Comic strip by Quino
Almost everyone in higher education in the US knows what the MLA (Modern Language Association of America) is, but that is not necessarily true in other countries. For some people, for example, the MLA is the MLA...
The Modern Language Association was founded in 1883 and it remains the leading professional association for college and university-level teachers and scholars of literature and language in the United States, and to a certain extent, the world.
The yearly Modern Language Association Convention, which attracts thousands of delegates includes many hundreds of simultaneous events (panels, forums, keynote lectures, socials), is for many students, academics and publishers in the humanities the place to be, particularly as a PhD candidate or early career scholar. It's an essential part of what in the US is called, somewhat cynically, "the market". There is nothing like it that I know of in the UK.
When I started going to conferences in the late 90s, there were other conferences that were more welcoming to comics scholarship than the MLA. The national and regional conferences of the American and Popular Culture Associations have traditionally offered a plethora of comics sessions, particularly thanks to the hard work of Nicole Freim, from the PCA's Comics Art and Comics Area.
Perhaps one of the positive consequences of widespread broadband and the academic uses of online tools and social networking has been the blurring of the old barrier between the study of popular culture and the study of "literature". As an early-career comics scholar who has had one foot in and out of academia for more than a decade now, it is still gladly surprising to see that a conference like the MLA, with all its institutional gravitas, has had now such big comics presence amongst its proceedings.
According to their website, the MLA's Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives "was founded at the 125th Annual Convention of the MLA in Philadelphia (December 2009), after the MLA approved a petition authored and presented by Dr. Hillary Chute and supported by numerous scholars."
This year, MLA 2012 will take place in Seattle, and the Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives has posted two Call for Papers on their site (one is a proposed session subject to be approved; deadline for abstract submission 5 March 2011).
A quick search for comics-related CFPs in the MLA 2012 web site gave us the following results, which I have copied and pasted below:
Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books (Joint Session with Children's Literature Division)
Relationships between comics and picture books from perspectives including (not limited to) genre, education, formalism, semiotics, ideology. 500-word abstracts by 5 March 2011; Charles Hatfield (email@example.com).
The Material History of Spider-Man
Papers exploring the fifty-year publication history of an American icon--from his Cold War origins to the age of Obama--and the cultural narratives imbricated therein. 250-word abstracts by 5 March 2011; Derek Parker Royal (firstname.lastname@example.org).
How Seattle Changed Comics
Papers exploring how Seattle and its institutionsseminal publisher Fantagraphics; The Comics Journal; independent and minicomix sceneshave transformed contemporary comics and the cultures surrounding it. 250-word abstracts by 5 March 2011; Derek Parker Royal (email@example.com).
Visual/Graphic Representations by Hispanic/Luso Female Writers/Artists.
Essays that explore comics, graphic novels, and instalations produced by contemporary Hispanic/Luso/Latina Women 300-word abstracts (English, Spanish or Portug by 10 March 2011; Cynthia Margarita Tompkins (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Magdalena Maz Pea (email@example.com).
Ethno-Graphic Encounters: Jewish American & Italian American Graphic Narratives
Seeking papers examining Italian American & Jewish American representations in comics & graphic narratives revealing inter/intra-ethnic engagements, current & historical collaborations, conflicts, relationships. 300-word abstracts by 15 March 2011; JoAnne Ruvoli (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Monica Osborne (email@example.com).
Asian Americans and Graphic Narrative
Graphic novels, memoirs, comics by Asian Americans; representations of Asians in American graphic narratives; graphic narrative's impact on the Asian American literary canon. 300-word abstracts and 2-page vitae by 15 March 2011; Timothy Yu (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Bande dessine, comics, manga, and others
The importance of studying comics comparatively and globally. Formal and cultural approaches welcome, as are reflections on academia's turn to comics. 300-word abstract and brief cv by 15 March 2011; Catherine Labio (email@example.com).
Needless to say, there are several other calls for papers that though they do not include the term "comics", "comic books", "graphic narratives" or "graphic novels", can be of interest to those scholars and students of the humble, yet fascinating and complex ninth art.
If you are organising, participating in or know of other sessions that would be interesting for fellow scholars into graphic storytelling, please leave a message below.