NeMLA 2020

March 5-8, 2020 I attended NeMLA in Boston. I talked about:

The Italian Comics Industry: Notes on the Production of Graphic Novels and Serial Comic Books

In this talk I will illustrate current practices in the production and distribution of comics in Italy with regard to the graphic novel format and the serial comic-book format. In principle, a graphic novel is considered a self-concluded comic, usually created by a recognizable authorial figure, while serial comics are those comic-books that focus on a single character and with an extended storyline (with or without continuity).These formats identify separate distribution channels, the physical or online bookstore and the newsstand, which in turn lead to two typologies of readers: those who are attracted by authorial works and high-quality packaging, and those who are loyal to weekly or monthly issues that are cheaper in terms of price and editorial quality. Halfway between the book-store and the newsstand we can place direct stores (or “fumetterie”), where specialized and loyal readers can find both graphic novels and serial comic-books. In reality, the Italian comics industry is much more complex than it might appear from the outside, and the boundaries between formats have become more blurred recently, making it difficult to even agree on their definitions. For this reason, I will first try to identify and understand what we talk about when we talk about the graphic novel. Then, I will explore recent editorial strategies implemented by the Sergio Bonelli Editore to popularize their serial comics. Eventually, I will reflect upon the development that is occurring not only in terms of distribution, but also production and that is changing the nature of the comics industry as we knew it.

Leafing through the pages: the materiality of comic strips, comic books and comics magazines

In this talk I will present a 300-level Italian course that I developed and taught at Indiana University in Spring 2019. The course paired the study of 20th century Italian history with the history of Italian comics, in order to have students familiarize themselves with less conventional materials such as comic strips, comic books and graphic novels. The association of pictorial and textual elements in comics helped students develop complex analytical skills in both verbal and visual literacy. Because of the experimental nature of the course, I had to provide students with carefully tailored secondary sources, while personally gathering and compiling primary sources both in paper and digitally. Throughout the semester, I offered my students the chance to read and analyze digital reproductions of comics images, as well as leafing through the pages of both recent and old editions of comic books and magazines. As I strongly believe in a hands-on approach to the study of such a new field of inquiry, I often brought to class my own comics, so that students could experience primary sources in a more holistic way. Moreover, I held a special class at the Lilly Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts, now hosting the impressive collection of comic-books and graphic novels donated by IU professor Marco Arnaudo. On that occasion, students were able to look at and touch print editions dating back to as early as the 1920s, gaining a better historical perspective of both comics production and comics fruition.

In this talk, I will share some of the ways in which I presented my students with raw materials, and how I guided them from looking at and analyzing digital images of comics to experiencing the materiality of the comics themselves.

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