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Welcome to 
The Middle Spaces
(Infrequent) Newsletter

This is the newsletter we send out whenever it feels right (but not too often) to let you know what's been going on with The Middle Spaces blog of comic, music, culture, and what is on the horizon. 

This is our third newsletter this year and we doubt there will be more than four total in 2018. We'll never spam you!
It has been a busy summer so far for your friendly editor-in-chief. In addition to all the content on The Middle Spaces I've been writing and editing (and will discuss below), I've been working on a contribution to a scholarly collection on Keywords in Comics Studies, exploring and defining the notion of seriality in comics. I will be presenting a paper at the 1st Annual Mind the Gaps conference (organized by the Comics Studies Society) in Champain-Urbana, Illinois in which I will be using my own experience running The Middle Spaces as a model for thinking through comics scholarship that surpasses fan engagement but does not enter the narrow realm of academia and its problems with diversity and access. I am also working on a book proposal for a secret scholarly monograph project I can't talk about yet but will be (hopefully) taking a lot of my time in the near future.
In addition, I recently established the @NotesOnComics twitter account to share posts from the Notes on Comics Collecting tumblr. I figured this would make the material more accessible to folk who are only interested in reflections on collecting and looking at cool comics covers and less interested in my jokes and political rants on the @TheMiddleSpaces account. I have been going back and resharing posts from that tumblr's archive on the new twitter account.  In addition, I designated this month as "OG JULY" in which I share photos and reflections on comics from my original comics collection from childhood.  Be sure to check it out!
The Middle Spaces has published quite a few guest posts since the last newsletter went out in April:
We also had the eighth installment of The (re)Collection Agency featuring a talk with Francesca Lyn, a PhD student  writing about autobiographical comics and trauma at Virginia Commonwealth University. You can also read a sample of her work on Whit Taylor's comics on Daniel Elkin's blog, Your Chicken Enemy.
One of the most recent posts on The Middle Spaces, "Digging Up Ghosts: Teen Titans’ Mal Duncan & His Token Power," took me quite a while to write (nine drafts) and through the various versions I had to cut quite a bit that ended up being either superfluous or required so much analysis as to nearly be the subject of its own post.
As I mention in the post, I was inspired to write about Mal's experience's in Teen Titans #41 because I heard about the issue on an episode of Teen Titans Wasteland, and as such I recruited the aid of co-host Nathaniel "Hub" Hubbard in doing some research for the post. Hub is a great guy and while I only had access to the issue in question, he had access to the whole original run of Teen Titans so could help me out with some necessary context and other info. 
One of the elements of Mal Duncan's role in Teen Titans that I was most interested in was reader response to his inclusion in general and to the slavery-themed issue more specifically.

Here is the paragraph I cut regarding letters pages:
Speaking of paratextual elements, I enlisted Teen Titans Wasteland co-host, Nathaniel “Hub” Hubbard’s aid in scouring the letters pages to that original Teen Titans run to explore reader reaction to this issue and Mal’s role in the series more generally. Surprisingly, there is bupkis. There is no mention of “What Lies in Litchburg Graveyard?” in any of the letters appearing in the two issues after it was printed (and before the cancelation break) and none of the few letters that do mention Mal ever mention his race, though one reader complains about his lack of prominence on covers. In fact, Mal was often absent from covers, and given the history of DC editorial’s resistance to black superheroes up to this point, I am unsurprised. Still, published letters are an incomplete record of reader reaction, because not only do most readers not write in, editors curate the page and decide which letters will appear. So, the absence of reactions to Mal or issue #41 doesn’t mean there weren’t any. It just means that unless whatever letters were sent in were kept by someone at DC and eventually make their way to a university or museum archive (like Chris Claremont’s papers are at Columbia University), we will likely never know the specifics. Still, even the editorial choice to not address reader reaction to the character can indicate an unwillingness to consider what his token inclusion means to superhero comics in general and Teen Titans more specifically.
As I mentioned in the post about Teen Titans #41, Mal Duncan is even erased from the covers of issues featuring or centered on him. Teen Titans #26 features his introduction and invitation to join the Titans.
Among other points I originally wanted to mention and/or explore in more detail in this post was the lack of consideration of Mal's existing family and community. When he joins the Teen Titans all of that gets forgotten. Even his younger sister Cindy who we meet in Teen Titans #26 when she is harassed by a street gang for selling lemonade is (as far as Hub or I could determine) never mentioned again.
Furthermore, issue #41 (among others) depicts a myopic perspective that unites black identity and urban living as  inseparable aspects. This leads to some tensions given the agrarian roots of American chattel slavery and the theme of issue #41. Part of what allows Mr. Jupiter and the other Titans to dismiss Mal's concerns are their attitude that his urban origins makes it impossible for him to know much about the danger he might be in in a rural environment to the point of cognitive dissonance on their part, essentially saying, "The only reason you are worried about this is because you are black, but because you are black and therefore 'urban' you can't actually know or feel anything about these events."

Race in superhero comics have long been and remain a mess.
Osvaldo's Podcast Plug!
Starting this issue, "Osvaldo's Podcast Plug" will be recommending a comics, music, or culture podcast readers might be interested in and we're starting with the podcast formerly known as Teen Titans Wasteland, but is now called. . .
Titan Up the Defense!
No, it is not a NFL podcast about the Tennessee Titans. This podcast, co-hosted by brothers Cory and Hub, began its life going through the original run of DC Comics' Teen Titans from the 1960s and 70s, issue by issue. When they ran out of original Teen Titans comics and appearances to cover they shifted formats to cover two different series on alternate weeks: DC's New Teen Titans (which a lot of fans of the original format - including me - wanted) and Marvel's The Defenders (a personal favorite of Hub's - and mine!).

The podcast features a straightforward structure for each episode, covering a single issue. Hub is funny as fuck as he brings listeners up to date on what has been going on and then provides a synopsis of the comics' events. The "previously on. . ." segments are particularly hilarious, built around ridiculously alliterative explanations of events and delivered in an old-timey newsreel type voice (think the opening to episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender but with an adult-bent). 

In the second half of each episode, Hub is joined by his brother Cory who does not have the same background steeped in comics but engages with them genuinely nonetheless and brings a kind of earnest straight man energy to the very funny podcast. They discuss the issue and end the coverage of each with their personal picks for noteworthy examples in particular categories. So in the "Sartorially Speaking" segment they discuss characters' costumes and other clothing or in "The Bo-Zone!" they talk about when characters insult each other. "Timestamps" explore the incorporation of dated references into the stories from the 70s and 80s.

And yet, despite the humorous approach by the brothers, what I really appreciate about Titan Up the Defense is that they don't let their desire to have fun get in the way of pointing out the limits and problems of these 30 and 40 year old comics, calling out racism, sexism, and other intolerable attitudes embedded in these narratives.

In addition to covering the comics, the two brothers also add a lot of creativity by each imagining what associated characters are doing that month and year, as they are typically not present for the comic book story. So for New Teen Titans issues they ask "WWAPUT?" ("What was Aqualad Probably Up To?") and the ever-changing pun-filled title for Defenders issues follows the adventures of Dr. Strange's manservant, Wong. Mixing history with comic book malarkey, they come up with bizarre ways to account for the characters' activities.

And, if we are really lucky, the post-credits sequence will include a little “Hostess Fruit Pie Theater Presents...," in which they dramatically perform the Hostess Fruit Pie comics ads common to comics of the 1970s.

As of right now there are 89 episodes of Titan Up the Defense available for streaming (not counting the 60 episodes of Teen Titans Wasteland) so there is plenty of material to dive into, and to be honest it doesn't matter if you start at the very beginning or jump on just about anywhere. It is cool to hear Hub and Cory develop their styles and approach and the structure of the podcasts, but if you only want the well-honed product I'd say jump on with the first episode of Titan Up the Defense.

You can find the podcast on
their websitePodomatic, Stitcher or iTunes. Titan Up the Defense also has a Patreon where you can support them for as little as a dollar a month.
Next Week on The Middle Spaces: "Alpha & Omega #10: Omega Without End" covering the final issues of each of the two versions of Marvel's Omega the Unknown. But this is not the conclusion of the series, just the penultimate installment, as in "Alpha & Omega #11" we'll be covering both the issues of The Defenders that wrap up the original volume and the backmatter of the collected edition of the 2007-08 volume. Look for that one in late August.

Check out the archive of installments of this series here.

Furthermore, look out for the ninth installment of our series of talks with comics scholars and teachers, The (re)Collection Agency, this time with Dr. Michael Sharp of Binghamton University, who teaches comics, oversaw my independent study on Love and Rockets when I was a doctoral student, and is probably best known as the Rex Parker of Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword.
Thanks for reading and until next time I wish you all well.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions don't hesitate to reach out via emailFacebook, or Twitter, and be sure to also check out bonus content on my We Are In It and Notes from Comics Collecting tumblrs.

Kind regards,
Osvaldo Oyola
Editor, The Middle Spaces
Copyright © 2018 The Middle Spaces, All rights reserved.

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