The thrill of the new

Posted November 7, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

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 – http://thecomicsbureau.co.uk/  and details of the BA degree here – http://www.glyndwr.ac.uk/nwsad/  )

Endless Possibilities

Posted October 31, 2009 by comicsstudies
Categories: Uncategorized

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

http://dig.library.vcu.edu/cdm4/index_psm.php?CISOROOT=/psm

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
Categories: Uncategorized

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

http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Journal,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 studiesincomics@googlemail.com.”

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
Categories: Uncategorized

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.