CSS 2024 Announcement
Hi CSS, I am Sam Langsdale, I’m the new first VP and I want to share with you our plans for next year’s conference. We announced this at the business meeting in Denton this last month but for those of you who couldn’t join us, we thought we would share the news and talk you through the decision that we’ve made.
We’re going virtual! And very much on purpose. I can’t actually predict the future so I will assure you that this is not because I think something is going to go sideways, but actually because we think there’s a lot of benefit from putting a virtual conference into the regular rotation of CSS’ conference schedule over the next several years. But certainly, let us talk to you about the motivations we have for making the conference virtual for next year.
First is the cost. This last year, Comics on the Margins at UNT, was an enormous success. I know that everyone who attended, whether virtually or in-person could attest to the quality of the presentations, the community, the outstanding keynotes—it was really an outstanding experience. However, the amount of time, energy and money it takes to execute a three day conference like that is pretty substantial. Our organizing board who consisted of our current president, Jo Davis-McElligatt, new member-at-large John Edward Martin, treasurer Vinny Haddad, and webmaster/MVP Jeremy Carnes worked really hard all year long to raise money and they did. They raised enough funds to bring all of these excellent speakers, to extend grants, to facilitate communal events… it was amazing! But it did take them all year and not every institution and not every group of organizers is going to be able to have that amount of time or have access to those resources and we want CSS to be able to spread and to be a part of a lot of different types of comics communities, so we’re concerned about the cost of an annual conference like that. It’s also expensive for people as individuals. I myself am contingent, I have always been contingent throughout my career. Many times that means I don’t have any institutional funding at all. So to attend a conference would be a completely out of pocket expense. I know there’s a lot of people like me. We also, as a society, want to include creators; they may not have any institutional backing and coming to a conference, especially if it is outside the place where you live and work, can be a really large expense. So, we’re concerned with how CSS can be inclusive and actually facilitate communal and scholarly events in ways that don’t rely on having to accumulate a lot of extra funds prior to the event happening.
Also, I don’t know if you noticed, the climate crisis is absolutely getting worse. This summer in Denton it was incredibly warm. Most days it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s easy to kind of shrug and say, well, it’s Texas, but even for north Texas, temperatures this summer were extraordinary. This is no longer OK, it’s not fine. We’re very aware that as the climate crisis continues to worsen, that things like academic conferences contribute negatively to it. All the airfare that it takes for all of us to gather, or gasoline for road trips, the energy it takes to cool a building that’s big enough to facilitate our three day conference, all of the resources we use in our hotels and Airbnbs. Conference swag, as much fun as it is, most of it is not recyclable or compostable. All of these things add up and because most of us are attending multiple conferences a year, we are actually making somewhat of a negative impact. So, until the orcas can sink a few more 1% yachts and get the message across that we really need wide corporate, institutional change, we as a society would like to be more mindful and conscientious about how we care for and interact with the environment. So, we’re trying to go virtual because we think that it matters. It’s a way we can lessen our negative impact on the climate.
Inclusivity, I’ve said this a couple times, but it’s really important to this board. It’s in the original mission of CSS to be inclusive of scholars, creators, and fans across a variety of categories whether that’s job niche or identity, we want CSS to be inclusive of people across comics. And conferences are not always the best way to exercise that inclusivity. Again, for a lot of people, cost may be prohibitive, but also some conferences are always accessible for people who have continuing health concerns who are medically vulnerable and who can’t gather in groups. There are also people who have caring responsibilities, it’s not easy to get away from children or other family members who require care. So, a virtual conference allows us to open up all of our events regardless of whether they can travel and we’re really intent on making that a part of everything we organize going forward.
It’s also fun! I know after Covid a lot of us are burned out and the idea of another zoom thing is exhausting but I really feel strongly that if you do this with purpose it can be a completely different experience. I personally have also done a lot of online organizing with various colleagues who are also on the board, and with the Digital Cultural Studies Co-operative and we’ve managed events that really bring people from all over the world together, we’ve been very successful at creating professional and personal relationships via these events, and we’ve usually managed to make it really engaging and quite hilarious. And if you need some more evidence for that you can ask Vinny Haddad about my attempt at a Wookie impersonation at one of our virtual cosplay receptions. So we hope that you’re going to have some faith in us and join us because we really do think it will be a good time.
The thing that we also want to share with you is that we envision this first virtual conference in 2024 s being part of a regular rotation in the CSS conference schedule. So a little like the fact that we have conferences scheduled at MSU every several years we would like to consider making a virtual conference a part of the regularly scheduled rotation every few years. At this point we would envision the next virtual conference in 2029. So again, it’s not that we’re trying to replace in-person events or even make virtual events the majority. If you look at our proposed schedule for the next several years, the majority of events are still in person. We think this has a lot of advantages—the ones I’ve outlined so far, but also it’s going to give all of us, whether institutions or individuals, more time to prepare for the in person events. Some of us might need to work up savings, we might need to schedule our time off differently. If we know there’s an in-person event one year, we are going to pare back on other conferences so we can make it to CSS and then knowing a virtual conference is coming up may allow us to extend ourselves into other avenues that virtual year because we can safely accommodate budget or presence with both CSS virtually and another event in person. One of the reasons we’re really excited about this is because we want CSS to grow. We believe we can be bigger, yes, but also more complex and a more enriched organization. We have resources and we would like to be able use them in ways that are not solely dedicated to executing and maintaining and in-person conference schedule. So, what if we got more grants extended? What if we managed to facilitate lots of events throughout the year that maybe also had a fundraising component? What if we used some of our resources for outreach? These are all things the board is working on and we really want to consider and we think the best way to help CSS expand and evolve is to reevaluate how we’re using our time and finances. A virtual conference is an important part of this and we hope that you can see that we’re still really working hard on a lot of amazing in-person events that will regularly bring us together.
So, to sum up: we are going to have a virtual conference in 2024. What we hope will be the case is that this is one step in hybridizing CSS overall approach to conferences, i.e., that it will be a regular part of our conference schedule. The reason we’re doing this is because we want to reevaluate how we use our financial resources, we want to be more mindful of our environmental impact as a society, we want to continue to prioritize inclusivity and making virtual conferences a regular part of our schedule is a way we can do that, and we actually think it’s pretty fun. We’re good at this, we promise you we’re going to deliver a good time, you’ve just got to get on board with us. We know it’s going to be a really great event even though it’s virtual. We are really excited about next year, we think it’s going to be new, and we will extend ourselves in ways that unexpected and hopefully, enriching. If you have questions for us, definitely let us know, but we are really pleased with this outcome and we hope you will be too. Thank you.