The Art of comic-book writing

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 19, 2008

Media Credit: Daniel Schwartz
Art Spiegelman, the renowned artist and author, spoke at the Kelly Writer's House last night. Explaining his art and the history of comics, Spiegelman presented a witty look at this cultural medium.

The flat-screen television flashing with vivid images of superheroes and Charlie Brown seemed out of place at the time-worn Kelly Writers House last night as Pulitzer Prize-winning artist and author of Maus Art Spiegelman presented "Comix 101."

The presentation was a condensed history of comic-book evolution intertwined with his personal experience writing graphic novels. Spiegelman delivered a similar speech at a 2005 SPEC-sponsored event in Irvine Auditorium.

The diverse crowd, ranging from Penn students to elderly locals, crowded into the small space to hear him speak. College senior Steve McLaughlin introduced Spiegelman with a sharply written speech that recognized his "refusal to clean up or boil down." This sentiment was further displayed by the gift presented to Spiegelman bearing his own quote: "Disaster is my muse."

The content of Spiegelman's lecture was similarly provocative, with references ranging from Janet Jackson's breast to racially charged comics. The man who admittedly "learned about sex from Betty and Veronica" covered over a century of comics during his hour-and-a-half presentation, which was punctuated with boisterous laughter.

The affair marked the start of a two-day dinner and brunch event organized by the Kelly Writers House Fellows Program, which plans three intimate readings from prominent literary figures each spring in accordance with the curriculum of Professor Al Filreis's "Contemporary American Writing" seminar.

After studying the visiting authors' work throughout the semester, the 20 students enrolled in the course gain the unique opportunity to engage in a personal discussions with the authors during the Monday class before the evening reading.

Past speakers include award-winning writers Richard Ford and Susan Sontag. The Monday night talks are open to the public, and the Tuesday morning interview is Webcast live worldwide.

For 2005 Penn alumnus and current Kelly Writers House employee John Carroll, who participated in the seminar three times during his years at Penn, the Fellows Program provided a focused contrast to "courses that try to take such a broad look at a century or a decade."

However, he is quick to clarify that the celebrity aspect of the event does not overshadow the learning experience at the core of the program. "The seminar discussions are just as good, if not better, than the visit," he said.