Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jenette Kahn At The Art Institute Of Chicago

You know, for as powerful as Jenette Kahn was in comics, for as long as she was in comics, I've seen/heard scarcely anything about her. She was the publisher of DC Comics for nearly three decades and I don't think I've ever seen her interviewed and only heard/read interviews with a couple of times. Maybe that's a lapse on my part and there's a wealth of information out there that I'm just totally ignorant of, but the Art Institute of Chicago tonight hosted a session with her as part of their Chicago Humanities Festival, and I couldn't pass up that opportunity.

The format was pretty straightforward. Liz Mason, manager at Quimby's bookstore and long-time zine publisher, did the interviewing as the two women sat on the auditorium stage with Mason showcasing a collectin of comic images behind them to help prompt the discussion. The place was full, but not packed, and the audience seemed to be about 75% Art Institute patrons and about 25% comics fans, judging by entirely superficial outward appearances.

Mason set the tone almost immediately when she sat down by stating that she felt like a little kid, given the size of the chairs they were sitting in and the fact that she was sitting next to an influential figure like Kahn. She proceeded to ask about women and minorities in comics, and then skipped over to Andy Warhol and pop art, the DC explosion/implosion, Frank Miller's Ronin and Dark Knight Returns, the death of Superman, Arkham Asylum, Neil Gaiman and Sandman, before finally ending on Camelot 3000. If that sounds like a disconnected and haphazard list of topics, that's because it was.

Kahn's answers were professional and generally poigant, with a couple of digressions that got into deeper territory than the original questions demanded. She also had a few anecdotes, the most notable that apparently Joe Orlando threw up in the men's room when he heard that a woman had been put in charge of the company back in 1976. But the crowd here was largely one that was relatively removed from comics and so most of the discussion was, for me at least, a fairly cursory level. I was particularly disappointed that, despite leading with women and minorities in comics questions, the topic was largely dropped in short order in favor of pretty standard (if non-linear) DC history from the late 1970s onwards.

I was very glad to see and hear Kahn talk. I think there's definitely more one can get out of seeing and hearing a person than the handful of quotes or text interviews I've seen from Kahn. So I got some sense of her personality and demeanor, which was insightful. But it was an interview that largely gave texture to her place in comics history without adding much substance. But this was an event populated by non-comics folks and they only talked for an hour, so maybe I was expecting too much. But especially with all the discussion these days about women in comics, I would think the manager of a comics shop would take greater advantage of furthering that discussion with a hugely signicant female force in comics.

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