As students, we sit in our classrooms listening to professors that we often know little about. They tell us their credentials the first day of class and as the semester passes they might offer tidbits about themselves, but we rarely learn much about their hobbies or passions.
Professor Jeremy Stoll is no different. He teaches Anthropology courses at MSU Denver, but he is just as passionate about creating comic books. As a cultural anthropologist specialized in folklore, telling stories through comic books doesn’t seem unfathomable. But the extent of how deep Stoll has dipped into the comic book world might surprise his students that don’t know him very well.
“I’m a folklorist by training so I focus on performer centered ethnography, which is a cultural research related to doing fieldwork and interviews and getting an insider perspective of culture,” Stoll said of his research work.
His interest in other cultures and comics took him to India in 2010 and 2013, where comic books had been extremely popular since the ‘80s. Many of them include religious myths and folktales.
While in New Delhi, Stoll worked with and interviewed a group called the Pao Collective, a group of five comic book creators that included Orijit Sen, who created India’s first graphic novel and for whose work Stoll has great respect.
“Their idea is that they wanted to create a collective for comic creators to be able to earn a living in India. To create events and anthologies and to find funding and make inroads so that people could have careers in comics,” Stoll said.
He also focused on a collection that came out about a year ago called, “Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back” done by all female comic creators. This collection was about what it means to be a woman in India.
While in India he started giving his comic books to the people he interviewed, who encouraged him to print them and have them published.
“We have similar values about comics and community,” Stoll said, “Not really being interested in mainstream and superhero comics. We were more interested in comics journalism.”
In 2013 he collaborated with comic creators in India and produced “Dogs! International Comics Anthology”.
“We knew we wanted to ask people in New Delhi, we knew we wanted it to be international and we knew pretty quickly we wanted to give away the proceeds to nonprofits,” said Stoll. “We worked on that for two years. It was a really amazing process and everyone involved was so incredibly patient and excited about it.”
Since then, Stoll has been focusing more on queer comic creators in India, but hasn’t had the chance to go back yet or do as much interviewing.
Stoll attempted his first comic book at the age of 18. “In retrospect it was terrible,” Stoll laughed. “There were no panels and it was very weird, but it was pretty fun to make.”
He started incorporating more characters and comic elements. He might of stopped, but his professor, who was a graphic novelist, encouraged him to keep trying. She shaped his appreciation for comics and for understanding comics.
“I remember I tried to make a superhero comic and she said ‘No, don’t do it. Make something else. Try out other kinds of narratives’, Stoll said. “She quickly became a huge role model for me.”
Our professors can surprise us. They’re not just in our classrooms to intimidate and hand out tons of homework. They’re human just like us and they might still struggling to learn, just like us.