Serious About Comics

A student from Memorial University has been honored by the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation.

Elisabeth Pfeiffer says comics are ripe for an examination of sociopolitical issues of gender, race and sexuality as the art form becomes more popular than ever, especially thanks to film adaptations.

Photo: Submitted

Elisabeth Pfeiffer, a doctoral candidate and comics researcher in the Department of English at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, recently received the federation’s Congress Graduate Merit Award (CGMA).

CGMAs recognize outstanding graduate students and the work they present at the federation’s annual conference, the largest gathering of scholars in Canada and one of the largest in the world.

Ms. Pfeiffer was nominated for the award by the Canadian Society for the Study of Comics.

Exploring Blackface and Racism in Comics

Ms. Pfeiffer’s Humanities and Social Sciences Federation presentation focused on blackface in comic books and how blackface is rooted in minstrelsy – an inherently racist form of early 19th century entertainment that mocked and dehumanized black people and black culture.

But he also detailed the history of white women advocating for white supremacy, the unique intersectionality of sexism and racism experienced by women of color, and how “white women [in pop culture] appropriated the looks and language of black women for profit, “coolness” and fame. »

Titled Basic Bitches and Their Curiosity with Blackness: Comics and Blackface, the presentation was inspired by his mastery work on the comic book series, Whore Planet.

“Superhero movies are seen by millions of people and are a billion dollar industry.” — Elisabeth Pfeiffer

She describes the series as a feminist dystopia where women and marginalized genders are sent to an off-world prison planet by a patriarchal system.

“Bitch planet Do what The Handmaid’s Tale is criticized for not doing so, and it examines how white supremacy plays a role in the freedoms that are most likely to be taken away,” she said.

In one case in the female dog planet anthology, a white woman uses futuristic technology to add melanin to her skin, in what is essentially an advanced form of blackface.

This prompted Ms. Pfeiffer to consider other scenarios where white women, in particular, appear black.

An example is when Superman The character Lois Lane uses Kryptonian technology to turn “black” to gather information for a newspaper article about an African community.

A 1970 Superman comic showing Lois Lane in blackface.

Photo: CPR.com

Comic studies more vital than ever

Comic studies is a booming field in the discipline of English these days, and for good reason.

“Superhero movies are seen by millions and are a billion-dollar industry, and other comic book genres have been adapted into TV shows, movies, and video games, exposing the comics to an even wider audience,” Ms Pfeiffer said.

“The industry itself is growing exponentially, especially with digital and webcomics. Comics are ripe for examining sociopolitical issues of gender, race and sexuality precisely because they use both words and images, giving us time to pause and really think about what these two aspects combined represent. And, really, who doesn’t love reading comics!”

Mentorship and Expertise

Ms Pfeiffer says she particularly enjoys exploring feminist dystopias and utopias in comic storytelling because dystopias help people recognize the flaws in our society, while utopias allow us to imagine a better, caring society. from everyone.

She also says she is excited to continue her studies with the “incredible” Dr. Nancy Pedri, who is also a comic book specialist.

“Honestly, it’s a dream come true and I’m so lucky! Dr. Pedri is one of the experts in this area of ​​study…and has also been an incredibly supportive supervisor. It’s not easy being an academic with two young children and in a field that has long been dominated by men.

Chad Pelley is a communications advisor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]

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