Christina Meyer (Leibniz Universität Hannover)
Christina Meyer holds a PhD in American literature and culture; her dissertation is titled War & Trauma Images in Vietnam War Representations (Olms, 2008). Presently, she is an assistant professor in American Studies and research associate in the English Department at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany. She is an associated member of the Research Unit "Popular Seriality: Aesthetics and Practice," and is working on a book project titled "Series of Multimodal Forms of Narration: The Yellow Kid Newspaper Comics of the Nineteenth Century" (funded by the German Research Foundation). Christina Meyer has coedited New Perspectives on American Comic Books and Graphic Novels (a special issue of the scholarly journal Amerikastudien/American Studies, 2011) and Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives: Comics at the Crossroads (2013), and has published articles on such artists as Richard F. Outcault, George B. Luks, Nell Brinkley, Art Spiegelman, or Mike Carey and Peter Gross.
Abstract: "Managing the Modern Girl? The Romance Serials in the Newspapers, 1918-1937"
Within the framework of mass productions and proliferations of serial forms of storytelling in carrier media such as newspapers, periodicals, radio, and film, my paper deals with the newspaper romance serials by Nell Brinkley (1886-1944). She was one of the first successful, popular American newspaper illustrators, artists, and journalists. Her so-called "Brinkley-Girls" went viral from 1907 onwards, spreading throughout the country (and abroad) in the form of all kinds of drawings in magazines and newspapers, in the form of poster art, advertisements, in the form of paper dolls, and stage pictures, songs, etc., and in the form of fan/copycat productions.
In my paper, I wish to focus on Brinkley's newspaper romance serials (produced in the years between 1918-1937). Each serial is built on the same set of plot elements: at the center of each story, there is a young, sportive, slim-figured, nicely-dressed, beautiful American woman facing a number of challenges (separation, war, moving, flying an airplane, etc.). Usually, the readers find the protagonist unleashed from her domestic "constraints," leaving the (secure) private sphere and facing the perils of the 'outside' world. Brinkley's serials were formulaic (she recycled her own drawings, due to deadline pressures), and she was labeled the "cheesecake" artist producing "beautiful but lightweight" material that catered to the Sunday afternoon pleasures of her female audience. Yet, to argue that Brinkley's serials create and manage gender roles in a relatively unambiguous manner is too simplistic. My paper approaches Brinkley's newspaper romance serials as forms of serial middlebrow entertainment that address materiality, seriality, and aesthetics. In my paper, I wish to unfold how the serials situate themselves in regard to other cultural products and practices of that time period, and discuss the reader needs and tastes they cater to; moreover, I intend to engage with the question of how the serials visually and verbally participate in the historical debates about the social and political roles of women, and carve out how constructions of identity are generated, and ideologies of femininity are operative in the newspaper romance serials.