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Comic Book Stands: SDSU Press’s New Footprint Combines University Studies with Graphic Novel Philosophy


Like many of them, Dr. William Nericcio grew up loving Speedy Gonzales. Of course, he didn’t realize until much later just how classic Warner Bros. cartoon character was. perpetuated racial stereotypes.

“All of my early knowledge of other cultures was acquired through Warner Bros. cartoons,” says Nericcio, who now works as an English professor at San Diego State University and has published academic papers. exploring the character of Speedy Gonzales. “I got to know the French thanks to Pepé Le Pew. I got to know Mexicans thanks to Speedy Gonzales. This type of imprint is here forever. They won’t leave. What’s interesting are the types of fingerprints that are happening now? “

These types of representations and the resulting mental impressions are at the heart of Darius S. Gainer’s “Black Representation in the World of Animation”, the latest “issue” of Amatl Comix.

An imprint from San Diego State University Press, Amatl’s mission, or at least one of them, is to take a scholarly approach to important issues – such as the representation of BIPOC in comics fields. , comics and animation – and present it as a well-researched, well-researched and entertaining ‘graphic story’ for the reader. In other words, rather than publishing them as simple books that rely only on text, they include photos and illustrations of what the author is discussing.

“I knew it was going to be comics and comic book studies,” says Nericcio, who has been the director of SDSU Press since 2014. “And now with this book we’re doing animation studies.”

Named after the fibrous paper made by the Aztecs – “the first cartoonists of the Americas,” Nericcio points out – Amatl Comix was launched four years ago and averages about one title per year. Titles and topics are varied and include everything from textual and graphic hybrid memoirs by Claudia Dominguez to a collection of interviews with emerging and established Latinx comic artists. Nericcio sees the imprint as a way to draw attention to important topics in a more graphic medium.

“I’ve always been crazy about comics,” says Nericcio, who says he learned to read from “Archie” comics and Mad magazines in Laredo, TX. “I saw that Ohio State University Press had made a comic book imprint and I got jealous of it! I wanted to do comics! But then, of course, I had this light bulb moment where I realized, “Wait, I’m the press director.” I can do whatever I want. ‘”

Still, because it’s a college press, Nericcio says Amatl’s headlines couldn’t be purely entertainment. There had to be some sort of educational or academic value to the comic book.

The cover of Amatl Comix’s latest title, “Black Representation in the World of Animation”, by Darius S. Gainer

(Amatl BD)

“The press was already strong in many areas,” says Nericcio. “What I brought in was the emphasis on visual cultural studies.

Amatl’s issues also serve as an introduction for people who might be interested in a topic and want to start with something short and visually appealing.

For example, exploring the depiction of black people in animation in a thick, full book without images can seem daunting, even to someone who enjoys animation. But packaged in a short burst of images and brilliant text, as is the case with Gainer’s comic book, and it has the potential to appeal even to people who are only on the periphery interested in the subject.

“Academic is used to mean exactly that and it’s often illegible,” says Nericcio. “I like books that feel like a glossy magazine, but focus on a particular topic. These things are an extension of that.

SDSU Press began in the 1950s and now has the distinction of being the oldest academic press in the California State University system. Nericcio started out as a designer and acquisitions editor in the ’90s. When director Harry Polkinhorn decided to step down from the press in 2014, Nericcio says he saw an opportunity to expand the overall mission of the hurry. In addition to launching Hyperbole Books, a brand that focuses on critical theory titles with an experimental bent, Nericcio says he always wanted to launch a comic book brand as well.

“Harry knew I wanted to do more avant-garde and grunge things,” Nericcio recalls. “Grungier in terms of critical theory. A little more political things. A little more theoretical, a lot more visual and a lot more impactful.

Yet it is often a labor of love. The press is run by a small team of volunteers and staff, and it runs primarily from Nericcio’s office in the English department. He doesn’t get paid for his work at SDSU Press, but reiterates that he enjoys it because he can do whatever he wants.

“The only thing we don’t do is bind the books,” Nericcio says. “We’re totally supported by sales, but the good news is we’re booming.”

To be fair, “booming” often means one of the titles will sell more than 100 copies, but Nericcio says sales numbers have increased “over 25%” in the past year.

“Black Representation in the World of Animation” has done very well since its release in September. Nericcio discovered Gainer’s text through a colleague at Ohio State University Press who had taught Gainer as an undergraduate student. The book is remarkably comprehensive for a book its size (just over 170 pages), exploring the different ways black people have been portrayed in animation from the early 1900s to the present day.

“I thought to myself, ‘we don’t have anything like that,’ because we have certainly been weak in African American studies,” Nericcio says. “I myself work in the history of animation. I read this and I was like ‘wow, let’s go.’ “

The next book in the Amatl series will be a translation of Rodrigo Elgueta’s ‘Years of Allende’, a Chilean graphic novel about the rise and fall of President Salvador Allende, who in 1970 became the first socialist elected president of a country in Latin America. And while Nericcio says he doesn’t have a “big plan” for Amatl Comix, he says he still feels dizzy when working on a new title.

“I love chaos, creativity and innovation in an academic institution, and there is so little of it left,” Nericcio says. “We find a way to survive, and then we do our own thing. “

Combs is a freelance writer.

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