The thrill of the new

Posted November 7, 2009 by comicsstudies
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Andrew Edwards here.

My experience with Manga is limited. Until recently, I think I held quite a negative view of it, and subscribed to the view that is was limited in terms of art style (impossibly wide eyed characters) and subject matter (immature cutesy-ness or overly violence). Yet this assumption was subconscious, one I’d barely formulated – and I’d never really read any Manga (except for a translation of Barefoot Gen some 15 years ago, which I’d enjoyed but hadn’t revisted, and had largely forgotten about).

And then I read Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka, the father of Manga, thanks to a copy loaned to me by Dan Berry (thanks again Dan!), senior lecturer on the BA Illustration for Graphic Novels at Glyndwr University, Wrexham (see links below). I read this huge tome and I was blown away. It was amazing stuff. It’s the story of a doctor fighting a disease which deforms people’s appearance, leading them to look distinctly dog-like. Like all good art it challenged my preconceptions and I wanted to know more. So I’ve spent some time reading Paul Gravett’s Manga – Sixty Years of Manga this week. Like all of Mr Gravett’s book it’s a very accessible guide, both clearly written with wonderful illustrations.

You have to admire the influence of Manga in Japan, if only for the fact that it accounts for around 40% of all print publications, which is astonishing. Gravett’s book has allowed me to become acquainted with, and then immersed in, a whole new comics culture, something I haven’t really had the pleasure of since I first discovered UK comics (aged 5) and American comics (aged 11 or 12). It’s taught me to read more widely in the medium. Now I just need to make a start on the Franco-Belgian stuff…

(You can find Dan’s excellent site ‘The Comics Bureau’ here –  and details of the BA degree here –  )

Endless Possibilities

Posted October 31, 2009 by comicsstudies
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Andrew Edwards here.

In my ongoing study of comics I’ve come across many attempts to define comics and explain how they work. These include Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, both being popular, accessible and wonderful works, in my opinion. There are also the more academic works which are of great interest too, such as Thierry Groensteen’s The System of Comics, which is a challenging but ultimately rewarding read thus far  (I’m working my way through it at the moment).

However, my favourite definition and explanation is just one sentence long, and it’s perfect. Here it is:

“They’re words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures.”

These are the words of Harvey Pekar, creator of the groundbreaking American Splendor series. Like most of the definitions of the form we can find, it can’t quite capture all forms of comics (such as mute ones), but it’s still close to perfect in it’s simplicity and adaptability.

I’ve been thinking about the function of comics, and Pekar’s belief that they can do “anything”. I think that there is a growing awareness of the potential of the comics medium to move beyond entertainment (as great as that is). In particular, I think that the potential for comics as a medium for instruction and learning is vast, and it’s an area I’m currently researching, and I’m finding it fascinating, being someone with a working background based in education and libraries.

One significant example is the work of Will Eisner. While his Spirit work and Sequential Art instruction texts are well known, his two decades plus work using comics as an educational tool are relatively unexplored. A great resource that contains lots of examples of his work can be found online via VCU libraries Digital Libraries– check it out to see another example of what comics are capable of. It’s a totally free and accessible resource, and well worth checking out. You can find it at

I think that the future of comics lies in its acceptance by mainstream society and culture and the continued diversification of the functions of comics can only help to sustain the growth of the medium. I can’t wait to see what other areas will be enriched by using comics in the future!

Heroes Ain’t Superheros: Part 1, the Origin

Posted October 31, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

Peter Coogan here.

A few years ago Peter Sanderson asked me if I thought NBC’s Heroes was a superhero show.  I was uncertain, but proposed, “All Heroes has to do is show one costume and employ one codename.”  Sanderson posited the first season of Heroes as one long origin episode.  And if after that first season the characters had suited up, I think it could have become a superhero show and closed the question. This is, in essence, what Smallville did when it introduced Green Arrow, though because of the show’s necessary conclusion–the adoption of the Superman identity by Clark Kent–the show’s genre status was never seriously in question, and with the “Red/Blue Blur” and Clark’s adoption of the El family crest as a chevron and signature (ala Zorro), the show’s genre status is solidly superhero.

But I’ve closed the question on Heroes to my satisfaction.  I just came back from the University of Oregon, which last week hosted the Understanding Superheroes conference and has an ongoing show of original superhero art.  U of O English professor Ben Sanderson invited me out to give a talk on the essence of the superhero (along with Reading Comics author Douglas Wolk, who spoke on superhero art).  This talk gave me the excuse to examine Heroes in depth and to conclude that “Heroes Ain’t Superheroes.”

I’ll be laying out my talk in the weeks to follow.

Conferences and Journals

Posted October 24, 2009 by comicsstudies
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Andrew Edwards here.

I’ve been thinking about conferences and journals recently, and the important role that they play in promoting and advancing the study of comics.

On 21st November I’ll be attending the Thought Bubble festival in Leeds, specifically the Possibilities and Perspectives Conference. I’m there as ICS Assistant Director for Great Britain. I’ll be talking about ICS and my own scholarship and criticism in the morning, and chairing a panel in the afternoon.

One of the great things about events like this is that they spread Comics Studies into fandom and this raises the awareness of the range of possibilities open to potential scholars. It’s a fine mix of academics, professionals, critics and enthusiasts that will be involved and it really highlights how open Comics Studies can be to everyone, from whatever educational or vocational background.

This sense of openness is also evident in a new journal which is forthcoming in 2010 from Intellect – Studies in Comics. You’ll find more details at,id=168/view,page=2/

My favourite part is this –

“Submissions are welcome from both scholars and enthusiasts. Contributors are encouraged to approach comics from any discipline and to turn their attention to comics from all countries and in all languages. So whether you’re a semiotician, philosopher, scientist, historian, enthusiast, cultural, literary or film critic, Studies in Comics welcomes you! Please send all submissions to”

It’s so inviting, open, inclusive – and I was so impressed when I read it. There is also a call for creative comics work too. This is surely the way to extend and develop comic studies!

Unlike many academic journals, there’s no sense here that not having a suitable degree or qualifications will bar you from submitting. It think this is great, and it confirms something I feel strongly about – good swritten cholarship should be judged on its own merits, not on the merits of an author’s qualifications (or lack of them).

I have strong hopes for both the Thought Bubble conference and Studies in Comics to be figureheads in including scholarship from all quarters.

Go Pod Young Scholar! Podcasting and the Public Intellectual

Posted October 21, 2009 by comicsstudies
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Pete Coogan here.

Last week I did my regular talking head gig on the Major Spoilers Podcast for an MSP #143, ” Heores Are Not Superheroes and Other Myths with Dr. Peter Coogan.”  We talked about the conferences next year that I’m organizing through the Comics Arts Conference and the Institute for Comics Studies, my talk at the University of Oregon (October 28) on the essence of the superhero (the title of which is “Heroes Ain’t Superheroes”), and whether superheroes are modern mythology.

I started listening to the Major Spoilers Podcast in 2008 and found it to be enjoyable and a good way to keep up on comics news as well as listen in on discussions of specific comics–basically to get a solid fan opinion on contemporary comics.  As part of doing press for the superhero costume conference at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that summer I sent them a press release, and host Stephen Schleicher decided to interview me about the conference. He invited me back to talk about the Comics Arts Conference at the San Diego Comic-Con and I’ve appeared on an irregular basis since then (every 2-3 months).

Stephen tells me that my appearances regularly generate positive comments and that the MSP listeners like having an academic or scholarly viewpoint.  I regard my appearances on the show in the spirit of public intellectualism–taking what we learn through our scholarly work and teaching out of the academy to the general public in an attempt to enrich the public discourse.  I think other scholars should appear on other podcasts and take up the role of the public intellectual.

If you are a scholar and listen to comics podcasts, take a look at the upcoming shows and see if you have an area of expertise that intersects with the focus of coming episodes. If so, contact the podcast hosts–though a better way is to participate on the podcast’s discussion forum as a listener so that when you contact the hosts you come in as a known quantity.  Then see if you can get on as a commentator for that show, or propose some other role, possibly including guest commentary spots or an editorial role of some sort.  It seems that podcasts are emerging as a significant alternative to fanzines (they are essentially audio fanzines) and participating in one can be a great way to spread the influence of the comics studies community and to perhaps influence the discussion among comics readers.

So pick your podcast and become a talking head.


Children’s comics.

Posted October 17, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

Andrew Edwards here, and I’ll be posting each and every Saturday from now on.

I want to reminisce this week. I’m in a nostalgic mood, but there is a point to make which relates to contemporary times, so bear with me.

My first exposure to comics was seeing The Dandy on the shelf of a UK newsagents. It was, and remains, a British weekly humour comic. I don’t remember the contents, but I do remember the effect that it had on my, looking at this amazing combination of words and pictures. I’m guessing that I was around 4 or 5 years old.

Every Friday soon after, my granddad used to buy me The Dandy or, when that had sold out, The Beano. They were the two titles that had dominated children’s comics for decades. Publisher DC Thompson was also responsible for a raft of boys and girls comics which have, sadly, now faded into distant memory. Titles such as Champ, Topper, Victor, Warlord and many more were weekly anthology comics, printed on cheap newsprint paper, devoted to strips about all sorts of subjects, such as football, war, horror. Girls comics like Mandy were also hugely popular, but have also become extinct.

Their chief competition, Fleetway / IPC, published the SF adventure title 2000 AD, alongside other classics like Battle, Action, Whizzer and Chips, Misty and many more. Only 2000 AD survives…

Mainstream British comics have been replaced by clones of comics designed to tie inj to the latest TV programme or must-have toy, and it’s a worrying trend. The great white hope of children’s comics here in Britain, The DFC, has also ceased publication. If only it could have taken advantage of newsagent distribution, instead of internet sales, perhaps it would have fared better.

I moved on from humour comics to imports of DC and Marvel in my teens. This was the mid 1980s, and I’d never heard of comic shops. I relied solely on finding random titles which had found their way to UK newsagent shelves in what I thought to be some miraculous act of teleportation. You had no chance of collecting a specific title, but what made up for this was the random excitement of finding out a little bit more about the DC and Marvel Universes each month. It gave you the thrill of exploration and a taste of the hunt…

What is the equivalent for today’s child or teenager? How do you encourage them to take a chance on a product which can seem to be aimed at an aging core of fanboys who’ve read the same Marvel and DC stuff for decades, stuffed with convoluted continuity which can only put off the uninitiated youngster?

You create comics for kids. It’s as simple as that.

Let the fanboys read their comics and get their continuity fixes (and there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just that it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of the industry). But let’s also cater more for the kids, because without fresh blood the comics industry will wither on the vine, as new creators will move to other media, and new readers will find nothing to satisfy them in the comics market.

We’ve spent that long arguing for comics as a mature medium (which is right and good) that we seem to have forgotten that kids can have comics too! I love the adult stuff, and would champion its cause forever, but I also want to see more quality pre-teen comics, and more comics being available through newsagents and the high street, or webcomics that kids can enjoy.

Let’s see if we can start to gather together good examples of comics that we can recommend for kids. They are our best and brightest hope for ensuring the continued health and vitality for the medium in the future.

Major Spoilers Podcast Saturday 10/17

Posted October 16, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

Pete Coogan here.

I’ve fallen a little off the blogging schedule I set of twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). I’m not entirely sure about the blog medium, but I’m going to try to keep up.  And I’ll get back to talking about next year’s conferences next week.

On Wednesday I recorded an episode for the Major Spoilers Podcast with host Stephen Schleicher.  We talked a little about the conferences I’m organizing next year.  A lot of the discussion was about the TV show Heroes because it’s the topic of my talk on Wednesday, October 28, at the University of Oregon as part of the Understanding Superheroes semester.  The school has a conference next week and an ongoing art show. I’m being brought in with Douglas Wolk to talk about the essence of the superhero in my talk “Heroes Ain’t Superheroes.”  I’ve concluded that Heroes is not a superhero genre show, but a science fiction superpeople/homo-superior show that draws on the superhero genre (especially for storylines).  Then we talked about whether superheroes are modern mythology, a follow up to the show MSP #139 “Is the Man of Tomorrow the Myth of Today?” on that topic.  I thought they had a very solid discussion, but that they left out some of the cultural constructions of myth, so I brought those into the discussion. It’s all part of working to be a public intellectual and to inform cultural conversation with some theory-based research.

See you next week.

A “call to arms”.

Posted October 8, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m Andrew Edwards, the Assistant Director for Great Britain for ICS. Pete has kindly let me loose on the Comic Link blog. You’ll be hearing from me here from now on.

Here’s some information about me: my work background is in education and libraries, and I’ve worked as a high school teacher for a few years before becoming a librarian. I’ve also been writing about comics for a little while now, with work appearing mainly on the Sequart website. I’m currently at work on a critical study of the Alan Moore scripted issues of Swamp Thing for Sequart Books. I’m also working on other bits and pieces of comics related criticism, which I’ll tell you more about as and when they happen.

I’m passionate about comics and I want to see them continue to reach their potential as a medium and become wholly accepted by mainstream society in the same way as, say, TV and film. As such, I was pleased to read Charles Hatfield’s blog recently, where he discussed what he saw  to be the steps needed to ensure that Comics Studies as an academic discipline would continue to thrive. You can read it at

 The main point I would add is that I think more still needs to be done to ensure that comics remain in the public eye. Academia, although important, is only a part of the landscape in terms of how we all can promote the study, understanding, recognition and cultural legitimacy of comics. So this is a “call to arms”, if you like. Along with the academics, I want to see more teachers using comics, more librarians buying comics and graphic novels for their collections, more critics writing about comics, more people talking about comics, more blogs and podcasts focusing on comics, more TV and radio programmes about comics, more magazines about comics…

Basically, I want to see anything and everything that may help to ensure that our beloved medium remains vital, energized, healthy and intact for future generations.

Please contact us at ICS with your thoughts and ideas for helping comics survive and thrive in this new millennium. Any UK based readers of this blog are free to contact me with any UK specific ideas to help boost the profile and awareness of the medium. I can be reached on

Gaining mainstream acceptance will only the first step. Maintaining a consistent presence in the public eye will be an ongoing mission, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

2010 Conferences at Comic-Cons

Posted October 7, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

Peter Coogan, Director of the Institute for Comics Studies here.  I’ll be announcing myself like that from now on because a new blogger is joining Comics Link, Andrew Edwards, who is the Assistant Director of ICS for Great Britain.  He’s representing ICS at the Possibilities and Perspectives Conference, held in conjunction with the Thought Bubble con in Leeds in November.

On to today’s post.  Today I completed three calls for participation for conferences or academic tracks to be held in conjunction with comic-cons next year, though in truth since each conference runs at more than one edition of each comic-con, really we’re talking about seven distinct events for next year.

The first is the Comics Arts Conference-Wonder Con (deadline 12/1/2009) on April 2-4, 2010.  The CAC-WC is not an Institute for Comics Studies production, but I’m the organizing chair of the CAC at the moment, so I’m going the CFP.  2010 is the fourth year for the Comics Arts Conference at Wonder Con.  The folks at Comic-Con International (which also runs the San Diego Comic-Con, Wonder Con, and the Alternative Press Expo) were so happy with the work we’ve done at Comic-Con that we all decided to expand to Wonder Con.  The submission site works for both CAC-WC and CAC-CCI (deadline March 1), so that’s two of the seven events for next year.

The next is the Comics Studies Conference-Chicago (deadline 12/1/2009) on April 16-18, held in conjunction with C2E2–the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, at  McCormick Place in Chicago.  This is a new conference put on by ICS, and we’ll be running a second set of sessions at the New York Comic-Con, October 8-10, 2010. The submission site works for both conferences (and all the ICS conferences), so that brings us to four of the seven events.

The final three are three Wizard World Universities, with WWU-Anaheim coming up first (submission deadline 12/1/2009) on April 16-18, then WWU-Philly on June 11-13 (deadline March 15, 2010), and WWU-Chicago on August 12-15 (proposal deadline 5/15, 2010), rounding out the total to seven.  Jason Tondro is acting as the WWU-Anaheim organizing and local chair. The same submission site works for all the WWU academic tracks.

But we still have one more!  The Dragon*Con Comics and Popular Culture Conference (Labor Day weekend, September 3-6, 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia) is also an ICS production, run by Matt Brown.  I didn’t count this in the seven because I didn’t make a CFP for it today, but the ICS submission site works for it as well.

Over the next week I want to talk about the different visions each of these conferences or academic tracks has and how they relate to each other and to ICS’s mission.

See you on Friday!

Superfolks and Superhero Literature

Posted September 30, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

Robert Mayer’s satirical novel Superfolks (1977) is credited by Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore with inspiring, in part, Astro City and Watchmen, though with Moore the real influence can be seen in his Twilight of the Superheroes proposal  and Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Superfolks concerns a middle-aged superhero, whose codename is never given but who is referred to as “Indigo” (i.e. “Big Blue”), a Superman analog, who has retired into his secret identity of reporter David Brinkley and “slipped into the humdrum routine of middle-class life” with a wife, two children, and a home in the suburbs.  He hails originally from the planet Cronk, but had to give up his superhero career because his powers faded, a fate that was engineered by Pxyzsyzygy (a Mr. Mxyzptlk analogue), who bought up multinational consumer products companies and mixed ground cronkite into all sorts of products, building materials, and the water supply to induce chronic, low-level cronkite poisoning in Indigo and drive him from superheroing. The other superheroes have retired or otherwise withdrawn: Batman and Robin were killed in an Batmobile collision with a bus carrying African American children to the suburbs, Superman is missing and presumed dead after a kryptonite meteor fell on Metropolis, the Marvel Family died in a lightning strike, Captain Mantra (a Captain Marvel analogue) is living in a sanitarium after seeing his sister, Mary Mantra, cut to shreds by an Amtrak train, and Wonder Woman is an associate editor for Ms. Magazine and a leading spokeswoman for feminist causes.  All of which are part of Pxyzsyzygy’s plot to eliminate superheroes from Earth and ultimately replace God.

The plot of the novel concerns a CIA attempt to draw Indigo out of retirement as a setup for his assassination, which is demanded by the Soviet Union as part of a nuclear disarmament treaty—the Soviets want Indigo eliminated as a possible nuclear defense for the United States to reinforce the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, though this turns out to be a blind for an assassination attempt on the President, to be replaced by the Vice-President, who is a Soviet stooge.  Indigo discovers the plots against him with the assistance of Captain Mantra, and with the unwitting assistance of Elastic Man (i.e. Plastic Man), who slingshots Indigo into cronkite-free outerspace, he regains his powers, and ultimately speaks Pxyzsyzygy’s name at the syzygy (the precise point where the Earth is in conjunction with the Sun), thereby banishing the elf to the fifth dimension for four years.

While Meyer does not take the superhero genre seriously—his satire is often rooted in pointing out the logical inconsistencies and silliness of the genre—it does point to the deforming effects superheroes would have on human politics (a theme taken up by more serious works such as Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) and superhero sexuality, which probably had not been dealt with since Larry Niven’s 1971 essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” extrapolating what would happen if Superman tried to mate with Lois, based upon the conditions of his powers set in the comics themselves (the super sperm hunting for human eggs is a bizarre side effect of Kryptonian ejaculation, which is also mentioned in the context of Superboy masturbating, itself probably the first time such a topic was mentioned in print).  In these things, Mayer did lay the ground work for later, serious considerations of the superhero genre, both in comics and in prose.