BNS 2019: Graphic Novels

Welcome to the Brandeis Novel Symposium, an annual one-day conference that will hold its third annual meeting Friday April 12, 2019. Each year, the conference will have a dual focus: both on a particular novel and on theoretical and scholarly questions raised by the novel more generally. This year’s theoretical and critical topics unfold around the question of the graphic novel: last year’s symposium was about science fiction and centered on The Three Body Problem; the inaugural event in 2017 was on Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle.

This year, the BNS board has chosen to focus on another fascinating edge case,  the graphic novel. Even that label is a disputable one: many scholars prefer to speak of comics, and many of the works classed as graphic novels do not fit the traditional genre criteria for the novel per se. Indeed, one of the two texts we have chosen, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, is a memoir. The other, Sonny Liew’s brilliant The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, has a fictional protagonist, but is studiously faithful to the historical upheavals around Singapore’s independence struggles. So we anticipate that the papers and the discussion will not only zero in on the particular attributes of the books in question, but will also radiate outward to reflect upon the questions of genre and categorization that make the evolving field of the graphic narrative arts so fascinating.

As always, we encourage but do not require you to read Fun Home  and The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye in advance of the conference: if you can, please buy them at an independent local store like Million Year Picnic or New England Comics. There will also be some discussion (and a mixed graduate and undergraduate seminar in the morning) that focuses on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

See our Program page for more details about the scheduled talks; and if you are a graduate or undergraduate student, when you register please indicate if you are interested  in a morning seminar (choosing between one on Fun Home and one led by keynote speaker Katie Trumpener on the theoretical underpinnings of comics as art form). These come with a free lunch.

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