climate in their analysis of comics, this roundtable asks scholars to center paratexts as a way to read both comic narratives and the contexts in which they exist, as scholar and librarian Carol Tilley has in her work.  

Modeled on our two previous successful roundtables on Bitch Planet (March 2018) and Sound in Comics (April 2019), we are seeking out scholars of all stripes—from aca-fans to graduate students to tenured faculty—to develop short essay answers (750 to 1000 words) to questions they pose about comic book letter columns and other paratexts, theorizing their role, use, and history through a variety of lenses: cultural, formal, political, and so on. In the spirit of inquiry, the questions will serve as essay titles, and final essays will be grouped thematically by the editors.  All essays will go through one or two rounds of editing and development, and each should include visual examples or references.

Those interested in contributing should email a clearly articulated question they seek to explore in their essay, an abstract of no more than 200 words describing their approach to the question, and the title of a comics text they plan to use as an example or subject for their contribution. In addition, please include a brief bio. Send contributions to themiddlespaces@gmail.com.

Possible Topics Include:

    • Letter columns: columns that extend the fictional world of the comic, extended conversations, letter hacks, planted letters, community building
    • Advertisements: perceived audience, incorporation of comic characters into ads, selling ad space, fake or mock ads
    • Circulation Info: copyright, sales numbers 
    • Editorial: creator credits, political responses, bullpen as virtual space, summaries, continuity and footnotes
    • Covers: various cover elements (e.g. Code symbol, pricing, issue labeling), cover narratives and connection (or lack thereof) to inner content

Please submit proposals by Monday, November 18,(EXTENDED TO FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22) and submitters will be notified by or on Monday, December 16. We hope to publish the roundtable in the first quarter of 2020.

You can download a Word document version of this CFP for sharing, here.