Comic book author, graduate student, teacher, and business owner Christina Blanch will be speaking on Monday, November 4, at 7:30 in LB 125 as part of the Department of English’s Marilyn K. Cory Speakers Series. In advance of her talk, she agreed to answer a few questions from English Department faculty member Debbie Mix about comic books, creative writing, and scholarship.
Debbie: How did you get interested in reading and writing about comics? Is it challenging to think and write about something you love from an academic perspective?
Christina: I picked up a copy of Prince Valiant when I was young that my parents had. I thought it was so cool that this was a book for adults that had pictures and words. It just fascinated me. I drifted away from comics in the late teen years but found them again when I had my first child and was teaching him to read. I never really thought about using comics until I was reading a series called Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. I was writing a lecture at the time on culture change, and in the book, all of the males on the planet die suddenly. Talk about culture change! I had always used popular culture in my teaching so using comic books wasn’t a stretch. And it got the students’ attention, which is something that is so important in teaching.
Yes, it is challenging to look at comics, which I do love, from an academic perspective. Sometimes it makes me sad because I realize a book I love really sends a wrong message, but there is always something to learn—good or bad. On the flip side though, analyzing comics really shows how incredibly complex the medium is and usually I end reading the books with a totally new perspective so it’s like reading a completely new book. That is awesome.
Debbie: What kinds of scholarship (or what fields of study) do you draw on in your academic work on comics?
Christina: All fields, really. Luckily my Master’s is in Anthropology, and we have to study everything about human culture. That’s what I love about using comics—you get to use everything you know. My doctorate will be in Educational Studies, which has helped me tremendously in learning how students learn, and I draw on that a lot.
Debbie: How did you come to write The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood? Can you talk a bit about the process of writing a serialized narrative? Of collaborating on that project?
Christina: I taught in Ball State’s prison program for about eight years and during that time I met one of my best friends, Chris Carr. After the program was canceled, Chris came to me and asked if I would like to write a book with him about our experiences, but from a fictional point of view. I said that I would love to create a comic about it. We found Chee, our amazing artist, and a home for it, on thrillbent.com, and with that, The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood was born. The collaboration is wonderful. Chris and I get together and create rough outlines for the story. We take turns writing the issues, and then we edit each other’s work and send it to our editor, Mark Waid. Then Chee gets the script and does his magic. He is amazing. After that it goes to Troy Peteri, our outstanding letterer, then back to our editor Mark for final assembly and then up on the net on Friday.
Writing a weekly comic is a lot different that one that comes out each month. Instead of one hook, you need four. In seven or eight screens something has to happen, be resolved, and then something has to happen to keep the reader want to come back the next week. This is both Chris’s and my first comic, so talk about jumping in the deep end! But we are having a great time, and we are all so proud of our final work.
Debbie: Are there particular artists, characters, and/or series that you think will be especially important to the future of comics? What comics or series do you think our readers should check out?
Christina: At the moment there are so many good comics out there it’s crazy! Locke and Key (which is just wrapping up), Daredevil, Saga, Hawkeye, the X-Men books, Superior Spider-Man, East of West, and so many others are so great. New books like Hinterkind, Coffin Hill, Lazarus, Velvet, Pretty Deadly—I think all of these are changing comics. The best way to decide what comics you should read is to go to your local comic book store and ask. Let them know types of movies and television shows you watch, or books you read, and they can suggest something. There is something for everyone. And of course, they should check out The Damnation of Charlie Wormwood.
Debbie: Can you give us a preview of your talk?
Christina: Comics reflect culture. Since comics are immediate, with issues in series coming out once or even twice a month, the authors and artists are influenced tremendously by what is happening around them. My talk will be a tour through 75 plus years of comic books and how they can be seen as cultural mirrors.
Please join us to hear more from Christina Blanch on Monday, November 4, at 7:30 in LB 125. This talk is free and open to the public.