Current Gauss: To start off first, we just want to kind of talk about your background in comic books. Can you tell us a little bit about your focus? Your interests with it, anything you want to talk about in your background. We would love to hear it.
Dr. Kilgore: Well, like a lot of people, my comic book reading life began when I was a little kid. And I first saw a comic book on the newsstand, and then I guess, it was the early 1960s in a department store in Saint Louis, Missouri. I think it was a Batman comic book, you know, and the colors and etc., etc. attracted me. I probably begged my parents or my grandparents to get it for me and I have never looked back and so I began as a reader. In terms of my further background, basically because of my age, when I went to college and then graduate school, I never got a chance to study comics in the classroom. There was no college professor who was like saying, having a class where I could go in and you'll learn about superhero narrative or graphic novels. Or Illustration. Comics and illustration aren’t part of art history right? That wasn't possible and what that means is that because I actually teach that stuff from an English department perspective, I'm part of the first generation of college professors who mount classes on both popular and serious comics in the classroom. And I say from an English department perspective, because they are also folks in the art department, in art history, who are working in the same field and coming at it from a different perspective. So that's my long winded answer to your first question.
Kate O’Brien: Based on your research and also your personal experience, do you feel that comic books can kind of inform identity? And if so, how?
Dr. Kilgore: Nowadays let's say, being a person who reads comics, or has acquaintance with the material is not considered niche or unusual. That certainly wasn't my experience growing up. If you were interested in comics, that was not mainstream, not the norm, not the things that a cool kid did. Identity? Geek. Nerd. Someone who's interested in things that are not part of the mainstream. Your identity as just an ordinary person walking around is not your identification with the Boston Celtics basketball team, or the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, or the Check Chicago Bulls football team. Those are all identity formation things that you can be interested in. And it defines who you talk to. Who's part of your tribe. In other words, who share kinds of references with you. One of the podcasts that I listen to is a podcast done by Jason Concepcion for Crooked Media on comic books and motion pictures and television. Jason Concepcion and Rosie Knight are the co-hosts of this podcast and they have deep, deep, deep knowledge of the medium. I would say deeper than my own, you know. In that, if you ask them “break down for me Moon Night, who are the creators that created that character and what was the character's backstory, etc., etc.? And then how does that fit into or differ from the television series?" "That Disney plus had with Oscar Isaac as the lead.” Boom! Boom boom! They can give it to you. I wouldn't be able to keep up right but you know part of that, you know, gives you kind of an insight into the, I guess, the fan culture that they are part of. And then it informs their identity.
Dr. Kilgore: And what's interesting about this basically in terms of the broader topic of identity and identification, is that Jason Concepcion is Filipino American and Rosie Knight is British. English. So they're coming from parts of the earth. But they come together with this shared love for this particular medium, its creators and its characters. Jason Concepcion is kind of interesting because he's also a huge sports geek. So he can actually talk about the more mainstream stuff about, you know, basketball and baseball, and all that kind of stuff, and keep up with the, from my own position it would be considered that kind of jock culture that I was really alienating from as an undergraduate. So that's also part of his identity. That he can talk to people who are really invested in knowing who won the 1975 Super Bowl. I'm just picking that randomly out of the either because I don't know who won the 1975 Super Bowl but these these people do. I'm on firmer ground if they ask me, do you know who Chris Claremont is? Yes, of course I know who Chris Claremont is. Chris Claremont is the writer who basically made the X-Men what it was in the 1980s and 90s, and provided a lot of the material that went into the went into the motion pictures. That were adapted for the motion picture screen. So I would be more comfortable talking to Jason about that stuff than talking about who won the super bowl back when I was in high school.
Curren Gauss: You sorta touched on this a little bit when you were talking about Jason and his co-host. How they come from different backgrounds and are still able to have the shared knowledge of comics. And something we wanted to talk about was, with comics having a history of being sort of overwhelmingly white with exceptions of superheroes like the Black Panther and the Ultimate Universes Miles Morales, which we talked about in your class. Do you think in an identity, aspect that race and comics intersects at all? That there's any sort of influence on identity with that sort of medium.
Dr. Kilgore: Yeah, just a second here, actually okay, It's the podcast is X-ray Vision. And his sports podcast is Take Line. So if you look at those kinds of podcasts, you can get a sense of what Jason is about. So remind me, what was the punch line for your question?
Curren Gauss: You're all good. you're all good. I'll ask it again. Okay- so kind of talking about different backgrounds and a shared love for comics. With having a history kind of being overwhelmingly white. And then talking about like Black Panther and Miles Morales, which you talked about in class, with the exception of heroes like them, do you think that race and identity intersect with comics at all that? That's sort of like a factor when forming identity based on comics?
Dr. Kilgore: Certainly. I mean so race and identity and comics- you know, from its inception to about the 1970s, comics was a predominantly white medium. White and male, even though they're have always been women in popular comics particularly. And as a medium, it was no different from any other medium in American life, that was dedicated to manufacturing a vision of American culture as white and patriarchal right. And what does that mean practically. Practically? Any kind of ethnic or racial difference was treated as either something invisible. It's something that's not named referenced in the work. Women are second class citizens. Are secondary to any other kind of adventures that you might have with the possible exception of Wonder Woman who's always there. Or it's a joke. I mean one of the things that people often forget about how race is handled, particularly in terms of forming racial identities. Is that it doesn't have to be hostile or it doesn't have to be presented you know as hostile or violent or aggressive in terms of how it presents itself. It can be part of comedy. It's fun, it's entertaining. So oftentimes you know at least up until the 1970s, if you did have any kind of racial, racialized character or minoritized character in the comics, it was as comic relief. Asian. African. We can get into ethnicity with it. Irish, German, Swedish anything that wasn't coded as white Anglo-Saxon Protestant is funny. Cause they talk funny. One of the things that comics is that, one way of comedy is that if you say funny things, or if you just talked funny. You have a different accent, your English is not Midwestern standard or received British pronunciation or something like that. And so you find all of that in the comics. So what happens when the person who's reading this stuff is not themselves within the favorite category? The favorite social category. If they're not a straight white male. Well, you ignore that. You overlook it, particularly if you're a kid. Because you're not looking for that. It's not offered so perhaps you don't see it. You might not even know to ask for it. To be represented within the medium. I don't want to say that this is a completely negative but it does give you a kind of imaginative facility. So you imagine yourself as something other than who you are. You project yourself into the character right? And this is a faculty. That people who weren't white Anglo-Saxon Protestant just did. As a part of their own social formation. So what does that break down to practically. I'm going to tell on myself here When I was a kid, came time for Halloween, I think me and my brothers bought costumes from the store, right? And I was all into Batman so my parents got me a batman costume. You know what these things look like right? And the batman costume had a batman mask. So you have this little black kid running around with Batman costume and mask on it, and it has kind of white man's face as part of the part of the mask. And I was happy. It's a historical moment, that tells you something about what it is to be attracted to the medium, to be attracted to certain stories in a medium to see yourself within it, but not to see yourself at the same time. But nowadays, if I was, if I was coming up I would have, I might still love Superman or Batman. Well more Batman than Superman. Let's be real here. But I would also. I would have, actually the Bat family has grown. The most recent batman is African American. I could choose him. As a kind of a sympathetic character, or I could choose The Signal, who was another member of the Bat family who's an African American male.
Dr. Kilgore: There's also the Black Batwoman if you want to talk about female representation on the CW. There's also a black Superman. There's also Miles Morales as a black spiderman, right etc., etc. And that kind of expansion of representation in comics means that you still have some kind of an imaginative faculty in terms of imagining yourself into these fantastic characters because none of us have super powers. You know we're not gonna be swinging around on a web anytime soon, or you know flying up into the stratosphere. But there's a sense in which you can imagine yourself into a world that has not been whitewashed. I suppose it would take someone who's in social psychology to kind of break it down for us. You know, how this actually plays out, but it does more closely align the imaginative fiction in with the world that we have. And that has been, I guess, the struggle that or or the social project of comics since 1960s. Which is to broaden its portrait of the world and interestingly that could only come about as a result of the medium maturing and becoming more serious social and political representation or reflection of the world that we have.
Kate O’Brien: Awesome. I think that's really good to talk about, and I think it's interesting to look back at media and our superheroes, and how we've added more and how we've changed. Especially in these times as we've recognized what needs to be changing. Recognized that this isn’t just a story telling technique. That there are so many people in this world that we can be, and I think that's really good touch on.
Dr. Kilgore: Nowadays, let's say just as a final thing. One of the things that's been interesting me, of course, this there's been pushed back on a lot of this stuff, as you're probably aware. But one of the things that's interesting to me is that comics creators and the companies that they belong to seem to... well, they don't seem to have, they have an editorial investment, a directive in terms of bringing in more and more different people. So LGTBQ+ issues are also part of the mix. DC has done anthology periodicals called Voices, in which they present stories about superheroes who are gay, bisexual, non-binary, etc., etc. So all of that is getting in there, and of course, part of what that does is draw in more audiences. And of course there's also books focusing on gender and race as well. You know. Alright, So anyway, back to what you were saying.
Kate O’Brien: No, I think that's a good thing to touch on. I know some of the Marvel comics have Hulkling and Wiccan. I think it’s interesting. I think it is good to have more characters in this world where our audience can actually be like, “Hey! That’s me!” And keep what we have, and add to what we have to make sure that we as a growing world, it's all included in this.
Curren Gauss: Actually, that's all our questions that we have. But was there anything you wanted that we didn't get to that you wanted to touch on briefly before we say our goodbyes?
Dr. Kilgore: Well, I guess because superhero comics was just in my mind I didn't get it a chance to talk about graphic memoir. And that would be an interesting way to to go with this in terms of thinking very directly about about identity and identification in graphic novels. The graphic memoir is a great genre to go for in terms of graphic novels. And it’s become increasingly popular for people who come from non-majority backgrounds, basically, to tell their life story in a graphic memoir. Particularly for Jewish and East and South Asian Americans. I have a whole list of people that have been that I've been teaching. What's interesting about it is that it's the kind of combination of most of these stories, graphic memoirs, are done by writer artists. So creators who are both doing the writing and the art at the same time. And so what's interesting about them is that as a result you get a graphic novel. That is a direct personal statement from the creator. That’s really unfiltered by…I mean one of the problems with, one of the interesting challenges. Let’s not say problem let’s call it a challenge, for the superhero genre is that you're always filtering your interest in representing gender, race, ethnicity, religion, whatever else you got through the conventions of the media. right, you know. So, instead of interestingly, instead of creating new characters, you have to create another iteration of Batman or Superman. In order to be in the mix in order to have a conversation. With the graphic memoir you don't have that filter. And so it opens you out expressively into other ways of storytelling other types of aesthetic representation. I’m just kind of making my pitch on that.
Curren Gauss: Yes, yes, of course, and I'm glad you touched on that. I mean graphic memoir is a way for, it sounds like, authors and creators to be able to tell a story that doesn't have to fully rely on a new iteration of the same character as you were talking about, which is really interesting. Important.
Dr. Kilgore: And so you're meeting the new in a way.
Curren Gauss: Yeah, yeah, definitely, which kind of goes back to the whole like technology thing as well. Yeah, if that's all, Kate, do you have anything else,
Dr. Kilgore: I don't think so. I think... what I really enjoyed talking about as someone who was almost going to be an art student, I was this close. I think it's a lot of fun talking about graphic design and comic books and character design and where it's gonna go. So honestly, I just really enjoyed having this conversation with you. And learning more about this.