16 August 2011

Tights and Tiaras - conference success!

For the last two years, the feminist reading group my wife and I are part of, the Sídhe Literary Collective, has been organising a conference on female superheroes. Our many months of planning finally came to fruition last weekend, with Tights and Tiaras: Female Superheroes and Media Cultures. The conference ran at Monash University on 12 & 13 August 2011 and was sponsored by the university's School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, and the Centre for the Book. In the lead up to the conference, we even got some media interest:

My wife was also interviewed on the ABC Radio (Melbourne) Drive program (several of my coworkers mentioned hearing her interview as they drove home!). After this media attention even the University itself took notice and ran a news feature on "Tights and Tiaras". There may also be more media coverage in coming weeks.

The conference itself ran even better than we'd hoped - some fascinating papers were presented and some great discussions took place; the catering was great and the conference dinner on the first night was very enjoyable.

Karen's keynote, which opened the conference, did a wonderful job of contextualising the conference and discussing some of the issues pervading the representation of women in comics. Another highlight was the 'authors and artists' panel, which featured Karen (who recently received an Aurealis Award for her YA novel Guardian of the Dead), Alison Goodman (author of Eon and Eona and also an Aurealis Award winner), and JKB Fletcher (whose superhero-themed paintings I thought were absolutely brilliant). My paper on Cinderella in Fables (co-written with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario) was well received, as was my wife's paper on The Powerpuff Girls (the editor of the Dark Matter fanzine called hearing an academic paper on The Powerpuff Girls a "surreal experience").

So, I think it's time to unwind for a little - to chill out and read some comics - before facing the masters study I'm now lagging behind on...

08 August 2011

Upcoming paper: "Fairy Tale Heroine or Fables Superspy? Finding the Real Cinderella"

In four days (eep!) I'll be co-presenting a paper I've co-authored at a conference I've co-organised (with many other organisers that have done far more work than me). This Friday and Saturday is Monash University's Tights and Tiaras: Female Superheroes and Media Cultures, a conference put together by the Sidhe Literary Collective, the feminist reading group I've been part of for the last few years. The keynote speaker will be Karen Healey, an award-winning author of young adult fiction who has been very active in the feminist criticism of comic books. We've got a stack of amazing-sounding papers lined up, and I can't wait!

Below is the abstract of my paper, which I co-wrote with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, an academic from Monash's School of English, Communications and Performance Studies. It's titled "Fairy Tale Heroine or Fables Superspy? Finding the Real Cinderella" and we'll be looking at the evolution of the character of Cinderella from fairy tale to comic book.

Fairy Tale Heroine or Fables Superspy? Finding the Real Cinderella
Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario & Zachary Kendal

The superspy Cinderella is an important character of Bill Willingham’s ongoing Fables comic book series, and has even earned two spin-off miniseries of her own, written by Chris Roberson. In this incarnation of Cinderella, the fairy tale heroine pursues a career of international espionage, undertaking dangerous missions for the good of her fellow fables, all the while parading as a simple shoe-store owner pining over the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charming.

The tales of Perrault, the Grimms and Disney have shaped the contemporary popularity of Cinderella, emphasising the heroine’s journey from ashes and housework to tiaras and handsome princes. These popular tales, problematised by easy misogyny and patriarchal expectations, have overshadowed earlier versions of the Cinderella story, in which the heroine attacks her despised stepmother and beheads ogresses. By examining some of the early cunning and feisty incarnations of Cinderella, including Basile’s “The Cat Cinderella” and D’Aulnoy’s “Finette Cendron,” this paper will examine how the fairy tales’ interests in costume, masquerade and general sneakery have been readily absorbed into the comic book medium. It will also consider Cinderella’s portrayal in the Fables series and the two Cinderella miniseries, and the high and low points of her depiction at the hands of the creative teams behind these comic books.

Durand and Leigh call superhero stories “the next step in the fairy tale tradition,” and once we strip the patriarchal trappings from the early tales of Cinderella, the character can bridge this transition and sit as easily upon the shelves in a comic book store as upon Mother Goose’s tongue.

[Abstract for a paper to be presented at Tights and Tiaras: Female Superheroes and Media Cultures on 12 August 2011]