The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum is set to show that comics are more than just superhero antics. An upcoming event is slated to host an international comic conference featuring a U.S. congressman, a Finnish artist and a local Ohio cartoonist.
The International Comic Arts Forum is an annual symposium “devoted to the study of comics in all its varieties,” according to its website. Originally known as the International Comics and Animation Festival when it was started at Georgetown University, the conference aims to introduce North American scholars to comic art and scholarship from around the world.
“It has been going on since 1995,” said Caitlin McGurk, a project coordinator in special collections and area studies. “It’s basically one of the first and largest academic conferences for comics.”
McGurk said that although there are often cartoonist panels where famous cartoonists give talks about their work, the International Comic Arts Forum focuses the bulk of its conference on comic scholars from around the world who present papers about their research.
“It allows us the opportunity for people who present papers to be able to be introduced to some of the resources around the country that really appreciate and preserve comic books,” said Qiana Whitted, ICAF’s promotions coordinator.
Rep. John Lewis, the U.S. congressman for Georgia’s fifth district and a civil rights icon, will headline the 17th annual International Comic Arts Forum with a presentation on his graphic novel, “March.”
“Named one of the year’s best books by USA Today, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and Comics Alliance, the first volume of ‘March’ recalls Lewis’ childhood in Alabama and his early involvement in the movement to desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters, while volume two of the trilogy is scheduled for release in January 2015,” according to a press release.
“We’re especially excited that we were able to coordinate the conference with Congressman Lewis,” said Whitted, who is also an English professor at the University of South Carolina.
“It just kind of worked out wonderfully that we had to reschedule Congressman John Lewis’ talk, so now it’s going to fall at the very end,” said Jared Gardner, an English professor who is coordinating the conference.
Local Ohio cartoonist and former OSU student Jeff Smith will also be speaking at the conference. Smith is the creator of the comic series “Bone,” which found popularity from the 1990s to the mid-2000s.
“Jeff Smith has been a real friend and supporter of the Cartoon Library,” Gardner said. “All of his original work is on deposit at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.”
Gardner said Smith began working on “Bone” as an undergraduate at OSU and published the earlier versions of it in The Lantern under the name “Thorn.” The cartoon strip ran in The Lantern from fall 1982 to fall 1985, according to The Lantern archives.
“I often describe ‘Bone’ as a mashup of what we call funny animal comics with Lord of the Rings,” Gardner said.
Finnish artist Hanneriina Moisseinen will have a presentation at the conference as well as a screening of the documentary “Laulu,” in which she is featured.
Gardner said ICAF is the oldest of its kind in comic studies and is hosted at different locations around the country.
“They have moved around to different hosts over the years,” he said. “They’ve been at the Library of Congress, the Art Institute of Chicago and most recently at the University of Oregon.”
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, which is also celebrating its one-year anniversary at the renovated Sullivant Hall, was selected as this year’s ICAF host because it is the national center for researching and studying comics, Gardner said.
The museum boasts more then “300,000 original cartoons, 67,000 serials, 45,000 books and 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper pages,” according to ICAF’s website.
“We wanted to gather here to really take advantage of our access to some of the archives that Billy Ireland has,” Whitted said.
It will be the first time the conference has been held at OSU.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We’re going to have scholars from different countries and all over the world coming to see our facilities because of this conference.”
For local comic enthusiasts, this might be the only opportunity to experience the largest comic arts conference at OSU because ICAF has not visited the same place twice, McGurk said.
McGurk said the conference is intentionally held in different locations so that international scholars can see all of the places in America that are paying attention to comics’ history.
“Although it would be nice to have it here again, I don’t think that’s the intention,” she said. “It’s not really in their mission statement to continuously have it in one place.”
Gardner said people in attendance can expect to hear talks on everything from American autobiographical comics to post-unification German graphic novels.
“One of the things that we like to emphasize with this particular conference is how international comics are,” he said. “We tend to think of it as being about superheroes — and superheroes of course are an important part of the American tradition — but internationally they play a very small role in what comics are about.”
The International Comic Arts Forum is set to run from Thursday to Saturday. All events are free and open to the public. A schedule of the conference’s events is available at ICAF’s website.