Comics, Horror, and Creating New Worlds

Sheehan Hannan, Assistant A&E Editor

English Dept. hosts panel to discuss “alternate” worlds

The novel as an art form has experienced countless changes over time. One constant factor, however, has been the creation of alternate worlds envisioned by an author who relates them to the reader. An upcoming forum, organized by the Case Western Reserve University English Department’s Pop Culture Working Group, seeks to highlight this novelistic device.

For the sake of simplicity, the event’s organizers have grouped the countless methods for creating and classifying literary worlds under the heading of “alternate.” This distinction includes worlds created by comic book artists and novelists.

Central to the department’s mantra is a departure from seeming superiority. While discussing various elements of pop culture, says department head Mary Grimm, “We want to avoid the high-mindedness that sometimes comes with examining pop culture works.” The group of writers, according to Grimm, seeks to avoid the natural air of pretension that surrounds the examination of “low fiction” and pulp novels. Previous panel themes have included “Mysteries and Comics” and “Ideas of the Feminine in the ‘70s,” with more forums planned for the future.

Avoidance of pretension pervades a great deal of the Pop Culture Working Group’s events and is behind the selection of authors for the upcoming panel. One of the authors selected, Marc Sumerak, was previously on the editorial staff of Marvel comics, one of the two mainstays of the comic book industry. An Eisner and Harvey award winner, Sumerak has maintained his love of comics and now works as a freelancer, contributing story arcs to “Marvel Adventures: Avengers,” “Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man,” and “Weapon X: First Class,” among others. His selection for the panel corresponds to a wider movement toward analyzing comic books and graphic novels as literature. Though still in its infancy, this movement has been spearheaded at CWRU with a series of wildly popular SAGES seminars.

Also participating in the panel is Casey Daniels, a prolific youth horror writer. According to her website, she was inspired while applying for a part-time job as a cemetery tour guide. She didn’t get the job, but her trip to the cemetery gave her the idea to pen her popular “Pepper Martin” series. A Cleveland resident, Daniels’s inclusion marks a distinct distance from the “high horse” mentality that self-respecting casual readers everywhere detest, as Daniels is considered to be a youth-centric writer.

Generally, Daniels’s works focus on her “Pepper Martin” series. However, she has also penned several other novels. Most recently, she published the “Button Box” mystery series, under the pseudonym Khylie Logan. She began her career writing historical dramas, but has since shifted genres. As a diverse writer, her experience in creating alternate, or secondary, worlds is sizeable. Daniels will bring this experience to her presentation at the forum to benefit the budding writers of the CWRU community.

Also selected for her experience in creating alternate worlds is Mara Purnhagan, author of a wide range of young adult novels. Her novel “Past Midnight” has received the 2010 Cybil Award for Best Fantasy/Science Fiction in the young adult category and 2010 YABC Readers Choice Award. She has also published two novellas, “Raising the Dead” and “Haunting the Night.”

The panel will be held in the spacious parlor of Guilford House on CWRU’s Mather quad. The event will consist of presentations and readings by the three panelists and will have an unstructured question and answer part. The program is open to CWRU, CIA, and CIM students. By emphasizing popular culture, says Grimm, the group will attract the attention of the diverse body of students in the area.

All too often, CWRU students are generalized as an altogether uncreative bunch. Organizers hope this event will encourage student creativity and allow for an interface between pop culture and literature that is amiable and without pretension. Through the examination of the process of world-building, in all forms, the Pop Culture Working Group hopes to foster works of fiction from students in the area looking to one day publish.

The “Alternate Worlds” panel is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 4:30 p.m. in Guilford House. More information can be found on the CWRU English Department’s Facebook page or by contacting program organizers.