More NEMLA Calls for Proposals!

With less than a week left until the September 30 deadline, here are four more, awesome panels scheduled for the Northeast Modern Language Association conference in March. These are all focused on popular culture, including comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which I’m partial to myself). Check them out!

The 47th meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, March 17th to March 20th in Hartford, Connecticut, will host more than 400 sessions, including ones focused on adaptations of literature for film, and the roles of race and gender in comics.

Below are four calls for papers with links for submitting 300-word abstracts before the September 30th deadline. Members and non-members of NeMLA may submit to as many sessions as they want, although they may present on only one paper presentation panel and only one other type of session (a roundtable or a creative session).

If you have any questions, please email the organizers listed with each session.

“Ruined!” On Failed Adaptations from Page to Screen

Contact: Emily Lauer (, Derek McGrath (

This session will explore adaptations that fail in some way. Among our goals, we would like to identify what could be productive about failed adaptations. How do such failures identify what not to do, and can an adaptation that fails to be faithful to its source material still produce a valuable, worthwhile text? We are particularly interested in proposals that look at the adaptation of older artistic and literary forms in online and/or interactive content.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature

Contact: Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (, Derek McGrath (

With dynamic individual superhuman characters populating a world of complex, interwoven mythologies and origin stories, the films and television series of Marvel Comics Studios experiment with long-form transmedia storytelling. With twelve films and three television series released in less than a decade, all adhering to the same continuity and fictional universe, how can the Marvel Cinematic Universe reveal or offer fresh insight into the ways in which modern cinematic storytelling functions as literature? Approaches may include analysis of one or more films; storytelling across genre and medium; adaptations of the original Marvel Comics to film and television; and applications of various schools of literary and media theory to MCU properties.

The Monster In The House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero Narratives

Contact: Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (

In worlds full of superhuman heroes, mythological imaginary creatures and battle narratives of epic scope, what is the role of the domestic? This session seeks proposals investigating the ways in which domestic spaces and domestic ideology function within superhero narratives as sites of union and/or conflict between the human, the subhuman, and the superhuman.

Race and Comics: The Politics of Representation in Sequential Art

Contact: Rafael Ponce-Cordero (
This panel welcomes papers that examine the treatment of race and racial relations in comic books, whether in superhero narratives, graphic memoirs, web comics, or other forms of sequential art both inside and outside the United States. How are comics used to document and represent racialized identities? How have the medium and its surrounding fan communities adapted earlier content to speak to current topics?

Calling all writing instructors in the Northeast!

There are just ten days left to submit a proposal to the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference to be held in Hartford, CT in March 2016.

I’m chairing one panel and one roundtable focused on teaching writing and while there are some great submissions already, I’d love to hear from more of the scholar-practitioners doing the innovating in the classroom. Please consider submitting a proposal to one or both of these sessions. And if neither of these grabs your interest, take a look at the other awesome Rhetoric and Composition sessions being offered this year.

The Student as Writer: Embodiment, Mindfulness, and Disability in the Composition Classroom (Panel)

In this session, we review ways to approach the First Year Composition and other writing classrooms by focusing on the students as embodied writers, taking student-centered pedagogy to a new level. Areas of interest for papers include, but are not limited to, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and disability studies. A combination of theoretical and practical perspectives will be employed to locate the student as embodied writer within the disciplinary tradition.

Evaluating Student Writing (Roundtable)

Have you ever wondered, “How on Earth can I grade this poem? Can creativity even be quantified?” Or, “how should revision fit into the overall course grade?” In this roundtable, writing instructors from a variety of fields (rhetoric and composition; technical writing; creative writing; and more) will discuss their systems for assessing and evaluating student writing in the college classroom. Both conceptual and pragmatic concerns will be addressed for making the evaluation and feedback process an integral part of our writing pedagogy.

Sasquan, Exit Stage Left


Sharing Meg Frank’s account of her experiences this year at WorldCon because it needs to be heard and understood that harassment and intimidation can no longer be tolerated silently.

Originally posted on Previously Unexplored:

Up until a week before Sasquan, the 73rd Worldcon, I was the Events Deputy Division Head and the Co-Director of the Hugo Ceremony. Resigning was a very difficult and painful decision. I did not do so lightly. Doing so left several of my friends in the lurch, and while I don’t regret walking away, I do regret the position I put my boss Jill Eastlake, and my co-director David D’Antonio in. They were both endlessly supportive during this entire situation and have taught me a great deal about how to make Events happen for a Worldcon.

It is common knowledge at this point that Lou Antonelli wrote a letter to the Spokane PD. It is also known that he went on Sarah Hoyt’s podcast and bragged about it. While many were rightly focused on David Gerrold’s reaction, the simple fact is that he wasn’t the only person harassed and…

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Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #4: Head Canon

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for an article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue of New York Magazine (see here for the article). As I have in the previous posts in this series, I’m sharing some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version. The focus for this final post is the phenomenon of fan production known as “head canon.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (the gold standard for academics, so I’ve been told), the first definition of canon is, “A rule, law, or decree of the Church; esp. a rule laid down by an ecclesiastical Council. the canon (collectively)” and reaches back to around the year 890. And in popular culture, there are few words that carry as much reverence and debate  as “canon.” When it comes to “head canon,” a key element of this fan activity is that it doesn’t change the established narrative of the “official” canon, unlike AU (alternate universe) fan fiction. It fills in the gaps, but doesn’t contradict the established storyline.

All stories have gaps. That’s the nature of narrative and this nature is counter-intuitively enhanced in long-running series. Fans want to know what is happening off-screen, between installments, before the series started, and, of course, after the stories “end.” This impulse fuels fan fiction and fan art but also the less-developed head canon. This is, as its name implies, primarily a private/personal mini story created by a fan for his or her favorite series, usually focusing on beloved characters. Social media, however, provides platforms for the sharing of these “personal” canons among fans. One of the most popular platforms for this is Tumblr, where just a quick search of the #headcanon tag can fill hours and hours of fun. It is one of those digital arenas that should come with a warning label for how much time it can absorb.

One of my favorite fandoms for active head canon focuses on Harry Potter. When I’ve looked at these before from a scholarly perspective, I found that fan interest in head canon tends to fall into three general areas for this series:

  1. Before the events of Philosopher’s Stone (split between the Founders of Hogwarts and the Marauders, Harry’s parents and their friends).
  2. During the seven books, minus the Epilogue of Deathly Hallows, particularly the summers Harry spends with the Weasleys at the Burrow.
  3. Between the end of Deathly Hallows and its Epilogue.

Another example of head canon I particularly like was shared by a fellow panelist on the Marvel Cinematic Universe session at the 2015 Arisia Convention (a Boston-area science fiction convention): the children and grandchildren of the Howling Commandos (from Captain America: The First Avenger) see themselves as family who get together frequently and can be called upon to support each other at a moment’s notice. This provides a nice gap-filler in the storyline from the mid-season finale of Agents of SHIELD‘s second season where one such descendant, who is part of the team, is killed. From my perspective, it allowed me to see that agent’s mother having an extensive support system to help her through her grief (which we glimpse briefly at the end of one episode) and also to imagine an entire network of skilled operatives looking to avenge their lost “cousin.”

Of course, head canon also comes with a downside in terms of memory when fans become so attached to one that they might lose sight of the “head” or non-official nature of it. I’ve fallen into this trap myself but haven’t let it stop me from delving into this particular form of fan production. It’s just too much fun.

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #3: Canon’s Dark Side

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As I wrote in the previous two posts, I am sharing some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version via a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the dark side of canon used as an exclusionary tactic and gatekeeping mechanism to separate out “real” fans from the rest of us.

One thing that became clear for me while doing the research for The Science Fiction Reboot is that fans do not always wield the power of canon with an accompanying level of responsibility (or even common decency in some cases). Canon has been employed in much less joyful ways, particularly with long-running stories such as those in the comics universes and Star Trek. All one has to do is Google “Star Trek in Name Only” or “fake geek girls” to see this dark side in action (though I would add significant content warnings to those searches for abuse of all kinds, especially misogynistic).

One particular manifestation of this dark side (pun intended) that I encounter anytime I talk about Star Wars is those who declare that the prequels “do not exist” (as if they somehow live in a parallel universe where the movies were not made and released), which has also led to the social media meme/trend where “real” fan-parents pledge to only show their children Episodes IV-VI, “as it should be.” I covered my personal frustration with this attitude in the Afterword of The Science Fiction Reboot but, the TL;DR of my take on the prequels versus original trilogy “debate” would be that it was never going to be possible for anyone, let alone a mere mortal like George Lucas, to recapture the magic fans associate with those original three movies for those who saw them between 1977 and 1999. What can be indisputably observed, however, is the magical effect the prequel trilogy and related television series (Clone Wars and now Rebels) has on the children born after 2000, who encounter all six episodes. The magic lives.

There are also those who have expressed similar indignation at the canon “trim” to the Star Wars universe currently in process at Lucasfilm/Disney Studios. Some fans who enjoyed the extended universe (primarily the novel series that continued the story post-Return of the Jedi) are quite distressed that the events and characters in those stories will not be part of the ongoing canon. And they have been quite vocal, even vulgar, about it online.

To use the cliche, it seems we are either damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Not all changes to canon in reboots work for all fans. And when we write it that directly, it seems so obvious. Yet, there are those who seem to believe that their self-proclaimed status in a particular fandom endows them with the authority to pass judgment over what is “allowed” in canon and what is not. Such “authority” also seems to include deciding who may identify as a fan and who may not. I’m not talking about criticism or critique; I mean outright rejection of a text’s existence as part of the canon. I have said to my students several times over various genre courses that when you reject a text, whether it is a reboot or a sequel or even just a story arc you didn’t like, you are also rejecting the fans of that text at the same time.

That is not the fandom community I want to be a part of. Rather, I can illustrate what fandom community can be with a brief story about the first time I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on its opening weekend this past May. I was attending the Northeast Modern Language Association conference in Toronto and so went to a screening with a few fellow scholars. During our dinner after the movie, I spent most of my time answering questions about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for these three friends who were much more well-versed in the comics canon than I can ever hope to be. It could have become a competition at that point, and at other times in fan spaces it has, but we didn’t let it go there.

The competing levels of canon, and differing experiences with these stories, don’t have to be barriers to community or gates keeping the “unworthy” out of the realm. I’ve heard several times at conventions that the great thing about fandom is that when someone learns you haven’t read/watched/played a particular genre favorite, the response is not judgment or disdain but, in the vernacular, a “squee” of “Oh my God, you have to see/read/play it! Let me see if I have a copy with me I can lend you.” I’ve experienced both the dark and the light side of fandom and have seen canon employed for both good and evil (as it were).
Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: the phenomenon known as “head canon.”

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series; Post #2: Traditions of Storytelling

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As I wrote in last week’s post, I’m very happy with the way the article turned out but want to share some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version via a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the long tradition within Western storytelling of putting one’s own “spin” on canon.

I’ve argued before (see The Science Fiction Reboot) that the conventional view of reboots and franchises as evidence of Hollywood being “lazy” or running out of ideas is ahistorical, even elitist. This year’s target for such crisis rhetoric is Jurassic World, perhaps because Ultron was more clearly a continuation of a long-term saga as opposed to a more conventional sequel like Jurassic World. Retelling and adapting and rebooting stories is as old as, if not older than, Chaucer and the other early modern epics that are so often taught as the foundational texts in the Western literary canon [another, interesting definition of the term here related to my fandom focus but with quite different cultural valuation]. Of course the term “reboot” could only be applied to the cultural-literary phenomenon once computers were invented and became part of the everyday English vernacular.

Many, if not all, of the stories in the Canterbury Tales and others that have survived from that time period were adaptations of culturally familiar stories, as well as those imported from other cultures. For example, when I was doing my doctoral work at Lehigh University, I contributed to a collective web publication that compares John Gower’s “Tale of Constance” in the Confessio Amantis (written in the early 1390s) with its immediate source in Nicholas Trevet’s Of the Noble Lady Constance in his Anglo-Norman Chronicles (written in the early 1330s) (see here for the link:

It can also be argued that the plays of Shakespeare were reboots and even that the history plays were “real person fan fiction.” Our cultural valuing of the “original” story is a very recent notion and when it is invoked in the twenty-first century, often comes with a tinge of elitism that rejects the blockbusters like the Marvel films or Jurassic World for being “unoriginal.” As both a fan and a scholar of popular culture, I find such complaints and critiques frustrating because of the underlying (as well as overt) exclusionary nature of their message that there is something wrong with those who enjoy and financially support this rote, lazy storytelling, often accompanied by finger-pointing at said masses for not knowing any better. For example, while I do often agree with and more often admire Charlie Jane Anders’s work, her June piece declaring the success of Jurassic World a “terrible thing” for “anybody who loves movies” (see link here: works in this general vein.

Another interesting layer to the meaning of canon, however, relates to classical rhetoric which is conventionally taught as having five “canons”: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery. These traditions highlight the ahistorical, even inaccurate, perspective that condemns franchises for being “unoriginal” because the definition of a skilled rhetor was one with a robust memory of a set of commonplaces that would then be arranged into a compelling argument that would then be delivered to the appropriate audience. In other words, those trained in the classical rhetorical tradition we can trace back centuries (problematic though it may be) would find the “lazy” critique puzzling, to say the least.

Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: The dark side of canon used as an exclusionary tactic and gatekeeping mechanism to separate out “real” fans from the rest of us.

Some Extended Thoughts on Fandom and Canon, a Blog Series. Post #1: Joy of Fandom

Earlier this summer, I contributed to Adam Sternbergh’s research for a New York Magazine article on fandom and canon that was published in the July 27 issue (see here for the article). As many who know me can attest, I can talk and write about the subject of science fiction/fantasy fandom and canon at great length and even in the digital environment, there are limits to the amount of room available for any single article.

I’m very happy with the way the article turned out but wanted to share some of my perspectives that didn’t make it into the final published version in a series of weekly blog posts. Today’s focus is the joy and pleasure that canon brings to the audience experience with a text (meaning film, book, television series, graphic novel, video game, etc.).

Perhaps the most obvious role of canon in any series is that it rewards the long-time viewer and this is especially true for the SF/F genre because of the complex world-building so many series rely upon for their storytelling. This can create a steep barrier to entry for new viewers after several years (or even decades) of material and one could argue that Marvel is getting close to that tipping point in their Phase 2 storylines. The benefits of added pleasure for fans, though, as we search for clues and hints seems to be worth that risk at the moment. Examples of such breadcrumbs within the Marvel Cinematic Universe include the slow reveal that Skye’s birth name is Daisy Johnson over the second season of Agents of SHIELD and the mention of Wakanda in Avengers: Age of Ultron, setting up the introduction of the Black Panther character in an upcoming film.

The impulse to spend more time in the storyworld is one recognized by fan scholars for many years and it seems to fuel the current success of book series/sequels/reboots/spinoffs particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genre.  Essentially, these books/films/shows/games provide devoted fans with another opportunity to experience a story we clearly love. Otherwise, why would we read/watch/play, and more concretely, spend our money? Fandom is about joy and canon is one of the elements of the pleasure fans derive from our favorite stories.

We are currently in an exciting time for this sort of canon-work in many different manifestations. For example, the A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones saga is running parallel canons between the book series and the HBO show, with both being ongoing as opposed to, for example, Outlander, where a vast majority of the story has already been told. The complexities of these parallel “official” canons are something to watch very closely in terms of fan reactions and behaviors over the coming years. Notions such as spoilers and “faithfulness” to the original source material are likely to be turned on their heads by this story when all is said and done.

In addition, deliberate, high-level attention is being paid to the canon of several other ongoing, high-profile properties, though in seeming opposite directions. While the Star Wars canon is being “trimmed” by Disney in preparation for the upcoming movies, there is no question of extensive and intentional planning within the Marvel Cinematic Universe where breadcrumbs and clues are being established in films years in advance in some cases, all masterminded by Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios (interestingly also owned by Disney).

As I argue in The Science Fiction Reboot, a more conventional explanation for changes to canon in reboots is that it allows for changes and updates to familiar stories. This is usually explained as making the stories “grittier” and less idealistic than their original versions but my perspective is that is a much too limited explanation. For example, as both a scholar and a fan, I was less interested in the Starbuck gender swap in the Battlestar Galactica series reboot and more compelled by the change to Cylon origins. This change to the canon changed the story from one of alien invasion, a la War of the Worlds, to one of the consequences of playing God and creating new life, a la Frankenstein. That is what kept me watching the rebooted series for as long as I did, though eventually I lost interest.

Next up in the blog series on fandom and canon: The long tradition within Western storytelling of putting one’s own “spin” on canon.