Scott Chantler says he can’t wait to get out of his basement. For the past 16 years, the comics artist and work-from-home dad has spent about 12 hours a day in his subterranean office. The timing was right too for the University of Windsor; the school was ready to switch up its writer-in-residence program for the 2015 fall term. The position was offered to Mr. Chantler, making it the first time the school assigned the post to a cartoonist.
“We’ve had screenwriters and novelists and poets. We just decided, let’s try something different,” said Dale Jacobs, a professor in U of Windsor’s English department. Dr. Jacobs, who has taught a course on comics for several years, says Mr. Chantler was selected because he’s a talented storyteller across genres and audiences. His books – Two Generals, a graphic memoir of the Second World War; Northwest Passage, an epic historical fiction set in Rupert’s Land; and Three Thieves, a multi-book fantasy series for young people – have all received critical acclaim and wide readership. Most important to Dr. Jacobs however, is that Mr. Chantler is a passionate and eloquent booster of the form.
“I’m big on comics in education and I’m particularly interested in educating others about the form,” Mr. Chantler says. In a recent blog post entitled, “Yes, Cartoonists Are Writers,” he responded to detractors who had questioned his suitability for a writing residency: “Yes, it’s a visual medium,” he wrote, “but it’s a visual storytelling medium in which the art is the text and has to be ‘read’ just like the words do. In the same way that prose writers ‘paint with words,’ cartoonists ‘write with pictures.’”
“I think of myself as a writer for visual media,” Mr. Chantler says. “Pictures are so powerful and have such resonance, emotionally and intellectually. It’s a very powerful medium for telling stories.”
The cartoonist-in-residence post at U of Windsor reflects a growing acceptance of comics as a field of serious study. In 2010, academics including Dr. Jacobs founded the Canadian Society for the Study of Comics and last year, the University of Calgary announced its first postdoctoral fellowship in comic-book studies, a post held by Nick Sousanis under the supervision of English professor Bart Beaty. Dr. Sousanis’ doctoral dissertation, presented entirely in comic-book form, was considered the first of its kind.