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CIRSS Seminar - Katy, Millie, Misty, and Me: Participatory Culture in Teen Fashion and Humor Comics

Friday, March 6, 2020
4pm - 5pm

131 IS

Event Details

Session leaders: John Walsh, iSchool Research Fellow, Director of the HathiTrust Research Center and Associate Professor of Information and Library Science in the Luddy School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University
Description: This paper explores pre-Internet, print-based participatory culture in the form of reader-contributed content to fashion and humor comics associated with characters such as Archie Comics’ Katy Keene and Marvel’s Patsy Walker and Millie the Model. Comics featuring these characters were published regularly from the 1940s into late 1960s and early 1970s. A key feature of these comics is the inclusion of reader-contributed content. Readers submitted—through the mail—fashion designs, story ideas, and other creative contributions. The artists on these comics would incorporate the readers’ contributions and credit the readers in the pages of the published comics. Through this form of reader-participation—a readerly practice that transcends “reading” in its literal sense—readers become co-creators of the comics they consumed, and in some cases, readers also become characters, as their contributions, identities, and images are woven into the fictional narrative and the textual and visual fabric of the comics. The Katy Keene and Millie the Model characters were revived in the 1980s, with Millie appearing as the aunt of the titular character from the six-issue series Misty, written and drawn by Trina Robbins. In these 1980s revivals, the practice of soliciting reader contributions was also reintroduced, and readers of the earlier comics took on new roles as primary creators, or resumed their previous roles as reader-contributors, alongside a new, younger generation of reader-contributors. In the comics under investigation, we witness the evolution of a particular textual/visual form of participatory culture that engages readers ranging in age from young children to middle-aged adults. The connections among readers, creators, characters, and the material comic book will be explored through analysis of the published comics alongside archival sources, including the original fan mail from readers to Trina Robbins and her creation, “Misty.”

John A. Walsh is an Associate Professor of Information and Library Science in the Luddy School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University and Director of the HathiTrust Research Center. His research involves the application of computational methods to the study of literary and historical documents. Walsh is an editor on a number of digital scholarly editions, including: the Petrarchive, the Algernon Charles Swinburne Project, and the Chymistry of Isaac Newton. He has developed the Comic Book Markup Language, or CBML, for scholarly encoding of comics and graphic novels, and TEI Boilerplate, a system for publishing documents encoded according to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange. He is the Technical Editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly, an open-access online journal published by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. Walsh’s research interests include computational literary studies; textual studies and bibliography; text technologies; book history; 19th-century British literature, poetry and poetics; and comic books. Homepage: