Ben Saunders specializes in the poetry and drama of the English Renaissance and the history of British and American comics and cartoons.
His first book, Desiring Donne, explored the intersection of spirituality and sexuality in the poetry of John Donne alongside larger questions of literary theory and hermeneutics. Desiring Donne was shortlisted by Choice magazine as an "Outstanding Academic Title" of 2006 and selected as a Finalist for the Oregon Book Award that same year, and continues to be cited in contemporary scholarship on early modern literature and sexuality. His second book, Do The Gods Wear Capes?, focused on modern American superhero comics—arguing that superhero fantasies can tell us a great deal about about our conceptions of the human, the post-human, and the divine. Do The Gods Wear Capes has been widely cited in academic contexts and mainstream journalism, with the "groundbreaking" chapter on bondage imagery in Wonder Woman comics often singled out for particular praise. Other publications include numerous free-standing scholarly articles on a variety of topics, from the plays of Shakespeare to the Peanuts comics of Charles Schulz, and co-edited a collection of essays on popular music, Rock Over The Edge, with Roger Beebe and Denise Fulbrook.
In addition, Saunders is Series Editor for the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, a multi-volume set of books presenting key characters and stories from the Marvel Comics archive in a scholarly context for the first time—with detailed introductions, critical analyses, and other supplementary materials. On publication, the series was selected among the "month's best paperbacks" by The Guardian, and also reviewed positively in such prominent venues as The Atlantic, The Independent, The A.V. Club, and Rolling Stone, as well as numerous comics-news websites.
Professor Saunders is also known for his extensive curatorial work. Between 2009 and 2016, he curated three exhibitions for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, including a major tribute to EC Comics; and since 2018, he has served as Chief Curator for "Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes"—a massive multi-media exhibition featuring props, costumes, sculptures, interactive touchscreens, and many pages of rare original comic book art. "Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes" opened at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in Seattle to glowing reviews; it subsequently transfered to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to similar acclaim, and has since continued to tour across the USA—attracting over a million visitors in the past five years.
In 2022, Saunders conceived and co-curated "Beyond Amazing: Spider-Man — The Exhibition" with independent scholar and pop-culture journalist, Patrick A. Reed, for the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. This show received extensive media coverage and was restaged in 2023 at Union Station in Kansas City, MO, with additional engagements planned.
Saunders has also collaborated with Professor Charles Hatfield of CSUN in 2015 on a retrospective exhibition exploring the work of Jack Kirby—co-editing the accompanying catalog/critical anthology, Comic Book Apocalypse, which features appreciative essays on Kirby by a diverse group of comic-artists, filmmakers, writers, and scholars; and in 2021, he collaborated with UO Professor Katherine Kelp-Stebbins on the "The Art of the News," an innovative, hard-hitting show devoted to the new media form of comics journalism—again co-editing the lavishly produced accompanying book.
An award-winning teacher, Saunders founded the University of Oregon Undergraduate Minor in Comics and Cartoon Studies (the first undergraduate minor of its kind in the country). His wider teaching and research interests include contemporary literary theory, Anglo-American poetry and poetics, queer theory, genre fiction, and twentieth-century popular music. He used to moonlight occasionally as an actor and musician, and he still enjoys singing with friends and family whenever the opportunity arises.
Public Speaking And Media
Professor Saunders has lectured at universities around the English-speaking world and is a frequent guest speaker at comic-book conventions across the United States. In 2011 he served as a judge for the Eisner Awards (the comic-book industry Oscars) and in 2012 and 2022 he was a Special Guest at the San Diego Comic Con. He is frequently interviewed for radio, television, and podcasts about comics culture, and contributed to the History Channel documentary, Superheroes Decoded. He is also featured in the independent documentary on Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Drawing Monsters (2022), alongside such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, Ron Perlman, and Rebecca Sugar, among others.
To contact Professor Saunders with regard to an interview or speaking engagement, please send a detailed email to the address above.
Do The Gods Wear Capes: Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes, Continuum, 2011.
Desiring Donne: Poetry, Sexuality, Interpretation, Harvard University Press, 2006 (Selected Finalist for the 2007 Oregon Book Award in the category of General Non-Fiction; also Short Listed by Choice Magazine for Outstanding Academic Title of 2006).
Edited Collections and Exhibition Catalogs:
The Art of the News: Comics Journalism, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 2022 (co-edited with Katherine Kelp-Stebbins).
Marvel: Universe of Superheroes, Verlag fur Moderne Kunst, 2019.
Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby, IDW, 2016 (co-edited with Charles Hatfield).
Rock Over The Edge: Transformations in Popular Music Culture, Duke University Press, 2002 (co-edited with Denise Fulbrook and Roger Beebe).
The Avengers: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2023.
The Fantastic Four: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2023.
The X-Men: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2023.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2022.
Captain America: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2022.
The Black Panther: Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, Penguin Books, 2022.
Professor Saunders has published numerous academic essays, reviews, and shorter writings on subjects ranging from the plays of Shakespeare to the popular music of Little Richard. See Vita for complete details. He has also written about music and comics for the pop-culture website, The Hooded Utilitarian. (The site is no longer active, but you can visit http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/tag/ben-saunders/ for articles on the Miles Morales Spider-Man comics of Brian Bendis and Sara Pichelli, the music of Tim Smith's Cardiacs, and other topics.)