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Vermont Quarterly

Festival Draws Pioneers of Genre

Art Spiegelman giving a talk at UVM
Photograph by Sally McCay

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Festival Draws Pioneers of Genre

ARTS | Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthurs, Guggenheims, American Book Awards, and numerous New York Times best sellers are just a sampling of the achievements collectively stacked up by the trio of artists/authors—Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Alison Bechdel—who shared keynote honors at last semester’s Pulp Culture Comic Arts Festival & Symposium. And, as if we need further confirmation of their cultural currency and cartoon cred, consider that Spiegelman and Bechdel have both appeared on “The Simpsons.”

Hosted by UVM, which co-organized the festival with the Vermont Folklife Center, the three-day event drew hundreds of comic artists and fans of the medium. 

An opening-night event with Spiegelman (pictured) drew a capacity-and-then-some crowd to the Music Building Recital Hall. Discussion considered the long and varied arc of his career—from the childhood inspiration of Mad Magazine to his years of work for Topps bubble gum/baseball cards (“my Medicis,” Spiegelman quipped), from his covers for The New Yorker to his exploration of the Holocaust in the landmark Maus, which redefined the medium and received a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The next day, Spiegelman went from star on the stage to fan in the audience for fellow cartoonist Joe Sacco’s talk. Credited in his own right as a pioneer of graphic journalism and war reportage, Sacco’s books, such as Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza, have further pushed the boundaries of cartooning.

Discussion panels throughout the day on Saturday led up to the closing keynote by local hero Alison Bechdel. Celebrated for her long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For and her graphic memoir turned Broadway musical, Fun Home, Bechdel has been a UVM Marsh Professor-at-Large for the past several years. 

Bechdel was informal and insightful, funny and frank. Reflecting on the unlikely success of Fun Home, she said, “At age forty, it saved my ass. I got to keep being a cartoonist.” She traced a line back to Spiegelman. “The publication of Maus turned everything upside down. You could tell painful, complex, adult stories and people would read them.”

For the event’s masterminds—Jonah Steinberg, associate professor of anthropology, and Andy Kolovos, director of archives and research at the Vermont Folklife Center—the event was the culmination of years of work that began with a “hey, what if?” moment between friends. 

 

poster for Alison Bechdel talk at UVM

 

Dykes to Watch Out For to Fun Home, the Fleming Museum offers a look into the work of cartoonist/graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel this semester. Early drawings, activist ephemera, large-scale self-portraits, and a model of the set for the musical Fun Home are among the works featured. 

The exhibition, on display through May 20, explores Bechdel’s work as a writer, an artist, and an archivist of the self, someone who constantly mines and shares her own experiences as a way to communicate something vitally human: the quest for love, acceptance, community, and social justice. 

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