- Why Comics Studies?
Asking the question "Why Comics Studies?" is like asking the question "Why Cinema, Television, Game, or Media Studies?" As a medium, comics are older than film, television, and video games, and yet there has been resistance from within the academy to the serious study and analysis of this medium. While there are many proto-comic examples, as a phenomenon of mass culture the comic form is believed to have originated in 1894. Hogan's Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault, began as a single-panel comic first published in Truth magazine in 1894, and one of its characters, the Yellow Kid, would soon become the main character in what were the first comic strips.1 Others followed in the Yellow Kid's wake, including The Katzenjammer Kids (1897), created by Rudolph Dirks and drawn by Harold H. Knerr, and the astounding work of Winsor McCay, whose early comic strips included Tales of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle (1903), Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904-1913), Little Sammy Sneeze (1904-1906), and Little Nemo in Slumberland(1905-1914).
Perhaps the negative attitude toward comics has historical roots tied specifically to the comic book form. In Western culture, the comic book's early association with the superhero genre (with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics in 1938) brought with it a large, youth-oriented audience. Despite its immense popularity, the public perception for a long time was that comics were a kid's medium-or, more specifically, a young boy's medium. As such, it was generally perceived (in higher circles, of course) as the lowliest of popular culture media. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham further sealed the deal in 1954 when he published his controversial and influential book Seduction of the Innocent, in which he proclaimed that the violent and unsavory actions and questionable sexual exploits depicted in comics (in particular, crime and horror comics) encouraged like-minded behavior in children.2 The exploits of flesh-eating zombies in EC Comics, the drugged and demented protagonists of True Crime Comics, the homosexual charge of DC Comics' Batman and Robin, and the bondage subtexts that littered the pages of Wonder Woman all added fuel to the fire of the already delinquent mind of youth culture, Wertham contended. [End Page 113]
But times have changed, and the delinquency charge has now been passed on to the new media kid on the block: the video game. The presence of comic book culture within the mainstream and within the academy has been on the rise since the late 1980s, influenced greatly by both the success of manga and anime in Western culture and by the rise of comic book auteurs like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Art Spiegelman and the introduction of the "graphic novel." This visibility has been accompanied by a growing sense of comic book legitimacy. It only took a hundred or so years, but the medium is finally coming into its own. Its public prominence has been felt most overtly in the adaptation of comics to films, and while the superhero genre definitely dominates in the blockbuster arena (including two versions of The Incredible Hulk [Ang Lee, 2003; Louis Leterrier, 2008], Fantastic Four and its sequel [Tim Story, 2005, 2007], the X-Men trilogy [Bryan Singer, 2000, 2003; Brett Ratner, 2006], the Blade trilogy [Stephen Norrington, 1998; Guillermo del Toro, 2002; David S. Goyer, 2004], two Hellboy films [Toro, 2004, 2008], two Iron Man films [Jon Favreau, 2008, 2010], two attempts at adapting The Punisher [Jonathan Hensleigh, 2004; Lexi Alexander, 2008], the Spider-Man trilogy [Sam Raimi, 2002, 2004, 2007], Watchmen [Zack Snyder, 2009], Kick-Ass [Matthew Vaughn, 2010], Scott Pilgrim vs. the World [Edgar Wright, 2010], and the latest incarnations of Superman [Singer, 2006] and Batman [Christopher Nolan, 2005, 2008]), other non-superhero comics adaptations have also proved to be popular (Ghost World [Terry Zwigoff, 2001), A History of Violence [David Cronenberg, 2005], Road to Perdition [Sam Mendes, 2002], American Splendor[Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003], 300 [Snyder, 2006], 30 Days of Night [David Slade, 2007], Sin City [Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, 2005]). Other countries exhibit a similar trend, with Japan at...