Ben Saunders

return to faculty


Winter 2015 – Read this fantastic article in the latest CAScade issue! 

Sept. 2014 – Ben Saunders At Portland Comic Con!

If you see people running around in superhero costumes, odds are Ben Saunders is there, too.

The University of Oregon English professor and director of the Comic Studies program was in Portland Sept. 20-21 as a speaker at Rose City Comic Con, billed as the largest comic and pop expo in Portland.

Saunders gave four presentations, covering Batman, comics for college credit, a spotlight interview with comic book writer Matt Fraction and “secret identity politics.”

In his lecture on Batman, the founder of the first undergraduate minor in comic studies in the country argued that the caped crusader is Superman’s “shadow.” This is not because Batman follows the Man of Steel, Saunders added, but because he represents a “shadow archetype” proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung—he is a manifestation of the “darkness that we all carry within.”

During a panel on comics for college credit, Saunders told an audience of mostly college students—many of them in costume—that comics are an important subject for study. The prevalence of comics over history shows that they “constitute one of the most powerful forms of human communication ever devised,” Saunders said, and the onus is on skeptics to prove otherwise.

“There is a huge community attached to a creative community right here in Oregon that is built around really elaborate speculative fantasies and thinking,” Saunders said, during an interview after one of his talks. “I’m here so people know that universities are actually places where we care about the arts and we care about culture, and that includes pop culture, and for people to understand that the stuff they love is important enough to be studied in school.”

Saunders, with comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick

Anne Stewart ’12, who attended the event and studied the history of superheroes under Saunders, said he is developing a star-like reputation in comic-book circles. “It’s always very interesting to me, I’ll say, ‘I studied comics in college under a guy named Ben Saunders,’” she added, “and they’ll say, ‘Oh! Ben Saunders!’”

Stewart dismissed criticism of comics as unworthy for study. “Literature and art can happen in any medium—it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing for 12-year-olds or 52-year-olds,” she said. “Sometimes some of the most interesting things are going on in those (literary) segments that are completely ignored.”

Stewart was dressed as Marvel Comics spy Black Widow, an antagonist of Iron Man. But in a crowd projected at 20,000-plus for the weekend, she was by no means alone in her homage to superheroes.

The convention drew an endless parade of costumed characters, with fans portraying not just classic superheroes such as Spider-Man or the Flash but also Boba Fett (Star Wars), Ghostbusters (was that Aykroyd or Murray?) and Doctor Who (complete with time-traveling police box).

Saunders, who also teaches the literature of the English Renaissance, noted that most of the authors he covers in that field are dead. It’s exciting for him, as a scholar, to attend comic book conventions and meet the creators of his favorite characters, and ask those artists and writers direct questions.

“I’m still a fan, and I never want to lose that fan’s enthusiasm for this material,” he added. “It’s a beautiful art form and this is as close as I can get to it.”

—Matt Cooper, College of Arts and Sciences

news_guests_Saunders-300x166November, 2013 – Professor Ben Saunders discusses Wonder Women and his Vegas Valley Comic Festival presentation, “Wonder Woman in Bondage: Gender, Power and the Amazon Superhero,” with KNPR. Hear about the wonderful and unorthodox intellectual life of, William Moulton Marston, the comic’s creator.

Wonder Woman in Bondage”: Professor Ben Saunders talks superheroes with KNPR

May, 2013 – Ben Saunders is featured on the Celebrating Champions page of the UO web site (, and he’s one of the four features in the profile banner at  You can access his 15-minute DUKtalk in video form in the story and read about our Cartoons and Comic Studies Program, the first in the nation.

January, 2013 Professor Ben Saunders – Birth of a Superhero