boy of color dressed as a super hero

Big Idea

We are thrilled to share that our project, “Conquering Social Issues through a Comic Studies Collaborative,“ has been approved for further development by the SDSU Big Ideas Selection Committee. We have been awarded a small amount of funding and development support to cultivate our idea and present it to potential donors.

President Adela de la Torre says, "Big Ideas are transformative, transdisciplinary, far-reaching and well-reasoned solutions to society’s biggest challenges. The Big Ideas Initiative is a unique effort for SDSU, intended to enable impactful scholarship as well as to inform the strategic plan. This initiative provides a structure for the SDSU community to engage collectively in developing visionary ideas that draw upon our distinct strengths and capabilities."

Read our proposal to the program.

Comics and Social Justice Big Idea

Co-Champions: Elizabeth Pollard (History, CAL) and Pamela Jackson (SCUA, Library)

Our Comics and Social Justice collaborative cultivates dynamic community and promotes the creation of, and scholarship on, comics. 

  • Our dynamic community (at SDSU and beyond) connects people who are teaching comics, making comics, and bringing change through comics. We’re building a community through coordinated curriculum, conferences, and innovative publications.
  • Our promoting of comic creation and cutting edge comics scholarship demonstrates the power of the comics medium to call out social injustice and points the way to solutions through public events, fellowships, teach-ins, exhibitions, and much more.

Thanks to recent blockbuster movies, we are all familiar with how comics and graphic novels are filled with superheroes battling villains and street-level fighters challenging the status quo. Most iconic, in 1941 Captain America stood up to fascism, delivering a knock-out blow to the Third Reich! In 1960, Superman was making public service announcements and shining a spotlight on immigration and refugee issues. Green Lantern was challenged in 1972, when he was called out for helping blue-skinned, orange-skinned, and purple-skinned, but not Black-skinned folk. In 1993, Augustus Freeman, an alien with Superman-like powers, is convinced by a teen to use his powers to “set a positive example for the downtrodden.” 

But how did and can this storied heroic activism make a difference in reality? 

Superheroes are just one type of difference-maker in comics. Stories that inspire everyday people to challenge injustice and bring about change saturate the pages with brave individuals taking steps as bold as the dynamic fonts and images that bring them to life. Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story highlighted King’s Civil Rights efforts in the 1950s, and decades later, John Lewis’s graphic novel March encouraged young and old to “make good trouble…”

Our Big Idea embraces the vibrant comics medium as a way to grapple with timely social issues, including health care, .racial injustice, wealth inequality, immigration, food Insecurity, climate justice, and equality for all.

We have assembled humanists, educators, librarians, scientists, and artists from across SDSU and the wider San Diego community in order to form what we envision will become the nation's leading comic studies collaborative. And the only such collaborative focused primarily on social justice in and through comics.
San Diego is home to a thriving maker community - from small studios like Little Fish connecting with the local community to national comic book publishing houses like IDW. Fans and professionals alike gather at yearly events from the 2000-attendee Comic Fest to the 200,000 attendee Comic-Con, and a soon-to-open Comic-Con Museum is already hosting events drawing large crowds, including events led by members of our collaborative! 

Number 1 - We conduct dynamic critical research that draws on the 100,000-title comics and archival collection at SDSU - one of the largest in the nation. The collection already has strengths in Alternative and Independent Comics, Underground Comix, Fandom Archives, and Modern age floppies. And with support, we can build on these strengths and grow the collection even further!

Number 2 - We teach classes, including large GE courses, library instruction, and in-depth one-on-one mentoring with student scholars, and we create curriculum surrounding comics. Additional support would allow us to amplify our outreach, develop additional courses, bring new faculty to campus, and replicate our curricular model beyond SDSU. 

Number 3 - We host collaborative academic conferences that leverage local, regional, and international talent and resources, and we seek to bring scholars here to the SDSU comics collection and community. With additional funding, we can grow these conferences and increase the number of visiting scholars using our collection to demonstrate how comics can bring social change.

Number 4 - We provide transformative opportunities for community members and students (at SDSU, K-12, and beyond). Continued support will fund a range of these transformational activities, including a public mural project in comic form focused on social justice activism.

When scholars investigate and artists create, and when together they collaborate with the community, measurable and meaningful social change is not far behind. We assert that the study of comics can bring transformational experiences that advocate for social justice, that imagine audacious solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, and that promote the idea that individuals can make a difference.