Curriculum NEH Comics and Social Justice Grant Uncategorized

Race, Comics, and Reading the Post-colonial Word & World

Written by
Michael Dominguez
San Diego State University

Way back in 2008, a friend and I, both of us men of color, both of us lifelong readers of comics, attended the premiere of the Robert Downy Jr.-led Ironman film. As we waited in line, we chatted about favorite comics—he reflecting on how drawn to the X-Men he had been, given the focus on outsider status, and I talking up the recent run of Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle comics following the DC Infinite Crisis event—both excited for the film. A few hours later, we would walk out with the same kind of conflicted feelings we both often had around comics, namely because of the way race, ethnicity, and culture played out in them. 

Specifically, I remember this scene in that 2008 Ironman film where Tony Stark, in his newly designed suit, flies across the world to dispose of Stark Industries weapons being used by terrorists. At one point, the terrorists are holding hostages, and Stark uses his extensive arsenal and technology to pinpoint the aggressive, threatening, vaguely Islamic looking, brown terrorists, and dispatch of all of them easily, leaving the hostages unharmed. Later, he fires a projectile at a tank, and coolly walks aways, as it blows up moments later. He flies off, returning to his spacious, tech laden mansion in Malibu.

Tony Stark walks away from an exploding tank on his way back to Malibu, CA in Ironman (2008)

Tony Stark walks away from an exploding tank on his way back to Malibu, CA in Ironman (2008). Who was responsible for cleaning up this near-East village in the global south after Tony Stark “liberated” it by blowing a bunch of stuff (and people) up? It sure seems like it wasn’t Ironman…

But what of the brown, global south folks whose village he just launched a bunch of high explosives into? What of the broader political issues and post-colonial tensions and artificial, European-drawn borders that were inevitably the cause of whatever the hell was going on in this village to start with? Those aren’t Stark’s concern or responsibility, apparently. 

Liked we’d both long felt with comics, we were conflicted, because, while we both appreciated the artistic qualities of the film (who knew it would launch a film franchise with 33 and counting films?), the whole thing was, ideologically-speaking, a celebration of coloniality and Orientalism—that it requires a strong White man, his militaristic intervention, and the righteous wisdom of the metaphoric “West” (i.e. the Western epistemic world) to stop all the backward, uncivilized brown folks in the global south from killing each other. And that he could do so with pinpoint accuracy—and White moral superiority–such that hostages were spared, and collateral damage was an afterthought. Once his task is done, Ironman leaves this xenophobic, Orientalist fever dream of a third world/global south village to clean itself (and all the Ironman-produced rubble) up. And while the film explores some threads about the ethics of arms sales, we never broach the original sin of the global politics of colonization, or how race and culture are wrapped up in them. But hey, at least the Stark Industries weapons are gone!

We left that theatre feeling the same way we’d both felt reading comics all our lives as folks of color: conflicted, but resigned; thrilled by the storytelling, but a little sad because of whose story it was, again, and who was incidental to, yet impacted by, the action. We watched, as we had read, knowing the phenotypically, culturally, we were firmly in that latter category. 

And so as a comics fan, you wanted to enjoy the thrill and escapism of the ride, the cool gadgets, and fun action, but the coloniality of it all…the reality of knowing your BIPoC gente are more likely the collateral damage than the hero…well, that made it hard love. 

These questions, of identity, power, post-colonial politics, and the inevitable contradictions within the ideologies that comics and comic media more broadly (because what else are we to make of the decades long Marvel-verse and DC’s twice attempted cinematic universe) raise around race, ethnicity, and culture, are what CCS 235 focus on. 

Today, 500 years on from colonization and 60 years after the civil rights movement and legislation supposedly (that’s a very sarcastic supposedly) codified racial equality,  issues and questions of race, racial identity, ethnicity, culture, and belonging arguably remain the most defining features of U.S. social experience. The active presence or absence of race in our lives—what we call racialization—carves out our identities and outlook in profound, and varied ways. Borders, drawn in our surprisingly recent colonial past, and who belongs on which side of them, dominate our headlines. How racialized cultural practices and trends are being taken up shape our tastes and popular culture. Waves of political pressures shape our perceptions of capital O- “Other” communities as pathological, exotic, or humanized. And the permissibility/ impermissibility of just being able to speak transparently about all these issues, the immanence of racial experience, is somehow, well into the 21st century, under threat.

This is all to say that race, racial identity, and racial and cultural experience loom large in our collective socio-political experiences and imaginations, whether we want them to or not. And confronting their malignancies requires taking time to learn about their histories, intricacies, and dynamics, and both the insidious ways things like coloniality still creep into our lives, and the exciting, dynamic ways communities of color have evolved and transformed their practices as acts of resistance and resilience. CCS 235, as a CSU Area F (ethnic studies) GE course, is committed to helping students explore some of these questions, because doing so—unpacking and confronting how race and racism live in our lives—is not, as some suggest, harmful or its own form of bias, but essential to humanizing on another, and eradicating these last lingering malignancies from our society. We heal from trauma by confronting it, not ignoring it. 

But let’s get back to comics. Comics have always reflected a huge spectrum of social experience, imagination, and ideology. They speak and depict things about the way we think of the world, the way we see each other, and reveal both prevailing and subversive socio-cultural and socio-political attitudes around the time of their creation.  And that means that necessarily, inevitably, speak to and comment on how race and racism are being seen and understood, challenged or upheld. And learning how to read comics with all this in mind, in such a way as to expose and make transparent the racial messages and ideologies that surround us, is an incredibly important skill for any of us.

Take, for instance, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, one of the all-time classics of comic story-telling. A careful reading will reveal Moore’s incisive work to call attention to the colonial ideologies and toxicity that are wrapped up in the idea of “crime fighting” and the vigilante day dreams that comics represent—including the ways in which racialization and cultural pathologizing of those marginalized by neoliberal economics keeps that machine turning. Rorschach, in the text, is a straight up racist, driven by resentment for the slew of Others he muses about in his disturbing journal. The Comedian was a hyper-violent, patriarchal figure, fully embracing and reflecting American neo-colonialism, paternalism, and racialized nation-state militarism directed at the global south. Dr. Manhattan isn’t much better, it’s just that his racial politics are different, appearing in the intellectual alibis he creates for himself; he lives in a world of abstraction in which his responsibility doesn’t extend to the mundane, but very real, lived impacts of racism and racial experience.

Black and white frame from Watchmen. Rorschach is writing in a book and the caption says, "Slept all day. Awoken at 4:37. Landlady complaining about smell. She has five children by five different fathers. I am sure she cheats welfare. Soon it will be dark."
Frames from Alan Moore’s Watchmen(1987)

Frames from Alan Moore’s Watchmen(1987)—there was no mistake about how he wanted us to see and understand these characters as flawed, problematic individuals…

Some of this nuance was widely missed in the reading of Watchmen, much to Moore’s long-documented chagrin. And one of these folks who missed all that messaging was, clearly, Zach Snyder, because in the 2009 film adaptation, all the violence, heroism, and hyper-masculine bravado is preserved, but the ideological commentary on neoliberalism, nation-state violence, and criminalization is lost, and Rorschach, particularly, is transformed from racist sociopath into audience favorite and growling, rugged hero. Posters like this that promoted the film, pulling Rorschach’s quotes out of context—here, the quote “This city is afraid of me. I’ve seen it’s true face,” sounds all badass; in the text, this sentiment is wrapped up in obvious and off-putting racial resentment, showing the delusion behind this ethos of singular, infallible crime fighter—were oddly prescient to what the film itself would do: miss the point of the text in pretty profound ways. The comic and the film might as well be two different, unrelated properties, and that is, largely, down to how they understand and speak to race, racism, and other forms of social marginalization and pathologization.

Promotional poster for Watchmen. Rorschach is crouching with a weapon and the poster says, "This city is afraid of me. I've seen it's true face."

A character poster promoting Zach Snyder’s Watchmen(2009) film. Snyder’s film interpretation of Moore’s graphic novel was both exactingly frame-accurate to the comic, and just as exactly inaccurate to its themes and ideas.

That’s why in CCS 235, I wanted to make sure we were able to explore some of these implicit messages about racial and cultural ideologies, the ways that work on us invisibly, and how they shake out across mediums and readings of texts, and interpretations of characters. Watchmen is a good example, one we talk about in the course—and the HBO Watchmen series, which wove itself into and around the history of the Tulsa Race Riots adds another wrinkle for conversation—but this kind of messaging abounds across comic media. Ideologies are all around us, as are race and differential racial experiences. When we start to read the word (or picture) more critically and clearly, we start to read the world more robustly as well, and doing so allows us to unlearn the racializing, colonial, ideologies that limit our capacity for humanity.

But none of that reflection on the presence of racial and colonial ideologies in comics is to say that those are the only things we find or can explore when we read comics. And in CCS 235, we also get the chance—like in any good ethnic studies course—to look at the dynamic ways in which race, ethnicity, and culture are being lived, transformed, and enacted in both the present and historical context. 

Like, who knew that the popular and well-known story of Zorro, immortalized in books and films and comics across a century plus, was inspired by the real-life exploits of one Joaquin Murrieta, a Mexicano who led a people’s revolt in response to the often violent seizure of land by Anglo-American settlers swarming into newly-annexed California in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s? I suspect not many of us. To the White American California government, Murrieta was a bandit and criminal. To the Mexicanos, he was a vigilante and freedom fighter (the first Chicano, some say, fighting back after the border crossed him). Either way, his story—heavily romanticized and fictionalized so that he was reimagined from Murrieta’s actual mestizo peasant rebel self into an old-money Hispano aristocrat with a soft spot for the poor, but a clear commitment to the status quo of socioeconomic hierarchy generally—became the origin for Zorro (who in turn would become the origin for Batman—who is originally and recurringly depicted as emerging from a screening of The Mark of Zorro on the night his parents are shot in Crime Alley—but that takes us into a different direction…).

The cover of the original Zorro serial (1919). Features a woman and Zorro on the cover. The serial is called "All-Story Weekly"

The cover of the original Zorro serial (1919)—admittedly not exactly ideal representation, but a first step towards normalizing Latinidad in storytelling, all with a story based on the historical figure of Joaquin Murrieta….

Cover of The Challenge of Zorro number 732.

Dell Comics’ run of Zorro in the early 20th century laid the foundations for the character as he is known today—and helped pave the way as an archetype upon which Batman and others were built. ¡Joaquin Murrieta presente!

And Zorro, despite his aristocratic bearing, politics of the status quo, and origin from the imagination and pen of a very White, very Anglo author (Johnston McCulley), represents one of the earliest positive representations of Latinidad in popular media, and a distinct contrast between other depictions of Mexicanos as vaguely uncivilized, lazy, savages, and the borderlands as lawless, empty frontier-land. In Zorro, the cultural complexities of the border received some serious play and attention. It might not have been all positive, it was a depiction of a place with relatable, attractive, and exciting culture that went beyond just the exotic (though, yeah, there was some of that too…and there’s SO much to talk about with the racial politics of Mexico and how Zorro storytelling has tended to portray that). 

But it was storytelling like this as it appeared in serials, then comics and films, centering Latinidad, that makes Jaime Reyes and Blue Beetle become possible. We’ve now got a story where the action and narrative is set in the border-lands, where the hero is clearly a mestizo Mexicano, where the language of his internal monologue code-switches and uses Spanglish, and where the frontera, and Latinidad, seem to be just as substantial of characters themselves as any of the people populating the pages and frames.

Character of Blue Beetle and the tagline says, "Al Fin Y Al Cabo, Soy" (after all, I am Blue Beetle)

Blue Beetle’s Jaime Reyes operates like a lot of U.S. Latinos—in Spanglish, and pulled back and forth across both real and metaphorical borders.

This kind of depiction of Latinidad manages to capture its dynamism and diversity. Blue Beetle books, and the recent film, normalize Latinx cultural practices, perspectives, and experiences, while also playing with the way that added perspectives (including, but not limited to, an extraterrestrial Scarab exoskeleton) bring those practices into conversation with shifting moral frameworks, evolving generational attitudes, and the politics of belonging that so many Latinx young people have to deal with. Blasted across comic pages and movie screens, Blue Beetle is a look at how Latinx folks are immanently crafting racial, ethnic, and cultural identity. 

Blue Beetle flying above people running on the border/frontera.

There are a lot of characters in DC Comic’s Blue Beetle, but the one that is perhaps most interesting is the border/frontera itself, and how it shows up in shaping the narrative.

These are just a few things we touch on, in just a few of the units, and that I wanted students to have the chance to explore, in CCS 235. Again, we can’t escape the way race and racial identity impact our world, shape our media, and live with us in social, material, and symbolic ways. Ignoring them; taking up a colorblind stance that pretends these things aren’t a part of our lives, does little but help the more malicious and insidious threads of resentment and bias thrive, and unfortunately, proliferate. By exploring how race and racism—and attitudes about them—are intentionally and unintentionally reflected in comic narratives, how creators are commenting upon and subverting them, and how BIPoC communities, writers, and artists are using comics to bring their dynamic stories to life, we are humanizing one another, understanding that racial experience matters, how it matters, and how we can see these aspects of our identity as significant, meaningful, and enriching to a world that is begging for empathy and perspective. 

It’s been a minute since 2008, and even with all the tensions and contradictions, I’ve kept reading and watching comic media since that day at the movie theatre. Watching the ways that comics and comic media (and indeed the Marvel Universe that Ironman launched) grapple with our changing socio-political world, and the public and epistemic dilemmas that have arisen in our racial landscape and politics since then—around the U.S.//Mexico border, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder—have been fascinating. I’ve been both heartened and excited by things I’ve seen, and predictably dismayed by others. The epistemic space Blue Beetle carved out for Latinidad. the unflinching critique of coloniality that Black Panther’s Afro-futurism offered have been revelatory. But there’s also still been quite a bit of that traditional pathologization of the poor and melanated, and valorization of nation-state militarism and patriarchal racial and post-colonial politics that have always been present in comics.

Comics have always, and will always, continue to reflect our relationships with one another, and our relationships to how we are making sense of this impactful thing we know as race/racial identity. My hope is that CCS 235 will give folks an opportunity to see how they can read those things more transparently and meaningfully, both in the world around us, and on the pages and screens of the comic ecosystem. In so doing, we deconstruct the malignancies still living in our neo-colonial world just a little bit, and keep inching close to liberation and humanizaiton.

Michael Domínguez, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department at San Diego State University. Previously a middle school teacher in Nevada (where he regularly used comics as part of his literacy and ESL curriculum), Dr. Domínguez’ teaching and research focuses on the affective experiences of historically marginalized youth, the possibilities and tensions of ethnic studies in K-12 schools, and how decolonial frameworks can transform teacher education praxis. As SDSU, he leads the Center for K-12 Ethnic Studies Education, and his current community-based partnerships include ethnic studies teacher support partnerships, and an ethnographic study of pedagogy in athletic spaces. His work has been published widely, and a co-authored book, Decolonizing Middle Grades Literacy, was released in 2023.


Here Comes Santa…

Santa Claus. Acknowledged in religious and secular seasonal celebrations, jolly ol’ Nick is a legendary pop culture icon. Every year, modern depictions show a jolly man with a long white beard, riding through the night sky on a sleigh from his home in the North Pole to magically deliver goodies across the globe.

Did you know that this modern version of Santa was “invented” by a cartoonist? Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, moved to New York when he was six years old. He started working on cartoons when he was just 16 years old, and at 18, his work first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. Nast would go on to have a rich career in cartooning and is considered the “Father of the American Cartoon.”

Nast reportedly created the modern version of Santa using inspiration from both the German Sankt Nikolaus and Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man), and also drawing on the roots of the pagan holiday, Yule. His illustrations of Santa first appeared in Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Fun fact: The Yule festival was also connected to Odin’s “Wild Hunt” that involved Odin flying through the sky at night on his magical flying horse named Sleipnir. Did the hairy growth on the Norse All-Father’s chin inspire Nast? By Odin’s Beard, it just may have!

Full page illustration in Harper's Weekly on January 3, 1863. It shows a sign that says, "Welcome Santa Claus." Santa is sitting on his sleigh pulled by reindeer and passing out gifts.

Nast’s version of Santa rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer and shares gifts with children. Harper’s Weekly on January 3, 1863.

Two-page center spread illustration shows Santa in his workshop. Different circles form a collage of Santa-related content: Santa looks at his "list of behavior," in his workshop, looking for good children, dollies having a tea party, Santa making doll clothes, and decorating a tree.

Experts are not entirely sure, but the story that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole may also have been a Thomas Nast creation. In his December 29, 1866 illustration in Harper’s Weekly, a collage of engravings titled Santa Claus and His Works, includes the caption “Santa Claussville, N.P.” as in North Pole.


Interview with Ryan Claytor, Author of One Bite at a Time

Comics@SDSU met with artist and professor Ryan Claytor about his new comics project, One Bite at a Time. A graduate of SDSU’s School of Art + Design, Ryan has a rich career developing his art and teaching comics. He is currently a professor at Michigan State University where he both developed and taught the first comics studio course in the school’s history. Additionally, he coordinates MSU’s Comic Art and Graphic Novels Minor. Join our librarian and comic arts curator, Pamela Jackson, in conversation with Ryan about his project, his work at MSU and his time at SDSU!

To back this project on Kickstarter project, see:


Banned & Challenged Comics

Colorful icon of open books says Let Freedom Read. Under that says Banned Books Week. Below that are the dates October 1-7, 2023.

Banned Books Week, held annually the first week of October, celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. For more than 40 years, the annual event has brought together the entire book community — librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, writers, journalists, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Chart title Censorship by the Numbers. It shows the steep increase in unique book titles challenged by year. Only 223 books were challenged nationwide in 2020. That rose to 1858 in 2021 and 2571 in 2022.

Of the record 2,571 unique titles – including comics – targeted for censorship in 2022, most were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

Perhaps because the medium communicates with both words and pictures – in addition to their growing popularity – comics are frequently the target of attempts at censorship. In fact, the number 1 and number 4 most banned or challenged books in 2022 were comics: Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer and Mike Curato’s Flamer. Both have been challenged for their LGBTQIA+ representation and are claimed to be sexually explicit.

On the left is the book cover for Gender Queer and on the right is the book cover for Flamer

Visit the Comics Corner on the first floor of SDSU’s Love Library now thru the end of October to check out a display about banned & challenged comics!

Photo of the SDSU Comics Corner showing a display of banned comics. The corner has two red bookshelves with an opening in the middle. The banned comics are displayed on top of the shelves. On either side of the shelves are columns with posters. There are flame (fire) decorations, information about book banning, and historic photos of children reading comic books with anti-censorship quotes.

In addition to the display in the Comics Corner, we encourage you to use and participate in the following resources and activities in the SDSU Library:

Banned in California display on the 1st floor of of the Library Addition in the Reference, Instruction & Outreach area (curated by Cat Ellis)

Banned Children’s Books display on the 4th floor of Love Library in the Juvenile Collection (curated by Linda Salem)

Cat Ellis’ Library Guide for Banned Books Week

Lucy Campbell’s list of Banned Books at SDSU. The Banned Books Collection includes titles identified by the American Library Association that have been banned and/or challenged in the United States during the 21st century.

SDSU Student Read Out. October 4, 2023. 12-1pm. Lee and Frank Goldberg Courtyard of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

A comic book speech ballon that says Banning Books Silences Voices

45,000 SF of Comics!

Dr. Noah Arceneaux is a professor in SDSU’s School of Journalism and Media Studies and a big fan of comics! Join him for this amazing tour of one of the largest comic book stores in the world, Mile High Comics in Denver.

Grace deVega Uncategorized

In the words of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, “Part of the journey is the end.”

Written by Grace deVega
SDSU History Major, 2022

This quote is particularly fitting for this final blog exploring my process in designing the digital exhibit “Sound of Comics” for SDSU’s Center for Comics Studies. Of all of the academic endeavors I have undertaken while at SDSU, this one has felt the most like a journey. There have been multiple paths to tread, obstacles to overcome, and constant support and encouragement along the way. And now I have reached the end: You can access “Sound of Comics” here.

In terms of multiple paths, some of the most significant decisions I have made in the final part of this curation have pertained to paring down the content. I cultivated a substantial number of collection pieces — far more than could be included — after scouring the materials in the library and beyond. The process then became a task of figuring out connection points between the pieces and organizing them into a proper exhibit. Often, I created a visual guide to help me write down all of my ideas and begin building relationships between avenues of content.

Handwritten brainstorming paper that shows how everything was categorized branching off of music as the key concept.

As evidenced by this brainstorm web, I had several different avenues that I wanted to explore with music alone. I also knew that too many subsections would overwhelm my audience with text and images, so I selected specific pieces and paths to pursue, which helped the claims in the exhibit appear more intentional and direct. For instance, one path that I did not pursue outright was the notion of “Dance” in comics, but I still found ways to incorporate the dance-related ideas into some of the collection’s pieces. Each of the exhibit sections received similar treatment, and the end result was three major categories with several smaller subcategories that reinforced the ideas of their parent topics.

With reference to obstacles, most of the barriers that I faced dealt with translating the exhibit into its digital form. As I expected, there was a significant learning curve when first working with WordPress, which is the platform that I selected (having chosen from Omeka, Google Sites, Adobe, and a few other digital exhibit options). I watched several tutorials and made several unsuccessful attempts to figure out the system at the beginning. However, I eventually learned the tools of the platform, as well as figured out how to manipulate those tools to produce the content and design that I desired. Most of this work came through trial-and-error, which was difficult but ultimately rewarding when I was able to see the finished product of each section. In addition, I decided to format the layout of all of the pages before implementing their text and images which proved useful in building my confidence and knowledge of the platform while also ensuring their uniformity. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to overcome these challenges through the support of Dr. Pamella Lach, the Director of the Digital Humanities Center at SDSU. I met with Dr. Lach several times, and she helped me select WordPress as my digital platform, as well as offered advice on best practices throughout the process. Her support was particularly helpful when discussing accessibility with the website and making certain that the exhibit is compatible with screen readers and all other ADA compliances. I am so grateful for her assistance and insight.

To that final point about support, I have been fortunate throughout this entire process to receive advice and encouragement from a variety of sources. Along with the indispensable support of Dr. Lach, several other scholars have offered their perspective in improving my work and helping me examine sound in comics more thoroughly. Over the last month, I have had the privilege to interview several comics scholars, querying their understanding of sound in comics. I interviewed Dr. Barbara Postema, who studies wordless comics, to discuss comics that tell stories when conventional forms of sound are intentionally limited. Dr. Postema explained the role of images, pictographs, and expression lines in replacing alphabetic symbols when figures communicate. For instance, she referenced the dashed dialogue lines in Hawkeye #19, which she labeled “asemic,” or lacking in semantic content, as a key example of this type of wordless sound conveyance. She mentioned the frustration that audiences experience when encountering communication in this form, and I found such insight extremely helpful when creating the “Disability and Sound” section of the exhibit. 

I also had the opportunity to interview Dr. José Alaniz, a comics scholar and professor at University of Washington, Seattle. Our conversation covered a wide array of topics pertaining to sound in comics, and one of my biggest takeaways from Dr. Alaniz  was the ability of sound to both reinforce and distort the reality of the comic. We discussed the “mimetic function” of certain sounds, such as including a pre-existing song within a scene because it establishes the setting in time and in its similarity to the world of the audience.  At the same time, Dr. Alaniz pointed out that depictions sounds are often “toyed with,” as he called them, to underscore the unfamiliarity of the landscape and exacerbate the divide between the world of the comic and the world of the reader. His perspective proved invaluable when I discussed environments in the “Music” and “Sound Effects” sections of the exhibit.

Lastly, this project would have been “dead air” without the guidance and supervision of Librarian Pamela Jackson and Dr. Elizabeth Pollard. Pam Jackson provided me with some of the first comics that I read for the exhibit, and she, along with the rest of the Library’s Special Collections and University Archives team, have been incredibly helpful, thoughtful, and considerate over the course of my research, especially when I spent hours in their archives poring over comics. Similarly, Dr. Pollard always made herself available to answer questions, provide feedback, read over text that I had written, and connect me with people that could support my efforts. I have grown so much as a student, scholar, and fan of comics under her guidance. Lastly, Dr. Pollard and Librarian Jackson have shown genuine enthusiasm for my work throughout the entire process, which has helped me stay motivated and reassured in the steps I had taken, even when I questioned myself.

So, while this may be the end of my journey into sound in comics, I could not be more proud of the work I have done or more appreciative of the people who helped me get there.

Photo of Grave deVega.

Grace deVega (she/her) is a Fourth Year History and Political Science student at San Diego State University. She previously won the President’s Award at the SDSU Student Research Symposium and 1st Place in her Division at the CSU Research Competition for her research into the impacts of the 1986 Philippines People Power Movement on nonviolent revolutions. She has also played clarinet for the past twelve years, including in the SDSU marching and concert bands, which is where her passion for music and aural studies derives.


Fun and Games Illustrated

It’s October and you know what that means? It’s also INKTOBER! ​This month-long art challenge was started in 2009 by illustrator, ​Jake Parker​, as a daily challenge to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. ​Since then, artists and yes, even those of us who claim “but I can’t draw,” have risen to the challenge of illustrating one drawing per day throughout the month of October. Inktober provides the drawing prompts and you? Well, you draw. Use the official Inktober prompts, search social media for numerous alternative lists (tip: search the keywords “inktober prompts” on Instagram), or make your own list. Are you ready to meet the challenge? Get ready for tomorrow!

The official Inktober 2022 drawing prompt list.

Below are a few alternative lists that caught the attention of SDSU Library employees:

A Dozen Comics to Read in Honor of Black History Month

It’s Black History Month and here are a dozen comics we’re reading that feature black characters and black creators. Dig in and read more comics!

Cover of Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021

Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021
Creators: Dimitrios Fragiskatos, Joe Illidge, George Carmona the 3rd
A guidebook to Black creators and an index “to find the publishers, stores and conventions that provide kinship, safe spaces, and promote an imaginative variety of experiences through comic books!” ~ 

Cover of After the Rain

After the Rain (2021)
Creators: Nnedi Okorafor, John Jennings, David Brame
“After the Rain is a graphic novel adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story ‘On the Road.’ The drama takes place in a small Nigerian town during a violent and unexpected storm. A Nigerian-American woman named Chioma answers a knock at her door and is horrified to see a boy with a severe head wound standing at her doorstep. He reaches for her, and his touch burns like fire. Something is very wrong. Haunted and hunted, Chioma must embrace her heritage in order to survive.” ~Abrams Books

Cover of Ajani Brown Presents: Straight Outta Freemanville

Ajani Brown Presents: Straight Outta Freemanville (2019)
Creator: Ajani Brown and Erik Reichenbach
A western, steamfunk, historical fantasy set in the post Civil War frontier town of Freemanville, USA. Freemanville was founded by free & newly freed African Americans who moved west to escape the harsh conditions of the Antebellum South. Stagecoach Mary transports a VIP through the badlands to Freemanville, USA. The town is self-sustaining and technologically advanced, but under constant threat by marauders both of this world and not.

Cover of The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History

The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History (2021)
Creators: David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson
“Founded in Oakland, California, in 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a radical political organization that stood in defiant contrast to the mainstream civil rights movement. This gripping illustrated history explores the impact and significance of the Panthers, from their social, educational, and healthcare programs that were designed to uplift the Black community to their battle against police brutality through citizen patrols and frequent clashes with the FBI, which targeted the Party from its outset.” ~Ten Speed Press

Cover of Big Black: Stand at Attica

Big Black: Stand At Attica (2020)
Creators: Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth, Ameziane
“A graphic novel memoir from Frank “Big Black” Smith, a prisoner at Attica State Prison in 1971, whose rebellion against the injustices of the prison system remains one of the bloodiest civil rights confrontations in American history.” ~Boom!

Cover of Bitter Root

Bitter Root (2018-) 
Creators: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene
“In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York-and the world-from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.” ~Image Comics

Cover of Class Act

Class Act (2020)
Creator: Jerry Craft
“Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying ‘You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.’ His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?” ~Quill Tree Books/Harper Collins

Cover of Excellence, no. 1

Excellence (2019-)
Creators: Khary Randolph, Brandom Thomas, Emilio Lopez
“Spencer Dales was born into a world of magic. His father belongs to the Aegis, a secret society of black magicians ordered by their unseen masters to better the lives of others—those with greater potential—but never themselves. Now it’s time for Spencer to follow in his father’s footsteps, but all he sees is a broken system in need of someone with the wand and the will to change it. But in this fight for a better future, who will stand beside him?” ~Skybound/Image Comics

Cover of Fights: One Boy's Triumph Over Violence

Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence (2020)
Creator: Joel Christian Gill
“Fights is the visceral and deeply affecting memoir of artist/author Joel Christian Gill, chronicling his youth and coming of age as a Black child in a chaotic landscape of rough city streets and foreboding backwoods. Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life.” ~Oni Press

Cover of Killadelphia, no. 21

Killadelphia (2019-)
Creators: Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander
“When a small-town beat cop comes home to bury his murdered father—the revered Philadelphia detective James Sangster Sr.—he begins to unravel a mystery that leads him down a path of horrors that will shake his beliefs to their core. The city that was once the symbol of liberty and freedom has fallen prey to corruption, poverty, unemployment, brutality… and vampires.” ~Image Comics

Cover of Omni, no. 5

Omni (2019-20)
Creators: Melody Cooper, Devin Grayson, Giovanni Valletta, Bryan Valenza, Dave Johnson, Enid Balám, Cris Bolson, Alitha E. Martinez, Bryan Valenza, Mike McKone
“A young doctor suddenly and mysteriously acquires superpowers…as do several other individuals on the planet. But only her power can answer “why.” A gifted doctor with a vibrant, compassionate personality, Cecelia Cobbina received boundless praise from her peers and her patients. But that was before the incident in Africa. Before she was forced to leave her job at Doctors Without Borders behind… Before she gained the ability to think at superhuman speed. Overwhelmed with the power to answer every question, she must now overcome her own fears and tackle the one code she can’t seem to break: the truth behind the Ignited.” ~Humanoids

Variant cover of Tartarus, no. 8

Tartarus (2020-21)
Creators: Jack T. Cole and Johnnie Christmas 
“Promising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde’s only way home may be to reclaim her mother’s dark crown.” ~Image Comics

For more information about the Comic Arts Collection at SDSU, see our Library Research Guide.


Interview with Ryan Claytor, creator of A Hunter’s Tale

Comics@SDSU met with artist and professor Ryan Claytor about his new comics project, A Hunter’s Tale. A graduate of SDSU’s School of Art + Design, Ryan has a rich career developing his art and teaching comics. He is currently a professor at Michigan State University where he both developed and taught the first comics studio course in the school’s history. Additionally, he coordinates MSU’s Comic Art and Graphic Novels Minor. Join our librarian and comic arts curator, Pamela Jackson, in conversation with Ryan about his project, his work at MSU and his time at SDSU!

To back this project on Kickstarter project, see:


Comics@SDSU Goes to Comic-Con

After a two-year hiatus on in-person events, San Diego Comic-Con International was back last weekend and members of Comics@SDSU were well represented. We presented on three panels! But first, let’s hear from our co-founders about their individual experiences and impressions of the event.

Pamela Jackson’s View

Librarian, Comic Arts Curator, and pandemic diehard Pam here. I thought I would frame my comments in terms of the pandemic and in comparison to my experiences at Comic-Con over the last 15 years. I recently read a poll that said 75% of Americans have nearly gone back to their normal, pre-pandemic lives. As someone in a higher risk household, I guess I’m a solid 25-percenter. My last public event was San Diego Comic Fest in March of 2020. I still work from home. I don’t attend social events or even eat out at restaurants. Comic-Con was me ripping off my pandemic band-aid for the first time in 21 months.

I picked up my badge on Wednesday before the event not knowing what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to secure a wristband that cleared my vaccination or negative Covid test status, pick up my badge, and grab a goodie bag stocked with free “hanitizer” from a company I regularly patronize (that smelled… interesting, but I was still delighted to see it in my bag) in a mere 17 minutes! 

The scene on opening day Friday morning was much different outside with long Covid clearance lines. Those of us already wearing our scarlet wristbands were allowed to enter. “Right this way,” Security said. “Through door F.” I walked into a large indoor staging area with fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder in multiple lines waiting to enter the Exhibit Hall, quickly spun on my heels and hustled right back out of there muttering, “Nope nope nope.” Hard pass. I was not ready for that. 

The crowds outside on Friday morning. One of the few lines this year!

One of the joys of Comic-Con has always been that it’s like a live-action “choose your own adventure” book. There is so much to see and do that if you don’t like what’s in front of you at the moment, go do something else. The ability to set my own boundaries during the pandemic and still have an engaging Con experience that matched my comfort and safety concerns was stellar. I popped up to the spacious hallways by the programming rooms, then moved through the sparsely-populated Sails Pavilion (that was only ever moderately busy when fans paused to eat lunch) and on to the Mezzanine windows that overlook the Exhibit Hall. 

I had not intended to walk the Exhibit Hall this year, but Saturday morning was freakishly calm and comfortable. I walked the entire floor twice, safely visiting with friends, creators and dealers. It was the best place in town for attendees to do their Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping with row after row of toy dealers, pop culture tchotchkes, and creators sharing their hand-crafted arts. Notably slim this year were publishers and comic book dealers. Though there were a few, this was a bit of bummer to me. I am a librarian afterall – buying way too many books at Comic-Con is what I do! I ran into one of the founders of Comic-Con, Mike Towry, and asked him what year this felt like? He explained that it was a difficult question to answer because while attendance may have been around the same as the late 1990s/early 2000s (estimated at 40-60K this year; it’s normally well over 130,000), the facilities would likely have been smaller so the event back then may have felt more crowded. 

A birds-eye view of the Exhibit Floor from the Mezzanine windows.

Mask wearing was enforced (even for panelists) and mostly honored, which I appreciated. I’ve been asked by many, “Did you feel safe?” Overall, in a vaxxed or tested Delta world, the event felt safe, in part because I could “choose my own adventure.”

The staff, volunteers and security seemed as thrilled as the creators and fans to be at Comic-Con. It was great to be back. It felt like a displaced community finally coming home.

Beth Pollard’s View: “Something to Sing About”

Pam and I have been pandemic buddies since March 2020… logging countless Zoom hours talking about (deviously plotting) how we could convince SDSU that comics bring meaningful social change. As with Pam, my last pre-pandemic public event was March 2020’s Comic Fest. At that event, I sat elbow-to-elbow with maskless strangers at a mock-trial for parenting rights over Grogu (“Baby Yoda”). All of us were willing ourselves — a skilled jedi mind-trick, given the various bouts of coughing by folk in the room — not to think about the pandemic that was slowly spreading our way. Driving home from Comic Fest, my family and I stopped to eat our last meal not prepared at home by me for more than 18 months. Yup! Like Pam, my existence was near-hermetically sealed until relatively recently (I even kept my kids in home/Zoom-school until this Fall)… and I still haven’t been in a grocery store.

But who needs food, when there are comics … and tens of thousands of people you’ve never met, who share your love of the same! I already ripped off the band-aid in early September, when I flew to Portland to present a paper, “Punching Romans, the OG Fascists,” on a Punching Nazis: Fighting Fascism in Comics panel at Rose City Comic Con. That experience gave me some clue of what to expect with Comic-Con Special Edition.

I started attending San Diego Comic-Con around 2005, before the days of the giant studios and the glitzy Hollywood types. I remember when the Twi-Hards (rabid fans of the Twilight series) set the bar for camping outside of Hall H several days before Con started (I should know… by the end I, too, was sleeping under a tent with thousands of people to get into the room for Twilight’s last hurrah). I recall when you could walk-up and buy a badge the day-of… and when you could step out of Ballroom 20 (without a bathroom pass!) to purchase your next-year’s four-day badge with preview night. 

Badges could be purchased on-site, something we haven’t seen in many years!

Comic-Con Special Edition reminded me of those days. No tents. No pre-dawn lines or, worse-yet, hunting the volunteer holding the “end-of-line” sign along the waterfront. No shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling across the convention floor.  

My Comic-Con strategy, in recent years of its incredible (over)crowding, has been to “camp” a room… choosing which room (Hall H, Ballroom 20, Room 6… you name it) would have the most overall payoff. I’d carry a veritable extra-dimensional bag-of-holding with food and drink for four, as well as activity books, legos, and fully-charged devices for the kids (I’ve brought both my kids, now 14 and 10, every year of their life). We’d stay in the same room, from 9AM to 5PM, enjoying what we came to see and being pleasantly surprised by whatever else happened in the room. What I appreciated about this Con was that there was no camping required! One could genuinely plot an adventure that took you from the smallest rooms to the biggest… able to see a panel about CBLDF’s education survey in the morning but still get to a bigger room on the other side of the Sails Pavilion later that afternoon to participate in the Buffy Musical Sing-Along (which, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, has its own set of audience participation rules).

The Ballroom 20 “Bathroom Passes” were happily unnecessary during Comic-Con Special Edition!

Perhaps Buffy is the best way to wrap up my part of this blog… Little could be more cathartic after 18 months of pandemic isolation and stress than belting out — with hundreds of now-MASKED people one doesn’t know — Buffy’s demand to “Give Me Something to Sing About” and, better yet, Spike’s response: “Life is just this… It’s living. You’ll get along… The pain that you feel, You only can heal… By living.”

Tens of thousands of us showed up at Comic-Con Special Edition to do just that. Heal. And live.

Panel, Panel, Panel!

We were honored to present alongside Betsy Gomez and Jordan Smith from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on Friday. Our panel entitled “CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics,” explored how civic engagement has been an integral part of comics since the format’s origin, addressing issues as diverse as women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ+ representation, antiracism, and so much more. We examined how comics have been used to address social and political issues in the past and how contemporary creators and educators are using comics to engage the community. Our librarian, Pamela Jackson, presented about civic learning in both historical and modern comics about voting and democracy, and Elizabeth Pollard shared how she uses comics and civic engagement in the classroom with her students. 

CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics panel from left-to-right: Betsy Gomez, Pamela Jackson, Beth Pollard, Jordan Smith

As part of the scholarly Comic Arts Conference that takes place annually at Comic-Con, Comics@SDSU presented “Comics and Social Justice at SDSU.” We explored the intersection of our efforts with Comics@SDSU and the power of the medium to bring about social change. Five of us brought different perspectives to the panel: Beth Pollard (the professor) reflected on the goals of our campus Initiative as well as the scholarship and opportunities for student learning and research that the Initiative fosters; Pamela Jackson (the librarian) discussed the role of the SDSU Library’s comic arts collection in supporting the Initiative and engaging researchers with social justice through comics; William Nericcio (the publisher) discussed how SDSU’s comic imprint, Amatl Comix, supports social change; Neil Kendricks (the artist) shared his perspective as both an artist and teacher on the power of comics to foster diversity and social change; and Fawaz Qashat (the student) explained the importance of comics courses and the Initiative to his undergraduate SDSU experience, including his creation of a new student Comics Studies Club.

Comics@SDSU panel in action.

One of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards judges for 2021, Librarian Pamela Jackson presented alongside a few of her fellow judges on Saturday morning on the panel, “Judging the Eisner Awards 2021: Behind the Scenes.” Judges shared some of the challenges in judging and their favorite works published in 2020. 

Judging the Eisners panel from left-to-right: Alonso Nunez, Jackie Estrada, Pamela Jackson, James Thompson, Keithan Jones

Comic-Con will be back July 21-24, 2022 and we cannot wait!