Comic Book Creators and Experts Gather for The Symposium on Comic Arts

The Symposium on Comic Arts, founded and moderated by comic book creator and educator Ramon Gil, was a virtual conference geared towards comic book professionals.


NEW YORK, NY, March 7, 2022 – On Saturday, February 26th, comic book creator and educator Ramon Gil hosted the Symposium on Comic Arts, featuring a full day of virtual programming designed for an audience of comic book professionals. The panelists represented a diverse range of academics, editors, and other industry leaders, including Regine Sawyer, Tom Hart, Gina Gagliano, Anthony Marques, Oriana Leckert, and Nick Sousanis.
“I always wanted to create a convention that is more focused on creators,” Gil said, clarifying that the Symposium differs from most other comic book conventions in that its intended audience is comic book professionals, rather than consumers. “Whenever you go to a large comic con, the panels are always the same. A retrospective of a character, how to make comics, women in comics, etc… I wanted this to be much more exploratory and applicable to comic creators regarding the future of the medium.”
Attendees received their first taste of the “exploratory” nature event from the first panel, “The Question of Unionization,” hosted by Regine Sawyer. Sawyer, the coordinator and founder of Women in Comics (WinC) International, as well as a freelance comic book writer and publisher of Lockett Down Productions, offered attendees a comprehensive look into the challenges and possibilities of a union or guild for comic book creators. “While we cannot unionize as independent contractors, or freelancers,” Sawyer explained, noting the restrictions of the National Labor Relations Act which protects labor unions, “we can form guilds.” The rest of the panel was focused on envisioning how such a guild may be possible, despite the failure of previous attempts to form one for comic book creators.
Tom Hart, the New York Times Bestselling author of Rosalie Lightning and the Executive Director of The Sequential Artists Workshop based in Gainesville, Florida, led the second panel, “Process and Product.” Throughout the panel, Hart passionately encouraged comic book creators at all stages of their careers to refocus their energy on what excites them about creating comics, rather than expending too much energy on what external forces say or think about their comics. “It doesn’t matter what age I am… it doesn’t matter how old I am…” Hart said as the panel drew to a close. “What matters is: did I make something last week that I can build on this week?”
For the third panel, Boston Book Festival executive director Gina Gagliano, who also co-hosts the “Graphic Novel TK” podcast alongside Benjamin Wilgus, provided an in-depth commentary on the troubling trends of comic book censorship. Formerly an editor with Penguin Random House, Gagliano offered a comprehensive overview of the history of comic book censorship, its causes, the misconceptions regarding it, and what comic book creators and readers can do to fight it. “Queer people, people of color, trans people, and Jewish people are essential parts of America,” Gagliano said. “Erasing them from the books kids read leads to rewriting the American experience as something exclusively white, straight, and Christian. That’s not our country’s history.”
Anthony Marques, the owner and president of The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, as well as a cartoonist in his own right, spearheaded the fourth panel with an extended interview by Gil about the increasing diversification of the comic book industry. That includes those who make comics, those who read comics, and the genres of comic books that are made and consumed. “Comic books have to be diverse, because the world we live in is diverse,” he said. Marques encouraged attendees to consider the different possibilities of how comics can be made not just in terms of who makes them, but in terms of process, whether they draw by hand, on a tablet, or even on their cell-phones. The important thing, he emphasized, is that the comic gets made in a way that works for the individual creator. “Anyone can make a comic,” he said. “All you need is your imagination, a pencil, and a piece of paper.”
The penultimate panel put the spotlight on Oriana Leckert, who serves Kickstarter as their Director of Publishing & Comics Outreach. Leckert began the panel by clarifying Kickstarter’s mission as a platform to “bring creative projects to life,” rather than means for people to raise funds for personal matters like investing and medical bills. After detailing the unique benefits of Kickstarter as a distinct platform, she narrowed the focus to describing the benefits of literary crowdfunding, offering detailed insight into how comic book creators can best leverage crowdfunding efforts for a successful campaign that best benefits both the backers and creators. “Such an engaged audience…” Leckert said as the panel wrapped. “This was awesome.”
Nick Sousanis led the final panel with a discussion of “The Role of Education in Comics.” The San Francisco State University assistant professor, who is also a scholar, art critic, and cartoonist, was the first student at Columbia University to complete his dissertation entirely in the form of a comic. Appropriately, his presentation was populated with numerous comic book images as he led attendees through the story of his journey in comics scholarship, while also detailing the unique educational benefits that comic books provide to students of all ages. “Comics are hard to read, right?” Sousanis said. “There are fewer words, and the pictures help on some level. But they’re harder. They’re harder because you have to pay attention to so much more… it really forces you to pay attention in a way that’s dramatically different from other kinds of reading.”
The Symposium ended with a virtual networking event on Kumospace, allowing panelists and attendees to move freely and mingle within an interactive space much as one would for an informal in-person gathering. The ensuing discussions made evident that attendees were fascinated by the panels, and energized to apply what they learned in their own work and lives.

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