New Round of Call for Papers for the Upcoming 3rd Annual Academic Pop Culture Conference

If you read our last post, you know that the conference has been moved from March 11th to May 6th. The almost two month delay is due to various factors that were outside of the control of the conference organizers. However, we are taking this setback in stride and using this time to make sure that this year’s conference will be our best ever. If the universe has extended our time for preparations then we believe that everyone else should be given a second chance as well.

With this in mind, we have decided to do a second round of the Call for Papers for the conference. Same rules as last time, 200-250 word abstracts for individual paper submission and 750 words for panel presentations. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors from any and all programs and fields within the UPR system are encouraged to send abstracts. People outside the UPR system (or even academia) who wish to submit an abstract can be part of the conference as independent scholars. As always, papers and presentations should coincide within the theme of our conference as explained in the original CFP here.

Abstracts and small bios of presenters are to be sent to our official email, pcsarum@gmail.com

The deadline for this extended Call for Papers is April 1st. People who had already been accepted into the conference do NOT need to resubmit their abstracts,

Thank you for sharing your research interests with us and we hope to see you at the conference.

3rd Annual Pop Culture Conference Unfortunately Delayed

Dear Presenters and attendees,

We are sorry to report that the upcoming pop culture academic conference (originally scheduled on March 10th-11th) has been delayed until May 5th and 6th. The decision to push the conference back is due to unforeseen circumstances as the main auditorium we use for the conference has been closed due to emergency repairs. We don’t know all the details but the auditorium is closed for the time being. We have searched for alternative venues but were not able to secure one for March 11 as every other activity previously held in the auditorium is now being reshuffled.

We extend our most sincere apologies for the change and hope that you will be able to attend and present on the new conference date of Friday and Saturday May 5th-6th. Panels will occur all day on Saturday (as we have in previous conferences). Our keynote speaker, Dr. Alexis Rodriguez, professor at UPR Rio Piedras, has already stated that he will be presenting on the new date and we hope that you will be able to as well. If you (as a presenter) have already accepted going to the conference then we ask that you reconfirm as early as possible, by sending an email to us at pcsarum@gmail.com. If you were not able to present at the original date but are available to come on May 6th then we haven’t forgotten about you and can still be a part of the proceedings should you still be interested by informing us through the above email.

The inscription fee continues to be $5 for attendees and $10 for presenters. We will be collecting the fee during the registration process the day of the conference. No money will be collected prior to this day (We trust you).

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.

Best

 

Gabriel Romaguera

Conference Organizer

 

 

 

CFP Extended for Pop Culture Conference

Due to popular demand, the call for papers for our upcoming conference has been extended. We want to make sure that the worries of democracy and turkey dinners don’t interfere with abstract writing so the extension is big. You now have until December 8th, 2016 to finish the process.

If you’re reading this then know that you have until December 15th, 2016.Please send it to us through pcsarum@gmail.com. Anti-heroes can bend the rules and for one time only so can you.

Below is the CFP as per usual for your perusing desires.

Adjusting the Moral Compass:

Highlighting the Dark Sides of Fiction and Reality

Hero vs Villain, Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark; these are the dichotomies that have shaped identity in just about every element of our lives. In our desire to fall within the former, we categorize this moral Other as worse and lesser. From a storytelling standpoint, there would be no plot without an antagonist to be the counterpoint for our hero. To quote Tony Montana, “You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’” But what happens when the need to be good puts you down a dark path? Or better yet, what happens when we look at evil beings and see that there is a lot more than meets the eye.

With the popularity of Wicked, Deadpool, Suicide Squad, an upcoming Boba Fett movie, and many other texts out there we see that those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be good still have a gravitas towards them. Be it through villains with fan clubs, anti-heroes with a mission, monsters that can save the day, femme fatales with a chance for mercy, highly functioning sociopaths on a quest for the truth, or just with people who wouldn’t call themselves saints, the other side is full of wonder. The third annual Puerto Rican Academic Popular Culture Conference asks scholars from all majors and backgrounds to analyze, explore, and shine a light on why is it so good to be bad.

Sample themes within different areas include but are not limited to:

  • Literature: The role of antagonists and how they can make a hero more memorable.
  • Sociology: In local and international politics, we see how the other side is quickly vilified and demonized. Why is this propaganda so common and does it work?
  • Psychology: What makes someone capable of committing acts of evil? Can nature vs nurture explain this?
  • History: Besides Hitler, who are the other bad guys (and girls) that ruled their lands? How does cultural bias affect who we see/remember as hero or villain?
  • Pedagogy: We’ve all heard of the evil professor/teacher. Do tougher styles of teaching work better when it comes to our students’ learning?
  • Music: Jay Z’s “Say Hello to the Bad Guy” shows how one can own this moniker. Still, hip hop and rap tend to glorify the thug and gangster identity. Why?

Submission Directions: We are accepting 200-250 word abstracts for individual presentations or 700-750 word abstracts for panel presentations. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty from all departments in any University of Puerto Rico campus, as well as independent scholars, are welcome to submit. We ask that participants only limit themselves to one abstract per person. Since the UPR is a bilingual institution, abstracts and presentations can be submitted in English or in Spanish. Please submit your abstracts alongside corresponding biographical and contact information to pcsarum@gmail.com by December 8, 2016.   No more chances after December 16th. Hurry!

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Academia, Love Me Back

TIFFANY MARTÍNEZ

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced…

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CFP: 3rd Annual Pop Culture Academic Conference

Two years ago, the PCSA and myself  started on the adventure of a lifetime by combining academia and pop culture into a conference like no other at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus. Let’s keep the tradition going by inviting you to participate and be a part of our third annual academic popular culture conference. The conference will take place on said campus on the weekend of March 10-12th, 2017 in our regular locale. This year’s theme is Adjusting the Moral Compass: Highlighting the Dark Sides of Fiction and Reality. More details to come soon. Below is our CFP in traditional text, JPEG format, and PDF here: cfp-moral-compass-pdf

Adjusting the Moral Compass:

Highlighting the Dark Sides of Fiction and Reality

Hero vs Villain, Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark; these are the dichotomies that have shaped identity in just about every element of our lives. In our desire to fall within the former, we categorize this moral Other as worse and lesser. From a storytelling standpoint, there would be no plot without an antagonist to be the counterpoint for our hero. To quote Tony Montana, “You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’” But what happens when the need to be good puts you down a dark path? Or better yet, what happens when we look at evil beings and see that there is a lot more than meets the eye.

With the popularity of Wicked, Deadpool, Suicide Squad, an upcoming Boba Fett movie, and many other texts out there we see that those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be good still have a gravitas towards them. Be it through villains with fan clubs, anti-heroes with a mission, monsters that can save the day, femme fatales with a chance for mercy, highly functioning sociopaths on a quest for the truth, or just with people who wouldn’t call themselves saints, the other side is full of wonder. The third annual Puerto Rican Academic Popular Culture Conference asks scholars from all majors and backgrounds to analyze, explore, and shine a light on why is it so good to be bad.

Sample themes within different areas include but are not limited to:

  • Literature: The role of antagonists and how they can make a hero more memorable.
  • Sociology: In local and international politics, we see how the other side is quickly vilified and demonized. Why is this propaganda so common and does it work?
  • Psychology: What makes someone capable of committing acts of evil? Can nature vs nurture explain this?
  • History: Besides Hitler, who are the other bad guys (and girls) that ruled their lands? How does cultural bias affect who we see/remember as hero or villain?
  • Pedagogy: We’ve all heard of the evil professor/teacher. Do tougher styles of teaching work better when it comes to our students’ learning?
  • Music: Jay Z’s “Say Hello to the Bad Guy” shows how one can own this moniker. Still, hip hop and rap tend to glorify the thug and gangster identity. Why?

Submission Directions: We are accepting 200-250 word abstracts for individual presentations or 700-750 word abstracts for panel presentations. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty from all departments in any University of Puerto Rico campus, as well as independent scholars, are welcome to submit. We ask that participants only limit themselves to one abstract per person. Since the UPR is a bilingual institution, abstracts and presentations can be submitted in English or in Spanish. Please submit your abstracts alongside corresponding biographical and contact information to pcsarum@gmail.com by November 4, 2016.

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Episode 167: Bullets for My Dissertation

A draft of my dissertation is almost ready to be sent to my committee. As part of organizing it and making sure all of my bases are covered I decided to do a bullet point list of the main points of everything I’m discussing. I got the the idea to do this while I was teaching my students about the importance of thesis statements. I asked them to get into pairs and pass along the thesis statement of what they were planning on writing. Then they had to tell them in their  own words what they wanted to write about and see if the thesis statement coincided with the explanation. Decided to do it for myself and as a good way for my committee to see the main points I’m making without having to read the whole thing.

A few parts still need fleshing out but I think that this gives you the gist of my argument. If you have any feedback please feel free to comment below. Much appreciated.

Title: To Start, Continue, and Conclude: Foregrounding Narrative Production of Serial Fiction in Different Media

Chapter 1:Introduction

  • The author is the creator of the literary text. There are many layers of influence that affect how something is written but readers only get to see the finished product.
  • By studying authorship in the context of a single text as it is being produced, we can see how the different factors come into effect and affect the text itself. Serialization provides just that.
  • Serialization is storytelling with enforced interruptions. These pauses provided an opportunity for the author and reader to reflect on the story, which has the potential to alter the direction of the narrative.
  • Textual criticism studies authorship through analyzing different editions of a literary work as it goes from idea, to manuscript, to published text. Biographical information like notes and letters are also looked at to measure authorial intent along the way. With modifications, this theory provides important tools to study authorship and narrative production over time through serialization.
  • Tanselle makes the distinction between the work (the idea), the text (what is written), and the document (what readers get to see). In serialization, installments become individual documents that together form the ever growing text.
    • Work: Concept of the story, only author has access to it. Abstract. Also umbrella term for everything.
    • Text: Story shaped through language and how to convey it through medium. Author still only person who has access to it.
    • Document: How readers get to have the story post publication. Changes to the document do not affect the text. Only a new edition, hence a new document, can do that.
  • Shillingsburg talks about three key performances, which is how I will distinguish distinct parts of authorship.
    • Creative performance: How the ideas come to be, how authors became inspired, and the overall concept of the work.
    • Production performance: Turning the ideas into something publishable. Writing manuscripts that will be presented to publishing houses, working with editors, figuring out the market for the book.
    • Reception performance: How readers react to the text. Most observable by sales figures and critiques of the text.
  • Narrative production serves as an umbrella term for the first two performances regarding works of fiction. In serializing, production is constantly being altered to better suit the readership. Plans can change to make sure that readers are pleased and sales continue. Authors must maintain balance between long term planning and adapting to readers’ responses or the story will not be consistent.
  • Overall consistency is one of the few ways to objectively judge whether or not a story is good or bad. Narrative continuity (that the story doesn’t contradict itself) is a good marker for that kind of analysis. Serialization has added challenges that once installment is published, no way to go back and change it. Authors work with concrete past and abstract future as they continue to develop their stories.
  • Limiting the works to be analyzed as those of serial fiction. Serialization of real life events is basically reporting and that’s not what I’m analyzing here. No real way to plan narrative production accordingly.
  • Focus is on contemporary works of serial fiction since more of the background information on their narrative production is more readily available. Social media helps authors communicate with readers before and after publication. These records are more wide spread and more easily available.
  • Author is of course a problematic term. Barthes declared that the “Author is Dead” and with it the notion that readers can only find meaning in text through what he/she intended.
  • Foucault establishes that author is more of a historical function to establish who wrote the text, thus giving it greater value if author is already well known. That origin also denotes ownership of the text even as it is now in the hands of readers.
  • And yet, the author is still a person. When it comes to ongoing serialization only the author can provide the official next parts of the story. That’s why Burke’s analysis of author as a very present factor when it comes to analyzing storytelling is principal form of defining the author for this study.
  • Narrative production takes into consideration how the medium of publication affects storytelling. The document itself shapes the text as production performances are made.
  • Works of serial fiction will be studied from different media to see how authors deal with the challenges of publishing in each format.
  • Media specific analysis, pioneered by N. Katherine Hayles, is used to the properties of each medium.
  • Comparative media analysis will also be done. Specifically, uses of remediation, the adaptation of forms from other media, are highlighted.
  • The three media that I’m focusing on are traditional print, comics, and webcomics.
  • Chapters are divided by medium to provide a better context as to the process by which authors serialized their works with historical frameworks and specific examples of well-known texts.
    • Print: Serialization predates the printed word but its publication is hard to track. Serialization came to prominence during the 19th century with the production of literary magazines, especially in England. Novels written this way would later be republished as novels. Other novels would be written later on as individual texts but that would be part of a greater narrative spanning multiple sequels. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a great example of contemporary storytelling.
    • Comics: Technically a subset of print but considered to be its own medium of storytelling. Comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels each have their own challenges when it comes to publishing serial fiction within them. Authors have worked with the character of Superman in each of these for almost 80 years.
    • Webcomics: Serialization exists in different forms within the digital realm. Serial fiction is actually not too common. Webcomics showcase consistent serialization in which their authors are fairly open about narrative production with their readers. Both, Rich Burlew and Tarol Hunt have fascinating stories (alongside their own lives) that have been published fairly consistently over the span of decade.
  • Television and movies also contain great examples of serial fiction. However, due to all of the different roles that exist within the narrative production of a show or movie, it is difficult to properly discern individual performances through each of these authorial layers. That is why these media will not be analyzed here.
  • Since publication is a business, economics need to be explored. Authorship is after all a job. If the story is not successful from a sales perspective, then it can be forced to stop publishing by other forces even if the narrative still isn’t completed. On the other hand, if too successful then story would continue even after narrative fatigue is evident.
  • Foucault writes about how neoliberal economics have made it so that each person must be an entrepreneur and find an economically sustainable livelihood. Thus we have evolved into “Homo-economicus.” Extra relevant for authors of serial fiction. Successful authorship doesn’t just mean proper narrative production and large publication numbers. Other business endeavors like licensing and crowdfunding need to be used to survive and thrive alongside the text.
  • Authorship is normally synonymous with ownership of the text but reality is far more complex. Rights to characters can be purchased from the author. Part of publishing means that the publishing house can own your story and characters. Works of serial fiction can continue to be written by someone who is not their original author but only if copyright law allows it. Examples of legal actions by authors to preserve their intellectual property will be highlighted as part of my analysis.

 

Chapter 2: Print

 

  • Prior to the printing press, the production of documents was slow and few readers had access to any forms of literature.
  • Authorship nearly impossible to track. No real way to track down who was actually responsible for works of fiction or non-fiction. Scribes are more archivists than authors. Many texts end up being ascribed to anonymous.
  • Serialization also hard to track down. Oral storytelling could have the enforced interruptions occur whenever the artist felt like it. More than one instalment was rare.
  • Shared narrative universes fairly common when regarding mythological stories like the Greek ones conveyed in the theater. Knowing the chronology effectively made the stories be serialized but performances need not follow this order.
  • Serialization as we know it is best expressed through One Thousand and One Nights. Was not published serially but the stories within were told in that way. Many stories actually took multiple nights to cover.
  • Shows the importance of narrative pacing and proper use of cliff hangers. For Scheherazade, her audience’s entertainment literally meant whether or not she could keep on living.
  • For the sake of that work, she is the author. In actuality, all the stories are part of the folklore of Middle Eastern culture with no real author. Different versions of the One Thousand and One Nights text have been published over the years, few if any in a serialized format.
  • Shakespeare’s tetralogy of historical plays are fairly independent from one another but are in effect sequels of the other. They are considered parts of history though Shakespeare put his own twists on it so not technically serial fiction.
  • One of the most important works of literature, Cervantes’s Don Quixote is one of the first novels to have an actual full-fledged official sequel.
  • Originally, Cervantes had no plans to continue the adventures of the old man turned knight errant. But a few years after the publication of his novel, an apocryphal sequel made its way through the country. Don Quixote was made to look like a fool throughout its pages.
  • Cervantes defended his honor as an author and that of his character by crafting a true sequel filled with adventures and misadventures for knight and squire. Both the original novel and the false sequel exist within the story and had been read by many of the other characters.
  • Don Quixote’s meta awareness served to fix some of the previous mistakes made within the first novel and claim that the second book was filled with nothing but lies.
  • In the end, Cervantes kills off Don Quixote to make a proper ending to his story. No one else could use him ever again.
  • Serial printing became extremely popular in the 1800s due to rising literacy rates and improvements in printing technology.
  • Literary magazines during the Victorian era contained a literary potpourri of poems, announcements, news, drawings, and most famously installments of novels. Each one had a few hundred pages worth of content.
  • Rather than a full novel, readers would have a small part of a few chapters. Most authors were contracted for 20 installments with strict page counts to follow. Editors would also make sure content was appropriate.
  • Chapters would be spread out within the magazines. Multiple stories by different authors would be published at the same time.
  • Rate of publication was dependent on the magazine and was clearly set up as part of the contract between the author and the editors.
  • Authors were free to pad their chapters with illustrations in order to achieve the page count when the word count would not suffice. Many hired professional illustrators for the job. Illustrations also served as the cover for the first chapter to be seen within the magazine.
  • Even as one would get multiple forms of content per magazine, authors of serial fiction still made sure to end their installments with dramatic reveals and cliffhangers to entice the reader into buying the next part.
  • Authors paid attention to their readerships and their reactions. These reception performances ended up modifying narrative production. Most famous example was Charles Dickens when he changed the finale of Great Expectations to a happier one for his protagonist Pip. This was to avoid ending the character’s fate, and the readership’s narrative investment, on a sad note.
  • Serialization for readers involved a journey that had to be worth the journey once they made to its destination on the final installment.
  • Many of the more popular novels ended up being republished as the famous three volume novel. Authors would perform multiple edits to make sure the non-serialized version made sense. The dramatic tension of waiting for the next installment was no longer there so chapters could end on different moments.
  • Authors had control and ownership of their stories within their countries but outside its borders different laws applied. Europe had a more or less common set of copyright laws. The United States had its own set of rules. Many people took advantage of these legal disparities to sell cheap reprints of English novels to American audiences without permission from the authors.
  • New copyright laws would be set up with more international powers as the years went on after several legal battles ensued.
  • After the heyday of the literary magazine had passed, authors of serial fiction continued to find new ways for their stories to be published. Print novels would continue as new media like film, radio, television, and comics started providing serial content as well.
  • Modern serialization found its heyday in print with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter
  • She went through a complicated and thorough period of narrative production to make sure that sequels would have to fix the mistakes of previous installments before publication even started.
  • The series was a hit and books were being sold all over the world.
  • Rowling later asked for synchronized publication to ensure that the later installments would come out on the same day the world over. Used to be that the British version would be available for months before the American versions were ready.
  • Keeping the secrets of events for new installments became akin to guarding national secrets. People were actually arrested for revealing to people the ending of the sixth book to people waiting in line to get the book on the premiere date.
  • Rowling made sure to keep the distribution rights for digital publications of the books and made sure to have an active voice in the making of the subsequent films.
  • Publication may have stopped, but the narrative continues to expand with each new reveal as to what happened to the characters after the books’ finale.
  • Fans have created an archive of almost everything Rowling has ever said, showing that the concept of the Author as a source of meaning is alive and well.
  • Rumors of new installments have circulated ever since she said that the seventh book in the series would be her last.
  • The story itself has expanded through the Pottermore website which has more interactive elements and additional content for the readers.
  • A prequel film set in the same narrative universe but not involving any of the characters is soon to be released.
  • The play involving life for the protagonist’s children is in theaters and the script repackaged as its own book just hit the market. Its canonicity as an official sequel is still under debate.
  • Serialization even when officially stopped can still continue should the author feel the urge to do keep going.

 

Chapter 3: Comics

 

  • Comics are sequential art (Eisner) and/or juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence (McCloud). Many things can count as comics but I’m focusing on printed material.
  • They can be written by one person aka a cartoonist. Often times actually made by a writer and an artist collaborating on a story. Both are considered the author. Writer gets slightly more credit for greater role in narrative production.
  • Comics exist in three basic forms: comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels. Comics is the umbrella term for all of them.
  • Comic strips started in newspapers and literary magazines. One of the most famous early cartoonists was R.F. Outcault. Not the first comic strip but definitely one of the ones that popularized the format.
  • All of the comics would be placed in their own section of the newspaper. Incredibly limited space to convey a story. Sunday editions would have each comic with more space and in color. Narrative production was heavily influenced by limits and the weekly style shift.
  • They are a minor feature of newspapers which made the comics there as accessible as the paper itself. Easy on the same day, not so much afterwards.
  • With narrative heavy strips that didn’t focus on jokes and gags, readers had to be paying attention early. If you missed a few days you could be lost. Trying to read a comic after it already stared meant accepting that you had missed out on backstory.
  • Comics like Prince Valiant have been published weekly since 1937. Compendiums for it and other comics are published later on but these don’t cover the whole story.
  • Newspaper editors are the ones who choose who gets published, Can censor and even modify the strip.
  • Syndicates serve as agents, intermediaries between the author and the newspaper. Would try and the same comic syndicated, appearing in multiple newspapers at the same time.
  • Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) was highly critical of syndicates. Claims they ask authors to give them ownership of comic as part of deal.
  • Ownership of comics has been an issue since times of Outcault. He made his famous Yellow Kid character for one newspaper, left for another newspaper to write a different comic. Original newspaper hired new cartoonist to continue making strips. Both used the same character. No legal issues here.
  • Similar situation happened with Outcault when he made Buster Brown. Licensed the character heavily. Tries to take it to another newspaper. Lawsuits emerge on both sides. Courts decide old issues belong to original newspaper they can continue printing. Nothing proprietary about the character. Outcault keeps using it. Continues to license it even as he technically doesn’t own it.
  • Because licensing, syndicates favored gag centered comic strips because better merchandising options. Authorship now centered on profits that weren’t even based on publication. Storytelling loses its priority to marketing.
  • Watterson fights this trend. No merchandise. Becomes tougher with syndicates and editors so that his work can’t be edited.
  • Some comics continue to be published even after original author retires/dies. Because syndicate owns title, new cartoonists can be hired to keep it going.
  • Newspapers start losing their popularity and with it comics. Amount of comics per newspaper are less and less. Cartoonists would have to find a new way to publish their comics.
  • Comic books don’t share their space. One title per document.
  • Started as compilations of comic strips.
  • Standard of 28-32 pages each installment, including advertisements.
  • Because bigger and more pages to work with, authors need to modify narrative production to try and control the reader’s wandering eye. Physical act of turning the page serves to ensure proper reveals.
  • Better quality than newspaper paper but still designed as a disposable periodical. Could be purchased almost anywhere back in the day. Now they are mostly in specialized shops that have new and potentially rare issues.
  • Authorship in comic books usually involves having a writer and an artist in charge of narrative production. Dual authorship is common but writer is considered to be more responsible for the storytelling.
  • Other people like inkers, letterers, and colorists assist in the production performances. These are normally employed by the publication company, the two biggest ones being DC and Marvel. They have little input into narrative production. Editors for the company have a lot of influence and power when it comes to the final cut of a given installment.
  • One key exception for the standard dual author collaboration is the Marvel method, aka the Stan Lee method. During the 1960s, Marvel’s head writer was the legendary Stan Lee. He gave minor outlines of multiple stories to different artists. Each one would draw the comic and then he would write in the dialogue. Lee is thus the creator, author, and owner of all of these characters but some of the artists have challenged this claim, especially Jack Kirby. No resolution has been made through the courts so far.
  • Narrative production of serial fiction of comic books can be episodic. Events are contained to one installment with no real effect on rest of the story. Umberto Eco calls this narrative redundancy. Allows for creativity but only within those 28-32 pages. On the other hand, longer stories can’t diverge from previous events.
  • Bigger emphasis on narrative continuity really started in the 70s with the Bronze Age of comics. Longer more complicated stories were being told. In shared narrative universe, stories had to be okayed by editors at large to avoid overlap and complications. As the stories grew, the history of the characters became more complex, making it more difficult for new readers to get integrated.
  • Serial reading of comic books means knowing history but also investing in each installment and making your own archive. It can be complicated and expensive with following just one character, let alone everyone in the same shared narrative world.
  • Graphic novels have a publishing model more akin to traditional print publishing. No real page limits or set in stone publication model. Sequels were published once ready as part of deal with publishing house.
  • Considered to be of a much higher quality material and more serious that standard comic strip or comic book content.
  • Many graphic novels are actually compendiums of limited runs of comic book titles. Most famous example is Alan Moore’s Watchmen originally came out as twelve issues of its own comic book. Far grittier and more adult that regular super hero comic books. Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Dark Knight Returns show similar departure into far darker narrative.
  • Superman is one of the most iconic figures in serial storytelling. Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. First published appearance was in Action Comics #1.
  • Action Comics would later merge with different companies, which led to different comic book characters now being in the same publishing house and in the same narrative universe.
  • Superhero team ups became common but these new titles, like Justice Society of America, would be written and drawn by not the creators of the characters. The original titles were still being published during this time with the original authors still at the helm.
  • Siegel and Shuster completed their contracts with DC Comics but could not own the rights to the character. Lengthy legal battles ensued. Courts went in favor of DC but they decided to help the duo with a stipend and creator credits for all Superman texts published, regardless of media.
  • Multiple Superman comics were being written and drawn by different teams at the same time during the 60s. The change to a stricter narrative continuity meant that some titles were erased. The rest would be moved to different parallel dimensions.
  • The overall narrative had become too complex and by 1985, DC decided to simplify all of the backstories. A massive crossover event with multiple characters from different dimensions detailed how the narrative universe had morphed into one dimension. The rest were erased from existence or merged into this new world.
  • Other events like Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, and Flashpoint have further reshaped the narrative universe. They allow for new stories to be told that aren’t tied to previous lines of narrative continuity and gives chance for new readers to jump on without need for understanding all the backstories. However, dedicated readers feel frustrated, why be dedicated to a story if it’s just going to be rebooted soon?
  • Marvel has similar narrative resets but not as many. They recently announced that two of their borderline immortal characters (Wolverine and Deadpool) would be officially killed off for real. Both would be back in less than a year…  
  • The event that really cemented how comic book narratives would revert to their status quo was “The Death and Return of Superman” storyline.
  • Executive meddling in 1992 left the writers scrambling for new ideas. They went with killing off the character with no real warning to the readers. Other DC titles would be informed so that other characters could react to these events in their own installments.
  • “Superman #75” showcased the character’s death. It flew off the shelves. Writers and editors had to show up on the news to address their disgruntled readership.
  • Serialization of Superman comics continued as new heroes tried to take on that heroic mantle.
  • In convoluted sequence of events, resurrected original Superman comes back to join forces with the other ones to stop the evil Cyborg Superman.
  • Fans felt used. Sales plummeted and it triggered the bursting of the comic book collector bubble. Marvel barely survived the ensuing bankruptcy.
  • “The sacred suspension of disbelief, as far as death within narrative production, had ended. ‘Death of Superman’ didn’t kill Superman; it killed death.” Other famous characters would be killed and resurrected soon afterwards in DC and Marvel. This narrative strategy of a revolving door afterlife was now set in comic book lore.
  • One variant in storytelling style can be found in Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegna. They are the writer and artist respectively but are the co-creators and thus dual authors.
  • Comic follows narrative continuity but does not have a strict chronological point by point conveying of events.
  • Main character is a sentient robot that has lived for over a century. Adventures within that timeline can be told with each installment, not having to go in order.
  • Stories are normally divided into volumes, each consisting of about five installments. Events normally take up one volume so story extends beyond the 28-32 pages of one installment.
  • The timeline is fairly strict; authors have established that they will not be performing any narrative resets.
  • Both authors are fairly vocal on social media often times having conversations with another. Shows transparency in narrative production as readers can see what’s going on and even voice their opinions along the way.

 

Chapter 4: Webcomics

 

  • Changes in technology affect the way we communicate. The same goes for storytelling.
  • Digital media changes out notions of publishing. No longer is the document material. Accessibility and availability of serial fiction is now equated to access of technology.
  • Fewer intermediaries between author and reader means that the product is less polished. Narrative production slightly more visible. Fewer barriers for publication for better and for worse.
  • First webcomics were published in the 1980s before computers became common in households. Mostly content in print that was further distributed online.
  • Late 1990s saw the “dotcom” boom and bust. Big companies and publishing houses stayed away from digital publishing. Individual authors without much of a tech background tried their luck with varied results.
  • Text now becomes the entirety of website. Documents are the individual pages with each installment. Author can alter them or even delete them entirely.
  • Beyond narrative production, authors are in charge of creating and maintaining the website, moderating forums, and developing merchandise.
  • Webcomic styles are mostly remediations of comics. Single panel, a few panels, or the equivalent of one comic book page per installment. Foments a sense of familiarity when reading.
  • Authors can take advantage of how the screen can keep going and convey their images through the infinite canvas. Can prevent the reader’s wandering eye from seeing disrupting pacing.
  • Computer screen and tablets have similar dimensions to the page but reading experiences on cell phones means that comics need to be shown panel by panel with lots of resizing along the way.
  • Webcomic cartoonists make their own publication schedules and are free to follow them or not. On a fixed schedule, majority of readers come on that day only. Varying schedules means that readers will come at different times to check but leads to inconsistencies. Can be seen as not professional.
  • Authors can change the schedule to better fit with narrative pacing. Action heavy sequences can have more frequent updates.
  • Archives on the website keep the narrative accessible no matter how convoluted the story can be. New readers can go through former installments at their own pace and catch up to the most recent part of the story. Temporal element of waiting is not experienced though. No interruptions for reflections on your own or with the rest of readership leads to different serial reading experience.
  • Updates can stop at the authors’ behest at any time. No one to fire him/her. Text can be in narrative limbo for extended period of time as readers wonder if serialization will continue.
  • Rich Burlew started writing and drawing The Order of the Stick (OOTS) in 2003 as minor part of his website. It quickly became most popular part about it.
  • Started out as purely humorous parody of Dungeons & Dragons style adventure gaming. Slowly became more serious but then balanced out the drama and the comedy aspects.
  • Changes in tone are known as Cerebus Syndrome, fairly common in webcomic serial fiction as narrative production is taken more seriously.
  • Because health and other reasons, Burlew has had to alter his publication schedule from strict to more random. Was once quite vocal in the forums, even defending narrative choices sometimes, but has taken a step back from that role.
  • OOTS continues to be published to this day. Burlew has started using social media a bit more but is still fairly shy when compared to other webcomic cartoonists out there.
  • Tarol Hunt, author of Goblins, is a bit more vocal to his readers.
  • Started publishing his webcomic in 2005 following the example of Burlew’s success. Both comics have a similar genre and theme.
  • Hunt is quite open about his narrative production. Quite receptive to the readership’s advice. Regularly has live drawing sessions through webcam where readers can use the chat feature to communicate between themselves and the author.
  • Even if it is not officially published, anything said by Hunt is considered factual within the Goblins’ Readers archive such utterances within the webcomic’ forum.
  • Hunt has changed publication schedule multiple times to better fit the demands of narrative pacing and the time it takes for him to draw and write installments. Found the right balance with updates every five days. Even had an up to the minute countdown clock for a while.
  • Then suddenly Hunt went into radio silence. Updates had stopped due to “urgent private reasons”. He insisted on giving a full explanation.
  • Three months after the last installment he published a long essay titled “I Quit”. Basically, he had a mental breakdown and was slowly getting better. The comic would continue to be published but he quit feeling as his readers were his boss. Thus, changing perceived author-reader dynamics.
  • Serialization restarted seven months after the unplanned hiatus started. New installments continue being published at a semi-weekly rate.
  • From business perspective, webcomic authors generate revenue through advertising on the site and merchandising.
  • To get startup capital for big projects, they rely on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Works as a large form of preorders. Initial risk for new endeavors gets passed on to readers.
  • Depending on pledge level, individual readers can get different rewards based on their amount. You can get anything from new merchandise before anyone else or even have the author come hang out with you at your house.
  • Additional stretch goals provide additional rewards for backers should the campaign obtain enough funds beyond what they were asking for.
  • Burlew started a Kickstarter for a reprint of the third compilation of OOTS strips. Asked for $57,000, ended up with $1.2 million. After taxes and Kickstarter’s cut, Burlew broke even after giving out all the material rewards. Promised PDF stories are still under development.
  • Hunt tried a Kickstater campaign to develop a board game based on his story and characters. Not as big a success. Person in charge of making the actual board game disappeared with the money. Hunt now trying to make board game and deliver it to backers on his own time and money.
  • Patreon is another crowdfunding website. Instead of big projects, it provides readers to support their favorite authors through funds that are collected at different intervals, eg once a week, once per month, once per published installment, etc. Works better for serialized material.
  • Like Kickstarter individual pledges can give personal rewards and also those that give something to rest of pledgees once enough funds are collected. Enough funds can even affect the entire webcomic, like no longer needing outside advertisements.
  • Direct funding by readers can also be done without a reward system. It turns into begging for donations for the most part. Hunt did this periodically over the years until the readers actually paid for the down payment of his house.
  • Webcomic cartoonists would like a massive readership to achieve success. In reality, a devoted enough small umber can help the author subsist of his work entirely. Many point toward the concept of 1,000 true fans, each spending about $100 a year on the webcomic.
  • True fans can also volunteer to take on the additional authorial responsibilities like moderating the forums. The author can award them and give them official honorary titles.
  • Rob Balder writes the webcomic Erfworld but the original artist left after one of the story arcs. A new artist was selected from among those who regularly submitted fan art to the site. Another professional artist was hired later on, largely through funds collected through crowdsourcing.
  • Readers can thus ascend to new levels where they directly assist the author and can even shape narrative production.
  • Authorship in webcomics thus becomes communal rather than the individual who started out doing everything. Can only happen with dedicated readership that takes years to acquire.

 

Episode 166: Booking Bernie to Win the Democratic Championship

I rarely get involved with politics but this set of party primaries have been energetic and polarizing. From the beginning I have thrown my hat in the ring in favor of one, Bernie Sanders. I’ve seen pretty much all the debates and believe him to be the right person in the Oval Office. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m Bernie or Bust but I’m a big fan to say the least. With that in mind, my fanfiction speculation powers have been machinating one particular scenario as to how this all plays out. I write this with the backdrop of watching way too much wrestling programming. And so I shall book the finale of the nomination as if it were the Monday Night Raw after a major PPV event for WWE (haven’t seen enough of the other things to get a proper feel for their storytelling style). Think of it as a weird script. Here goes.

We open in Philadelphia, the last day of the Democratic Convention. Bernie Sanders and his fans have their spirits deflated, to say the east. Even after the mathematic impossibility of winning, the voters had come out to support him over the last few primaries. The 60/40 victory over Hillary in California was a shot of hope to the heart but ultimately, the lead of pledge delegates was too much to overcome. It was close but no cigar. Polls now had Trump edging towards victory in the general against Hillary but Bernie still being a clear favorite in hypothetical match ups. Super delegates had been meeting left and right to make their call but ultimately decided that taking the election away from “the mandate of the voters” so far would set a dangerous precedent.

The convention has been tumultuous but as Senator Sanders saw the writing on the wall, he told his supporters that this is a democracy first and foremost and it was time to face his counterparts as rivals but not as enemies. It was loud, chairs were lifted and put back down, a few points in the Democratic agenda had become more Bernie friendly, planting the seeds towards a more progressive future for the party and hopefully for the nation. They do a super delegate roll call to give their vote and they pretty much all go for Secretary Clinton. The vote stops semi awkwardly before some of the truly higher ups could give their support (including President Obama) as the magic number had been hit by then. The protesters were out in the street at this point and things were getting heated. Bernie slips out of the convention as Hillary Clinton is about to give her acceptance speech. Many call it a disrespectful snub but reporters quickly shift their call to one of praise as the Senator from Vermont gives an impassioned speech to the huddled masses to stave off the potential riot. The collective blood was cooled down from boiling points but the people are still rooting from Bernie.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz goes to the floor of the convention, says that the nomination process is finished but still needs to be officially ratified in the next seven days by the actual leader of the party, President Obama. Hillary Clinton goes out and gives a nice speech about party unity but the general atmosphere is still one of meh and business as usual. The convention is pretty much ending but the crowds are still out there. A few last minute meetings were taking place as the delegates start to leave and some address the media, about what just happened and asking about these cryptic new tweets by Donald Trump, who has been saying “wait for it…” for the last few hours. Bernie leaves the grounds and a few reporters try to come to him but the crowds cheer so loudly you can’t cover the noise factor. A little later, Hillary comes out alongside Bill and Chelsea but also with a lot of Secret Service agents around them. The boos are clearly audible. The reporters try to get there to get a statement. A few people try to jump the barricades but they are quickly dissuaded by security but then a small group of people flash badges and go forward. The crowds go silent…

The group walks with determination towards the new nominee and the reporters and agents are scrambling to figure out what’s going on.

“FBI, Mrs. Clinton you need to come with us. NOW!”

The reporters’ microphones are close enough to get audio of what’s transpiring. The Secret Service Agents take a step back, Bill is aghast, Chelsea is super quiet, and Hillary is LIVID!!! She starts telling the FBI agents that she’s not going anywhere, that the investigation was already taken care of, and that they shouldn’t be here. The lead agent declares that they need to go but she insists that she’s not moving until they explain what’s going. “A new source has come forward with some evidence against you”. Hillary is getting into a Vicky Guerrero style fit as Bill tells her to calm down and just go with them, things will be resolved but she is having none of it. An FBI van comes in and Hillary begrudgingly gets into the back of the van. Bill immediately gets on the phone and starts calling everyone as they shoo the reporters away. As he and Chelsea walk briskly away, she stops and kneels to pick up a discarded “Sanders 2016” sign and she does a devilish grin like Stephanie McMahon.

Lots of police come immediately afterwards to preemptively disperse the crowds. Reporters are scattered trying to find out what just happened and all other politicians are nowhere to be found. And then, they have a call from the network HQ saying that there’s a new Trump tweet: “Worth the wait. #ByeFelicia”

Over the next few days, the news media outlets are insane with speculations. Details are sketchy but things are coming out. A backup of the mystery email server was found, a few mostly inconsequential bits of information regarding national secrets are there. Enough to be suspicious, not enough for there to be a traitor declaration, except for Fox News who has basically proclaimed that Trump should already be President. Bernie Sanders is avoiding the press at all costs and the rest of the Democratic party is in a panic. By day three after the fiasco, more details emerge as the FBI investigation spreads and evidence towards the supposed conspiracy from the DNC against Bernie start to emerge and everyone is just in a state of confusion. Some voices are calling for the destruction of the party, others that Hillary still be the nominee no matter what.

The confusion and chaos are slightly quelled as President Obama calls for an emergency joint session of Congress and the Senate immediately to address what is going on and provide leadership to the DNC. It’s only been a week since the FBI took her away but some suppose that Obama is going to just pardon Hillary immediately and let her run anyway, even if it means basically signing over the presidency to Trump as new polls put her in an abysmal situation. Pretty much every leader of the party at every level is there to see what happens. Donald Trump has declined to come as he has “huge, tremendous deal that needs to be sorted out.” But even though all the people are there and things are about to start, a minorly bearded Bernie Sanders emerges to fulfill his duties as a Senator from Vermont. Whatever hopes and fears that he can run as an Independent have been stifled by the fact that most states’ deadlines to appear on the ballots have passed. All of the minor outside political parties have also declared that Bernie is not welcome after declaring his support for the Democratic Party during the earlier convention.

Obama enters and he does his “My fellow Americans…” protocol. All of the television channels are carrying the event. A few minutes in, Obama explains what has transpired and sheds further light into the situation. He wants to keep talking but prefers that if he should say this part it should be clear and to the affected party’s face. At that point, Hillary Clinton is escorted in to a chorus of murmurs as she walks in surround on all sides by agents that aren’t exactly Secret Service. She’s not handcuffed but you can tell the agents are there to make sure nothing crazy happens. Obama explains that:

“Democracy is the law of the land; it is the foundation by which this great nation was first established by the founders. I have arrived by this position by the trust of the American people when they voted for me and when they voted for each and every elected official in this room. It is a trust that has been fragile at best but now seems shattered. The people within the Republican party have done their primaries and while we may disagree over the candidate we do not question the process by which the people selected him. Fair is fair. On the Democratic side, the people have also voted and a clear majority have voted for Secretary Clinton as our nominee. This is what democracy has established and proclaimed. But, let me be clear, this process has been mired in controversy and the peoples’ voices have been put into question. While these two people are the nominees for the position of President of the United States, it is still a position that I still hold and will use the powers of my office to regain the trust of all Americans. A decision that in the name of transparency I will take into effect right here and right now.”

The people from Congress and the Senate suddenly start going crazy as to what’s about to go down. Hillary has a confident grin as she believes that her salvation is upcoming. The murmurs continue as Obama pulls out a large envelope and he begins to speak once again.

“I have consulted with my Cabinet on various options as to what decision should be made. It has been made clear to me that I am well within the rights of my office to enact this action. With one stroke of a pen I can assure that democracy continues on the path that has been set already by the voters. HOWEVER, the duties of my position as President are to ensure that democracy as a whole can continue forward; not just for this upcoming election but for the one afterwards and the one after that so long as this nation continues to exist. And so I make this decision, not as the president of these United States of America but rather as head of the Democratic party.”

Hillary’s face turns pale as her jaw slightly drops. The confusion continues in silence as Obama opens the envelope.

“In my hands, I hold here the paperwork from the Democratic National Convention proclaiming our nominee. These forms need to ratified by me within one week after being completed by myself. And by my calendar, I still have a few hours to sign this. But since the super delegate votes weren’t properly conducted and since all of you are already here… I propose a motion for a recount of these delegates to be done right here right now.”

A formerly dejected Bernie Sanders springs to life with hope as within a few seconds after Obama says this, he stands up and screams. “I second that motion.” Hillary screams for an objection, but Obama says, “I’m sorry but this is only open to debate by CURRENT senators and congressmen and women.” The people go nuts with that comment but they forget to object as Obama waits a brief moment by saying, “Well with no objections let’s start the recount. Let me start, I vote for Senator Bernie Sanders and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

An “I am Spartacus” moment emerges as each of the super delegates join in to vote one by one for Sanders, starting with Joe Biden who is super enthusiastic about it. Hillary tries to control herself but she is clearly seething as she asks her handlers to get her out of there. As all 700+ heads of the party proclaim their allegiance as their Republican counterparts are just in awe of what is happening. Obama ends that by saying that:

“Transparency and the law must be maintained for the trust of the people in our party and our government must be regained. And so I have asked the Department of Justice to join the FBI in their current investigation as to the issues regarding Secretary Clinton and that charges be filed as the case is resolved. Justice has been blind for far too long in avoiding the prosecution of those in power rather than the rule of law be equal to all. I will do everything in my power for the trust of the American people to be reforged with those they task with representing them and I urge the men and women on both sides of the aisle to do the same. God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.”

 

Fin

 

PS. In case you were wondering, yes Chelsea was the new informant for the FBI in my above political speculative piece of fiction. I have this scene in mind where Hillary is in self imposed house arrest of sorts to avoid the media. The empire is starting to collapse. Bill and Hillary are in damage control, trying to contact people but their calls go unanswered. Chelsea comes to visit and is confronted with what is going on and why she isn’t doing more to help. It’s at this moment that the heir apparent says that maybe the ship is too far gone and just needs to sink. Bill says that everything they have done is for her and her future. Chelsea says that this isn’t the future she wants. She’s seen what power has done to her family and it needs to be stopped. Hillary is like what are you talking about and that’s when she confesses to being the FBI’s new lead. The parents stumble to their seats as they are aghast with this apparent betrayal. Chelsea says her piece about how power corrupts and she’s already seen the changes to her family. Bill tries to claim that that’s just how the system works but she answers that maybe we need a new system. Bill wants to stop her but says “you do what you think is right baby girl.” As Chelsea says her goodbyes, Hillary screams “If you you leave this house right now then you might as well go to Hell!” Chelsea calmly responds without looking back. “Way ahead of you mom, I’m already feeling the Bern.”

 

PSS Because dramatic tension and sequels, let’s say that the post credits scene is Donald Trump in his office, looking at the news. Bernie is doing an interview as to how he will accept all current donations from the pro Hillary Super Pacs who now want to help for him since the money is already raised but that no other funds will be collected in that way during his run. Chris Christie comes in, the television is turned off. Trump says “can you believe this guy, turning down free money.” Chris asks if he’s worried about having to face Sanders now. Trump does his face of shrugging confidence and says come on I want to show you something. “I’ve got this plan for a huge overhaul of our embassy systems across the globe.” He pulls up some computer files with badly photoshopped huge Trump signs on pretty much every major global landmark. The last one shown is the Trump moniker on the Great Wall of China.