An introduction to comics academia in the form of a letter to my past self

Dear Past Amanda (upon your graduation from high school),

Hang on to your hat! Setting aside the fact that these are all spoilers, let me tell you what’s going to happen next:

You’re going to live in a castle (what?!) and during your extensive trawling of the internet, you’ll find out about these things that are today known as webcomics. (It was a long time ago, kids. Shut it!) You’ll read them, laugh at them, email them around, and eventually graduate from undergrad having taken only one Art History course but having, strangely, taken lots of Canadian Studies classes.

Remember last year when you didn’t even know what street Canada was on?! Also, you’ll have written one paper for a history class about Canadian superheroes, and been awarded a whopping B+. * shakes fist *

You’ll spend a few years getting tattoos and making questionable life choices. (The answer to the question is WOOHOO.) You’ll keep reading webcomics, only there will be MORE of them to spend time reading, laughing at, and emailing around. (WOOHOO.)

Then your jerk friend Nicole will be all “Hey, you should come to Carleton University in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and enroll in the Master of Arts (MA) in Canadian Studies!” You’ll do it, because you’re a sucker for Canada, and you’ll submit that B+ paper about superheroes as your writing sample because it wasn’t actually a bad paper, it was just not particularly on topic.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights, 1941, Hillborough Studios, Bell Features, Adrian Dingle Then you’ll stumble ead over hass into working with a Film Studies professor on your MA research paper about Nelvana of the Northern Lights. You’ll continue to happily wander through a series of conferences, visits to archives (they let you in when you have an institutional affiliation!), a pirate and ninja wedding, and other zany adventures in teaching and research (developing a course centered around Canadian superheroes for high schoolers along the way) until that same oh-so-sage Film Studies professor invites you to join the doctoral program in Canadian Studies at Carleton [still the university in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, not the college in Minnie Soda].

It’s probably become a fixed point in your timeline, so I’ll just say that you are now a doctoral candidate in the School of Canadian Studies, researching maps in political cartoons (or “carto-caricatures” if you want to be fancy) and nationalism in comics. As a woman writing about comics, you also submit reviews and articles to a blog (someday, you’ll know what that means). Doctoral candidate means that you have read way too many books and passed two comprehensive exams, as well as your dissertation proposal defense (or “defence,” as they say in Canada).

Now you spend time every day teaching, reading, researching, and writing about comix, webcomics, political cartoons, and other artifacts of visual culture. You’re even in a couple of books and journals! (Journals are like blogs, except they’re more expensive, fewer people read them, and they’re published very slowly.) It’s still a little strange to realize that you get to research the history of Canada and the United States through visual culture culled from the internet, and you will spend WAY too much time developing Prezis (it’s a presentation software – you’ll figure it out after a few weeks).

Tricking people into learning about trans-border issues through comics and cartoons will be endlessly gratifying. Retiring professors that you admire have come up to you at conferences to offer you their World War II era Canadian comic books (which you will gleefully accept) and they’ll compliment you on starting your career where they ended theirs–studying Canadian comic books and political cartoons.

You have an awesome, supportive committee with scholars from Geography, Film Studies, Art History (she will know that you only took one undergrad course in her discipline!), and Canadian Studies. You will get to research and write about interdisciplinary topics from American Girl Dolls (18-inch high tokens of nationalism) to Wonder Woman and Nelvana of the Northern Lights to international trade relations (which cartoonists have got OPINIONS about). Keep on trying to understand more about the world we live in, and remember that fellow curious cats are your friends on this adventure.

Looking forward to the next generation of comics in academia–boldly going where some people have hesitantly gone before, but now with the support of large factions of the internet, numerous list servs, access to some excellent digital resources, and a cunning new Jayne hat that your arm candy knitted for you in South Dakota. (But that’s a story for another letter!)


Amanda (almost done with this PhD)

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Amanda Murphyao

Amanda Murphyao

Amanda Murphyao is full-time human, with much of that time devoted to researching, studying, and writing about comic books, political cartoons, and visual culture in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She has been called a "sassy lassie" and, somewhat less frequently, worn a bedazzled t-shirt celebrating her status as a "classy lassie." She is a settler from Chicago who currently lives in California.

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