South Medford High graduate gets top comic book award

A South Medford High School graduate's years of interviews, research, writing and pouring over thousands of comic book panels has netted her a top award from the comics industry.

Susan Kirtley, a 1991 South graduate, received a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award — considered the "Oscars" of the comics industry — at San Diego Comic Con last week. Her book, "Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass," netted her the top prize in the Best Academic-Educational Work category.

"I was very honored to be nominated. The people in my category are fantastic," said Kirtley, an assistant professor of English and director of writing at Portland State University. "It's a great honor to be included. I'm still not very articulate about it."

Kirtley's book focuses on Lynda Barry, a comic book writer, artist, playwright, and novelist. Kirtley began the book shortly after teaching Barry's "One-Hundred Demons" comic in a memoir class at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. After teaching, she attended a 2007 conference where she did a presentation on Barry's works. A representative from the University Press of Mississippi just happened to be there, and, after listening, asked that she tackle a book.

"It was a wonderful, happy accident," Kirtley said. "(Barry) works in so many different genres, and I find that very intriguing."

Kirtley was well-equipped to write about comics. She read them as a child, pulling tales of costume-donning heroes from supermarket spinner racks and burning through the stories issue by issue. By college, her tastes had evolved, with exposure to alternative comic book writers and artists like Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb.

But even with the know-how, putting out an academia-based work on the iconic Barry was still challenging, as the book's introduction suggests.

"Despite Barry's influence within the comic art world and her recent resurgence in the popular press, only a few scholarly articles have focused on her work," the introduction reads.

Kirtley got started on trying to fill that gap, and she started with reading. She read every comic strip she could find, poured through microfilm in libraries, and read her novels and plays. She also interviewed Barry and learned as much as she could about art history.

"I felt to do her justice, I had to be aware of everything she'd done — Everything I could find," Kirtley said. "I wanted to have as much information as possible. It was a painstaking but wonderful process of discovery."

The book took several years. As she completed it, Kirtley continued to teach, eventually moving to Portland two years ago to pursue work at PSU. When she finished, Barry contributed an image for the cover, a robe-wearing monkey smoking a cigarette and holding a bottled beverage while seated at the kitchen table.

"Well, my dream has come true," Kirtley said. "I now have a book with a monkey on the cover. What more can I ask for?"

-Ryan Pfeil

Read more in Thursday's Mail Tribune

Share This Story