Spotlighting Grace Gipson

26 Sep, 2018

Spotlighting Grace Gipson

The Berkeley Center New Media had the opportunity to talk to Grace Gipson, BlackComicsChat co-host and BCNM DE, about her projects and her ambitions. She shares with us how her interest in New Media and her involvement in Black Comics Chat developed. Read the interview below:

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get involved in New Media?

Who is Grace? Well by day I’m a doctoral candidate in African American Studies/DE in New Media whose research covers Black Popular Culture, Race & New Media, Representations of Race/Gender in Comic Books, Afrofuturism and comic books. By night, I am catching the newest cinematic flick, diving into the newest comic book series, collecting stamps on my travels abroad, enjoying a culture festival, or doing community work. I like to think of myself as Black Girl Nerd, I can geek out in the traditional classroom or while hanging out with my friends. Each day is always a new adventure that I look forward to exploring. In many ways, through my research and personal interests I became not only a consumer but a producer of the culture.

My journey to New Media is quite interesting. I would be introduced to New Media as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley, a colleague suggested that I attend the “Color of New Media” working group and meet Professor Abigail De Kosnik. I was trying to find my place and where I belong in the university and Color of New Media seemed to be a great fit. I would attend the meeting and meet Gail and it was like magic! Her energy and spirit gave me hope! New Media felt like home, it pressed my thinking, and it opened up another entry point for my research. From that point I began taking classes and adding New Media as my designated emphasis.

Following the last question, can you give us a little introduction to the Black Comics Chat and how did your passions for it begin?

Black Comics Chat is a Twitter podcast comprised of comic book and pop culture nerds who bi-monthly engage with the intersection and many complexities of Comics and Blackness. With each episode, the BCC crew (also known as the Furious 5) chats with comic artists and creators, while also promoting diverse comics.

I was first introduced to Black Comics Chat while working with Black Girl Nerds. Working with BGN, I found myself always making sure I was any conversation talking about comic book and graphic novel culture (whether it was the books, films, television, etc.). As a result, I was introduced to one of the Black Comics Chat crew members Theolonius through BGN creator Jamie Broadnax as they were looking for a female member to join the crew. I figured this would be an exciting opportunity to share my own research on Black female representation in comics while having some fun talking with fellow comic book nerds. Additionally, I also appreciated the fact that they wanted to be a more inclusive show, which helped solidify the deal for me. As a scholar-fan who has many interests in comics, it is very important to find communities that share this feeling while also pushing one’s thinking.

How has your work with Black Comics Chat evolved and how has this type of engagement impacted and informed your own scholarly work?

Since being a part of the Black Comics Chat podcast, it has allowed me the opportunity to ‘test-drive’ my personal ideas and research on a large scale before adding a scholarly touch. Since each of the members come from various backgrounds, getting their input provides perspectives that affirm my own ideas while also challenge and push my thinking. Oftentimes I find myself in a solitary space wondering how my research fits into the academy, but then when I bring these conversations outside of the classroom (like into the BCC space) I realize the significance and importance. Additionally, I can incorporate the connection of the new media component of podcasting to my research, and how it serves as a digital storytelling medium. I am constantly finding ways of how my research on Black female representation in comics can speak to my story as a scholar-fan, but also others who enjoy comics. Podcasting along with other social media tools can provide alternative ways of telling stories, acknowledging those who are otherwise marginalized, and create new lanes of scholarly inquiry. Participating on the BCC podcast also shows that the world of academia can be just as colorful when you blend it with the comic book/pop culture world.

As I continue on this scholarly journey, my experiences with Black Comics Chat definitely play a role in how I am able to shift a small piece of pop culture. I no longer feel as though my research and the conversations that result are limited to one type of space. As long as there are conversations going on about representation in comics and graphic novels there will always be a place for my research as well as BCC.

What do you think is currently working/not working with representation in current media?

Social media is a major plus with regards to current state of representation in media. Twitter in particular has become a megaphone to call out Hollywood’s representation missteps/failures, while also influencing change and creating movements. For example, when OWN Network first premiered the summer show Queen Sugar, fans on Twitter came up with the hashtag #GimmeSugar to create a community and bring attention to the show. The hashtag would eventually get the attention and endorsement of Oprah Winfrey and showrunner Ava DuVernay, so much so that when Queen Sugar comes on the hashtag becomes a marker for advertising and marketing as well as any and all live-tweet sessions. Another example in which Twitter has increased awareness can be seen in the Black cosplay community. Cosplay (a portmanteau for Costume Play) historically has not been associated or attached to Black culture. However, in February 2015, Twitter user @Princessology created #28DaysofBlackCosplay. This hashtag became movement that was initiated as an inspiring and innovative way to celebrate Black History Month. Additionally, with each year it continues to bring exposure and inclusion to the talent of all Black cosplayers (regardless of age, gender, body type) while highlighting overlooked, underrepresented characters of comics, film, television, and anime.

Now I am not saying that representation in the media is perfect, but it is making continuous strides. With new tools, creators, artists, producers, and fans have multiple ways to have their voices heard and acknowledged. Creators, artists, and producers are not simply relying on major, mainstream outlets to create and share their stories. And fans are able to talk and push back against issues that are not representative and inclusive. Particularly for fans, they play more of a participatory role in making and seeing change within media. Furthermore, despite the ongoing battles, steps are being taken so that everyone is part of the equation. With seeing more women of color as film and television directors, Black comic book character-driven films breaking box-office records, more diverse and inclusive television series I am hopeful that the media landscape will continue to change.

What are your plans for the future? What's coming up?

My plans for the future include completing my dissertation and graduation, with career pursuits in teaching on the collegiate level. Since being a graduate student and having the opportunity to teach various courses, and I have taken a real passion and love for teaching. For me teaching gives me the opportunity to give back what others gave to me. Having the chance to play a role in someone else’s learning is important and rewarding.

As it relates to the dissertation, I would like to transform the document/work into an afterschool STEM curriculum for K-8th grade children. With such STEM programs as Black Girls Code, Pink S.T.E.M., Girls Who Code among others and the rising popularity of comics in television and film, I want to show the fun and engaging relationship between both comics and STEM. Together and or separate they can be entertaining, but also can be a fun learning project.

As mentioned above, each day is a new adventure and never a dull moment. In addition to finishing up my doctoral responsibilities, some things on the horizon include some book chapters, journal articles, a few speaking engagements and continuing my role on the Black Comics Chat podcast. With each new venture the work of a pop culture scholar is never done!