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MSU Comics Forum showcases comic treasures and legends

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Whether you are a fair-weather fan or an unapologetic elitist nerd, the Michigan State University Comics Forum has a page-turning fix for all.

This year’s event will feature tours of the world’s largest comics collection in MSU Special Collections, 16 dialogue and discourse panel talks on comics, an artist’s alley with over 30 vendors and keynote presentations by comic artist Gregory “Seth” Gallant and comic scholar Qiana Whitted.

Dr. Julian Chambliss and Dr. Salah Hassan of MSU will kick off the forum on Feb. 19 with a panel discussion on a Muslim’s journey in comics. Chambliss is the incoming panel coordinator for the MSU Comics Forum and assistant professor in the MSU Comics Minor.

“My colleague and I are going to be doing a discussion around ‘Green Lanterns Vol. I: (Rebirth) Rage Planet,’ which is a series that starts in 2006 with two Green Lantern characters.”

In the comic, Simon Baz of Dearborn receives the fabled Green Lantern ring.

“This is a way to talk about the depictions of Muslim-Americans in comics. Baz is a real attempt to update and improve what has been somewhat stereotypical depictions of Muslims in comics, think characters like Ra’s al Ghul in Batman for example.”

Other panel discussions on comics range from cultural re-contextualization to Afro-futurism.

Keynote speaker Seth’s illustrations and comics have appeared on the cover of The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine. He was also the designer of the complete collection volumes of popular comic strip “The Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz.

“Seth is the kind of creator that the comic forum strives to bring to the public. He is someone who’s had a long and very consistent career as a creator,” Chambliss said. “He cultivated a style that is professional and fans of his work have taken to because of the authenticity and voice he brings.”

Despite indie hits like “Palookaville,” published on Drawn and Quarterly comics, Seth is still a relative unknown, Chambliss said.

“This is a great opportunity for MSU to bring him into the spotlight. He puts a spotlight on the diversity, the complexity and the innovation you can find in comics. I’m looking forward to his keynote.”

The second keynote speaker, Qiana Whitted, wears many hats. She’s a comic scholar, associate editor for “INKS: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society,” chair of the International Comic Arts Forum and director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina.

She is currently in the process of releasing a book titled “EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest” in 2019.

“EC Comics was a very famous comic book publisher,” Chambliss said. “Tales From the Crypt was a comic book from EC. Those horror comics from the 1950s were renowned for the shocking twists and social commentary.”

The questions of race and equity depicted in those comics are still relevant today, he added.

“We are doing something to bring attention to these narratives of race and identity at a pivotal moment. The kids that are reading those books the same time they were accepting the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.”

If interested in seeing EC Comics or any others, Special Collections will offer the tour of its Comic Art Collection Feb. 23. It is the largest collection of comics in the world, totaling 300,000 items from 1840 to present day.

The envy of other comic repositories around the world is an intact set of seven 1840 first edition comics from Swiss cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer. It is considered to be the first comic ever made.

Attendees must reserve tour spots via email to emcordes@lib.msu.edu.

“If you view comics as a unique art form with a lot of respectability and engagement with a broad audience, now is the golden age of comics," Chambliss said. "There is both a serious consideration of comics as a literary art form and source of scholarly engagement.”

For more information, visit comicsforum.msu.edu

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