Twentieth Anniversary of Graphic Novel to be Celebrated at UMass Amherst Nov. 13-15

AMHERST, Mass. - On the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Will Eisner’s "A Contract with God," the first work to be published as a serious comic book, or "graphic novel," the University of Massachusetts will host a conference on the history, aesthetics, and future of the rapidly growing genre. The conference is co-sponsored by the UMass departments of comparative literature, English, art history, and Judaic and Near Eastern studies, in conjunction with the Words & Pictures Museum in Northampton, Mass., and Kitchen Sink Press. The Words & Pictures Museum will also present an exhibition on the graphic novel the same weekend.

"In the 20 years since ‘A Contract with God’ was published, the graphic novel has attracted increasing scholarly attention and critical recognition," says UMass comparative literature faculty member Christopher Couch, chair of the conference. Couch says since Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust story "Maus" received the Pulitzer Prize in1989, the graphic novel has achieved unprecedented levels of public recognition. This has led to further explorations of the form by artists, mounting scholarly interest, and significant growth in the book publishing industry, he says.

Couch says since their inception, graphic novels have embraced a diverse range of cultural experiences, including Eisner’s and Spiegelman’s explorations of Jewish identity and the Holocaust; the Hernandez Brothers’ focus on Mexican-American issues; Howard Cruse’s and Diane D’Amassa’s autobiographical and fictional writings on gay and lesbian experiences; and Jack Jackson’s works on Texas history. In addition, the graphic novel has emerged as a site for the engagement of contemporary theories in the humanities, Couch says. "Graphic novels encompass works that question textual boundaries and distinctions between fiction and historical and theoretical works."

The conference will take place in the UMass Campus Center, with a welcoming reception on Fri. Nov. 13, and papers and presentations by scholars, artists, and writers on Sat. Nov. 14 - Sun. Nov. 15. There will also be a reception for Eisner and renowned graphic novelist and critic Scott McCloud at the Words & Pictures Museum on Saturday evening. Registration for the conference is $5, and will take place from 6-9 p.m. Friday, all day Saturday, and throughout the morning on Sunday on the 8th floor of the Campus Center.