Jennifer Nagtegaal publishes “Politically Animated: Non-fiction Animation from the Hispanic World” (Book)

Jennifer Nagtegaal, PhD Student of Hispanic Studies, recently published a book based on her MA thesis titled Politically Animated: Non-fiction Animation from the Hispanic World (2023) with the University of Toronto Press.  In this article, Jennifer describes the book-writing process and shares advice to other graduate students who are interested in publishing.

Part 1: About the Book

Politically Animated studies the convergence of animation and actuality within films, television series, and digital shorts from across the Spanish-speaking world. It interrogates the many ways in which animation as a stylistic tool and storytelling device participates in political projects underpinning an array of non-fiction works.

The case studies in the book cover a diverse geographical scope, including Spain, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. They critically analyse different works such as feature-length animated documentary films, a work of animated journalism, a short-animated essay, and micro-short episodes from a televised animated documentary series. Jennifer Nagtegaal employs the term “politically animated” in reference to the ideological implications of choosing specific techniques and styles of animation within certain socio-historical and cultural contexts.

Nagtegaal illuminates the creative union of animated documentary and the comics medium currently being exploited by Spanish and Latin American cartoonists and filmmakers alike. By paying particular attention to cultural production beyond the big screen, Politically Animated continues to stretch the bounds of animated documentary scholarship.

Part 2: Q&A with Jennifer Nagtegaal on the Book-Writing Process

How did your thesis evolve into a book?

Looking back, I think remaining a little bit naive about my prospects may have helped me. I still don’t know, statistically speaking, how rare it is to publish your master’s thesis with an academic or university press. But this is proof that it is more than possible! While I chose to remain somewhat naive about my chances, I made sure that I was not naive about the process.

Thanks, in large part, to the amazing mentorship from my supervisor, Prof. María Soledad (Marisol) Fernández Utrera, I felt well-informed on the general book proposal process, and about what topics which presses were interested in, etc. Marisol, who encouraged me after my defense to make some revisions, add a chapter or two and propose it as a book, armed me with some sound advice, some practical resources like academic press spreadsheets and websites, and a good dose of confidence. From there, I did my own homework regarding how and where to propose my book.

Like any quintessential master’s student, I had a subject that I was interested in (animated documentary) and theories I was interested in (Honess Roe’s “three-pronged framework for understanding animated documentary”, and Freud’s “Uncanny”), and I applied these to my corpus—convincingly enough, I suppose. The thesis-writing experience provided me knowledge of my field and general contextual information, which provided a good base for a book project.

As I spent even more time with my corpus afterwards and found additional texts to study, new aspects of these cultural products began to jump out at me. Particularly, how many of the films made use of a comics aesthetics, as well as the way the films and TV series are all politically animated; that is, on the one hand, having ideological implications for employing specific techniques and styles of animation within certain socio-historical and cultural contexts, and, on the other hand, the fact that it is a political project that inspires or moves the film and television director or digital content creator to action.

What advice would you give to other graduate students who want to get published?

Be independent, but without going rogue. While you are still a graduate student or a recent grad, creating a book proposal from work done as a graduate student is an endeavour that should, in all likelihood, begin as a conversation with your thesis or dissertation supervisor, and perhaps the other members or your committee too.

But this does not mean that they will play the same role in the publication process as they did in the formation of your graduate thesis (i.e., offering expert feedback on drafts, though they may definitely still choose to do so!). I did feel that it was important to keep my supervisor updated on the progress of the book project, but not that I ask for further feedback on the content of this book, and I very much appreciated the way that Marisol celebrated the milestones along the way by sharing the news with others involved as it came (“Proposal accepted!” “Book contract received!” “Published book finally in hand!”).

Back to the theme of naivety: I would not suggest that you waltz up to an agent from a potential publisher at the annual MLA convention and announce (no matter how confidently) that you are working on a manuscript based off of your master’s thesis! Ha! I forget what I was told exactly, but it was something to the effect of “there’s just no chance a master’s thesis will be considered for publication.” I probably could have better explained that, at this point, it was far from what was my original master’s thesis—and I still believe the book could have been a decent fit for this publisher—but in the end, it was a happy mishap, as the very best place the manuscript could have landed is with Toronto Iberic’s series for its direct ties to the Hispanic World, its spotlighting of cinema, and its rapidly growing interest in comics (they even publish graphic novels!).

I feel so very fortunate to have the chance to publish with University of Toronto Press. I am grateful for the expert reviewers they were able to convince to read my original manuscript, and from their feedback my book truly did evolve, and the stunning book object that came out of it is beyond anything I could have imagined.

What support did you get from the department for this endeavour?

The support from UBC, particularly the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies (FHIS), has been ongoing; it runs so deep, and has left me humbled and grateful. Above all, of course, is the endless support that I receive from my thesis (and now dissertation) supervisor, Marisol. This was largely in the form of mentorship, as I explain above.

But also, the peer-focused reading groups, which Marisol makes a priority to host for her students, also provided opportunities for meaningful feedback on early chapter drafts from my own fellow graduate students. Also impactful were the many opportunities that our department provides for its graduate students to present and receive feedback on our research (the biennial Graduate Student Conference and the annual Graduate Student Symposium, for example).

I also continue to feel the support of the other members of my MA thesis committee, Jon Beasley-Murray and Alessandra Santos, who either took the time to critically respond to a draft of a new chapter that was added along the way, or have taken time to meaningfully express their pride in and support for the publication of the book.

Other FHIS faculty members have also been generous with lending their time and expertise to reading a draft on occasion (thank you, Anna Casas Aguilar!), and I have been grateful that there has been a general willingness to share their own experiences, from book proposals to book launches, that have helped me make decisions along the way.

I am also grateful for the financial support that I have recently received from our department, as they allowed me to make unconventional use of our FHIS Graduate Research Grant. This helped offset the costs of contracting someone to Index the book. What I found interesting, and at times frustrating as a graduate student with a book contract, was that there are a number of meaningful financial supports within UBC or the MLA, for example, that are designated for early career researchers and faculty members, but are not accessible to graduate students. Perhaps this is something that deserves future consideration!

Are there additional comments you would like to give about the contents of the book?

I am not sure if it is well known that animation has some of its deepest roots in the Hispanic world—and an animation that is very much political at that. Quirino Cristiani’s El Apóstol / The Apostle (Argentina, 1917), the first feature-length animated production in the history of cinema, and Alfredo Serey’s ten-minute short La transmisión del mando presidencial / The Transfer of the President’s Power (Chile, 1921), for example, form part of the foundation of a century-long, rich history of documentary storytelling through animation found within the Spanish-speaking world. Unfortunately, however, many of these early and pioneering works are lost to us (vaults ravaged by fires, confiscation by Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and other misfortunes covered in the first chapter).

Focusing on the other end of this trajectory, my book examines feature-length and short films, as well as television series, that stand as several culminating points in the production of animated non-fiction from the Hispanic World. Thanks to great advances in technologies for the production and distribution of animation, as well as changing political climates, these productions remain accessible to us today.