Kent State to Honor 75th Anniversary of Wonder Woman at Symposium
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the comic book super heroine Wonder Woman, Kent State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Ohio Humanities Council and the Cleveland Public Library have partnered to organize a symposium that celebrates the historical trends that have changed the world of comics, American popular culture and feminism. Centering on the Wonder Woman figure and her heirs, the Wonder Woman symposium will be held at the Cleveland Public Library and other locations from Sept. 22-24. It will feature plenary addresses by major creators in the industry and historians of the comics world and workshops by comics creators. The events are free and open to the public. To see the full schedule, read the speaker bios and register for the symposium, visit www.kent.edu/wonderwoman.
To celebrate this historical moment, Vera Camden, Ph.D., a professor in Kent State’s Department of English since 1984, organized the symposium with her graduate assistant Valentino Zullo.
“Our celebration of Wonder Woman’s anniversary pays respect to ‘herstory’ while recognizing her perpetual relevance to our present day and beyond,” Camden said. “We hope this symposium engages several humanities’ disciplines to cultivate participants’ capacity to understand, critique and celebrate not only popular culture and imagination, but also democracy, empathy and the complexity of the world we live in.”
Plenary speakers include:
- Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (via skype), the creative team of Harley Quinn, Starfire, and Harley Quinn and Power Girl
- Phil Jimenez, writer/artist of Wonder Woman and Superwoman, and artist of Astonishing X-Men, New X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man and The Invisibles
- Joan Ormrod and David Huxley, editors of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and of Superheroes and Identities
- Cameron Stewart, writer/artist of Batgirl, Motor Crush and artist of Batman and Robin and Fight Club 2
- Trina Robbins, author of The Great Women Superheroes, Wonder Woman, and editor of Babes in Arms and The Complete Wimmen's Comix
- Genevieve Valentine, author of Catwoman, Xena: Warrior Princess and the novels The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti
- Carol Tilley, author of Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics and a Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards Judge
- Laura Siegel, daughter of Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman. A former correspondent for CNN, she has won more than 100 awards, including 13 Emmys and eight New York Festival Awards
- Peter Coogan, Kent State alumnus, director of the Institute for Comics Studies and author of Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre and co-editor of What is a Superhero?
“By hosting the event at the Cleveland Public Library, we hope to situate this program as one that fulfills the values of Kent State University to cultivate critical thinking and reading skills of individuals in the community,” Camden said. “This event embraces the Cleveland Public Library in its role as ‘The People’s University.’ The focus will not only be on celebrating the rich history of comics but also educating the public – the same one from which Superman emerged in the Cleveland of 1938.”
Wonder Woman’s Place in the “Feminist Renaissance”
Camden believes that the dedication to female characters, creators, and consumers represented by these figures at the event underscores a cultural shift in the comics industry.
“A form once critiqued for its misogyny is now in the midst of something of a feminist Renaissance,” Camden said.
Wonder Woman was not the first female superhero, but she is certainly one of the most popular. From the 1940s era Golden Age Wonder Woman to Lynda Carter to the new Wonder Woman movie to be released in 2017, she has never left popular culture.
Camden said the Wonder Woman character also represents feminism for so many people, and the archive of Wonder Woman comics provides a long history of women’s place in the public – both in what it documents and leaves out. The Wonder Woman who emerged during World War II had lost her powers and other hallmarks of her identity as she proceeded into the ’50s and ’60s. This changed in 1973 when journalist and author Gloria Steinem contacted DC Comics and persuaded them to give Wonder Woman her powers back after she had lost them and “had fallen on hard times.” DC Comics was reluctant, but as Steinem remembers, she persuaded them to make the change. In the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, Steinem recalls the person in charge of Wonder Woman at DC Comics calling her up and said, “Okay. She has her magical powers back, her lasso, her bracelets, she has Paradise Island back, and she has a black African Amazon sister named Nubia. Now will you leave me alone?” For the history of feminism and the female superhero, this was a defining moment, Camden said.
Steinem placed the original “Golden Age” Wonder Woman on the cover of Ms. Magazine in 1972, asserting the need for images of powerful women with her lobbying. Since then, Wonder Woman has kept her powers, and today there are more powerful images of female superheroes on the cover of comics than ever before.
“The dedication to female characters, creators and consumers underscores a cultural shift in the comics industry,” Camden said. “It is not just that Marvel, DC, Image, Dynamite, etc., are invested in the growing population of female readers, but they are offering strong images of women in comics.
For more information about the Wonder Woman symposium, visit www.kent.edu/wonderwoman.
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Pictured is the cover of the first print run of It Ain’t Me, Babe (1970), the first comic book produced entirely by women. It was co-produced by Trina Robbins and Barbara “Willy” Mendes, and published by Ron Turner at Last Gasp comics.