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A Comics Studies Reader

Jeet Heer

Publication Year: 2008

A Comics Studies Reader offers the best of the new comics scholarship in nearly thirty essays on a wide variety of such comics forms as gag cartoons, editorial cartoons, comic strips, comic books, manga, and graphic novels.

The anthology covers the pioneering work of Rodolphe Töpffer, the Disney comics of Carl Barks, and the graphic novels of Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, as well as Peanuts, romance comics, and superheroes. It explores the stylistic achievements of manga, the international anti-comics campaign, and power and class in Mexican comic books and English illustrated stories.

A Comics Studies Reader introduces readers to the major debates and points of reference that continue to shape the field. It will interest anyone who wants to delve deeper into the world of comics and is ideal for classroom use.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vii

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p. ix-ix

We would like to express our thanks and gratitude to our contributors, as well as to Nic Bannon, Walter Biggins, Eddie Campbell, Lawrence Klein, Guy Lawley, Dan Nadel, Ken Fisher, Donald Rooum, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware. We would like to give special thanks to Robin Ganev, Jennifer Scarlott, and Julia Worcester. This book is ...

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pp. xi-xv

Over the past two decades, intelligent and informed writing about comics, hitherto an endeavor with a long but often marginal history at the periphery of scholarly and intellectual worlds, has flourished as never before. Both the quantity and quality of scholarly writing on comics has increased enormously. More importantly, there is a sufficient accumulation of well-crafted work to inspire a sense of shared purpose and momentum ...

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Why Are Comics Still in Search of Cultural Legitimization?

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pp. 3-11

Although comics have been in existence for over a century and a half, they suffer from a considerable lack of legitimacy. To those who know and love it, the art that has given us Rodolphe Töpffer and Wilhelm Busch, Hergé and Tardi, Winsor McCay and George Herriman, Barks and Gottfredson, Franquin and Moebius, Segar and Spiegelman, Gotlib and Bretécher, ...

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pp. 13-16

The writing of the history of comics has been plagued by questions of definition and continuity: what constitutes a comic and what is the relationship between the protocomics of the past (everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Bayeux Tapestry to the sequential prints of William Hogarth) and subsequent comics. In this section, as through the rest of the book, the selected essays emphasize the diversity of both the scholarly ...

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Rodolphe Töpffer’s Aesthetic Revolution

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pp. 17-24

The graphic and aesthetic revolution that Rodolphe Töpffer (1766–1847) pioneered and argued for was to be won in the twentieth century. His Essai de physiognomonie and his numerous essays on art, written serially over a dozen years beginning in the 1830s and gathered by Dubochet under the title Reflexions et menus-pro pos d’un peintre genevois (Reflections and Small Talk of a Genevan Painter, first edition 1848, constantly republished ­...

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How Comics Came to Be: Through the Juncture of Word and Image from Magazine Gag Cartoons to Newspaper Strips, Tools for Critical Appreciation plus Rare Seldom Witnessed Historical Facts

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pp. 25-45

In our stampede to elevate Scott McCloud’s definition of comics to the status of holy writ, we may have overlooked the most conspicuous shortcoming of his concoction. While “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence” can include verbiage (those “other images” can be written words), McCloud maintains that comics do not have to contain words to be comics (McCloud, 8). But words are clearly an integral ...

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The “Vulgar” Comic Strip

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pp. 46-52

Of all the lively arts the comic strip is the most despised, and with the exception of the movies it is the most popular. Some twenty million people follow with interest, curiosity, and amusement the daily fortunes of five or ten heroes of the comic strip, and that they do this is considered by all those who have any pretentions to taste and culture as a symptom of crass vulgarity, of dullness, and, for all I know, of defeated and inhibited ...

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Excerpt from Seduction of the Innocent

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pp. 53-57

The Superman group of comic books is superendorsed. A random sample shows on the inside cover the endorsement of two psychiatrists, one educator, one English professor and a child-study consultant. On the page facing this array is depicted a man dressed as a boy shooting a policeman in the mouth (with a toy pistol). This is a prank—“Prankster’s second childhood.” In the story there is a variant of the comic-book theme of a girl being ...

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William Gaines and the Battle over EC Comics

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pp. 58-68

Comic book publishers, when investigated by the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency in 1954, eagerly embraced the committee’s recommendation that the industry “clean house” and adopt a self-regulatory code. For them, the code represented an immediate solution to the bad publicity being generated about comics. The lone dissenting voice was William M. Gaines, who never believed that EC horror comics ...

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The Comics Debates Internationally

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pp. 69-76

There are a number of ancestors of the comic book, including nineteenth-century penny dreadfuls in England and the pulps about the same time in the United States. Almost from the beginning of American comic strips, before the turn of the twentieth century, the funnies were reprinted as books. They continued in this form through the 1930s, although some significant changes came about during that ...

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The Definition of the Superhero

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pp. 77-93

In his 1952 ruling that Wonder Man copied and infringed upon Superman, Judge Learned Hand provided a succinct definition for the superhero. The characteristics of mission, powers, and identity are central to Hand’s determination that Wonder Man copied Superman ...

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Two Boys from the Twin Cities

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pp. 94-100

While F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles M. Schulz grew up in distinctively different parts of the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, their experiences as children were not dissimilar. The older Fitzgerald was the product of recent immigrant families of common Irish stock. The maternal grandfather had begun as a bookkeeper and small businessman and became a prosperous grocery wholesaler after the Civil War in ...

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pp. 101-103

The previous section offered a broad overview of the history of comics from a variety of perspectives but one of the contributors, R. C. Harvey, also raised the issue of form, which has increasingly come to the fore in comics scholarship. While early writings on comics were mainly focused on questions of content, either decried for its vulgarity or praised for its vitality, scholars are increasingly interested in the formal properties of comics. The formal ...

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pp. 105-115

While working in my third-floor study, I can sometimes see the postman coming along my quiet dead-end street. And when then I run downstairs, I view the mail coming through the slot and hear my daughter’s dog, Brigston, rushing barking to defend the house. I understand what is happening at any given moment by relation to what happens earlier or later. The mail appears in the door because the postman has arrived; ...

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Beyond Comparison

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pp. 116-123

The best preventive to comparative methods is an insistence on literalness and materiality. That is why, rather than comparing this novel or poem with that painting or statue, I find it more helpful to begin with actual conjunctions of words and images in illustrated texts, or mixed media such as film, television, and theatrical performance. With these media, one encounters a concrete set of empirical givens, an image-text ...

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The Impossible Definition

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pp. 124-131

The definitions of comics that can be found in dictionaries and encyclopedias, and also in the more specialized literature, are, as a general rule, unsatisfactory. It is easy to understand the reasons. These definitions are of two sorts. The first, often concise, participates in an essentialist approach and looks to lock up some synthetic form of the “essence” of comics. This enterprise is no doubt doomed to failure if one considers that, far from verifying the long ...

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An Art of Tensions

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pp. 132-148

Comics raise many questions about reading and its effects, yet the persistent claims for the form’s simplicity and transparency make it impossible to address these questions productively. Criticism, whether formalist or sociocultural in emphasis, will remain at an impasse as long as comics are seen this way—that is, as long as they are rhetorically constructed as “easy.” In fact, comics can be a complex means of communication and ...

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The Arrow and the Grid

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pp. 149-156

Formalist analyses of comics often begin with an attempt to establish a comprehensive definition of comics by isolating a set of textual features that will constitute the irreducible essence of “comicsness.” Like parallel historical efforts to unearth an originary “first comic,” however, the search for some innate characteristics that will distinguish comics from other all visual and verbal forms has generated much more semantic quibbling ...

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The Construction of Space in Comics

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pp. 157-162

This chapter seeks to give a concise theoretical overview of the various types of “space” a reader encounters in a comic: diegetic space (the fictive space in which the characters live and act) versus extradiegetic space, visualized versus non-visualized space, etc. Furthermore the aim is to describe briefly how a flat medium can suggest a three-dimensional space and how readers (re)construct the diegetic space of a story. This approach ...

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The Acoustics of Manga

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pp. 163-171

Sound in comics is not a stylistic trait or a feature of a particular genre of comics, but is endemic to all comics due to the multimodal way words and pictures are formed and combined. Some comics exploit the dimensions of sound more effectively than others, and none is more effective than the Japanese manga. The reasons for the exuberant nature of sounds in Japanese manga are in part due to the features of the Japanese language ...

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pp. 173-175

Comics were born in the age of mass culture. Without modern printing technology and the distribution networks that allow for mass dissemination, comics as we know them would not exist. As an offshoot of mass culture, comics are a rich source for social analysis. Using comics for social analysis can take the form of looking at how comics portray issues of identity (including issues of race, nationality, generational location, and ...

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Ally Sloper: The First Comics Superstar?

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pp. 177-189

The extraordinary Ally Sloper appeared in British “funny papers” and comics between 1867 and 1916 and periodically thereafter.1 Today, few people have heard of him out-side of comics scholarship, but a century ago it is no exaggeration to say that his vis-ibility in U.K. popular culture would have been comparable to that of any blockbuster Hollywood creation. He was a Victorian hero—or anti-hero—and entered the public ...

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Jackie and the Problem of Romance

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pp. 190-206

On the U.K. alternative comedy show Saturday Live in 1987 a comedian stepped to the microphone. She launched into a series of jokes about how women are led to look at their own bodies, how terrified they can be about getting overweight. But of course, she laughed (and the audience laughed with her), we all know why—we all read Jackie, didn’t we? That explains everything. “Everyone knows” that magazines like Jackie, but ...

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Home Loving and Without Vices

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pp. 207-225

What is Mexico’s national culture? This question has been at the center of political and scholarly debate for most of the twentieth century. Indeed, beginning in the 1920s, it was the explicit project of at least some of Mexico’s leaders to create a modern national culture by supporting mass media and high culture, controlling education, constructing a revolutionary mythos, and intervening into aspects of everyday life from cuisine ...

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Autobiography as Authenticity

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pp. 226-235

A three-page short story by Lewis Trondheim published in Lapin #26 outlines the stakes at play in contemporary autobiographical comics. Trondheim’s autobiographical es-say, “Journal du journal du journal,” is a peculiar mise-en-abyme. Trondheim begins by depicting himself reading Fabrice Neaud’s autobiographical novel Journal (III) (1999). On that page, Neaud depicts himself reading Dupuy and Berberian’s autobiographical ...

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Manga versus Kibyōshi

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pp. 236-243

The kibyōshi and the manga share much in common. They certainly seem to be similar media, which is to say they bear certain resemblances in format, modes of production, and reception. In terms of the first of these, the kibyōshi and the modern manga are inherently visual-verbal narratives. Both employ a number of similar pictorial conventions, and both seem visually associated with other forms of culture by virtue of their role as ...

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Beyond Shoujo, Blending Gender

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pp. 244-251

Shoujo (girls) manga ( Japanese comics) was at first a gender-specific category that as-sumed a female world for both readers and authors. Once shoujo manga began to in-corporate male homosexuality as a subject in the 1970s, however, this female world was subverted in several ways. When male characters made their appearance, they introduced a new vision of sexuality by giving shoujo a vantage point through which to explore female ...

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pp. 253-255

While previous sections treated comics in terms of their historical evolution, their formalist properties, or their social role, this section is devoted to analysts who give more detailed attention to particular cartoonists and stories. If comics are a language, as formalist critics suggest, it remains true that different artists deploy this language with varying degrees of skill and aesthetic agendas. The essays in this section use many of the ...

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The Innocents March into History

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pp. 257-269

In Santiago de Chile, every Wednesday on my way home, I used to buy a children’s magazine called Mampato, and each evening, before putting my six-year-old son Rodrigo to bed, I would read it to him. It was 1973. The Allende government was fighting for its life. We were fighting for ours. There wasn’t an instant to spare. Nonetheless, I always In the repetition of this act there was undoubtedly a sense of despair. To cling to a ...

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The Garden in the Machine

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pp. 270-287

To heighten his critique of modernity, the Disney artist Carl Barks (1901–2000) invoked an imaginary world of lost races and societies. These tales encompass both satirical portraits of urban civilization and a longing for a utopian transcendence of modern life. They reflect Barks’s upbringing on the rural Oregon frontier and portray isolated, agricultural communities uncontaminated by modern life and inhabited by lost races, ...

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An examination of “Master Race”

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pp. 288-305

Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” is one of the finest stories ever to appear in the comics form. It is a comic book rarity; a story with such density and breadth of technique that it merits a detailed and exhaustive examination on the part of the reader. Partly because of the nature of the industry most comic book stories, even the good ones, contain nothing beyond that which is immediately apparent to the casual reader. But “Master Race” has ...

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The Comics of Chris Ware

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pp. 306-324

Chris Ware stands as a leading contemporary cartoonist, garnering numerous industry awards and receiving glowing reviews in trade publications and popular magazines alike. With work appearing in various comics anthologies, magazines, and his own comic book series, Acme Novelty Library, Ware has worked in a variety of comics genres, from stand-alone gag cartoons to his serialized novel of multi-generational ennui, “Jimmy ...

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Transcending Comics: Crossing the Boundaries of the Medium

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pp. 325-339

The aim of this chapter is to discuss some aspects and recent developments in the work of Alan Moore. These involve in particular his mixed media performance works, two of which—The Birth Caul (1995) and Snakes and Ladders (1999)—have been released on CD, and additionally interpreted and turned into comic books by Eddie Campbell. While Moore’s “magical” and performative turn has been widely investigated in review ...

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History and Graphic Representation in Maus

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pp. 340-379

In In the Shadow of No Towers, his most recent book of comic strips, Art Spiegelman draws connections between his experience of 9/11 and his survivor parents’ experience of World War II, suggesting that the horrors of the Holocaust do not feel far removed from his present-day experience in the twenty-first century.1 “The killer apes learned nothing from the twin towers of Auschwitz and Hiroshima,” Spiegelman writes; 9/11 is the ...


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pp. 363-367


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pp. 369-380

E-ISBN-13: 9781617035500
E-ISBN-10: 1604731095
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604731095

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008