Welcome to the wonderful world of comic book studies. This is a relatively new field devoted to the serious, academic study of comic books. The goal is to treat comic books as an art form that is worth the time and effort to study. It is a growing field in the academic world, with the largest conference, the Comics Arts Conference, taking place within Comic Con in San Diego. The goal of this column is to introduce people to the field. In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to go into more detail about what this column is and is not, and perhaps most importantly, the why.
Let us start with what this column is not, which is a place for papers that you would find in an academic journal. There are great academic journals that are for dedicated studies and analysis that fill that niche. There are a couple of main reasons this. For one, few people really want to read a 20 plus page analysis of Geoff John’s career. Another reason is on the more practical side; I simply don’t have access to the resources I’d need to be able to truly do the academic work necessary for me to feel comfortable with a journal quality piece.
The articles that will be published will be short, readable articles that are meant to get people thinking of comic books as serious art, and to start a conversation. That means that every article will serve almost as an introduction, with light analysis of the subject. Do not mistake brief, for shallow in the analysis. My basic points and thesis will be proven through the course of the article, but due to the nature of it, there will be room for more in depth work on each subject. If I’m doing my job correctly, then I will get people thinking. Ultimately I view this as an interactive column. Since I will be taking strong stances, I fully expect there to be people vocally disagreeing with me. Thus, if the comments section isn’t active, even if it’s people calling me a moron, then I haven’t done my job properly. The great part is that comic books are the art of the people, and the people deserved to have their opinions on them.
Comic books are low art that is often disrespected which is why it is so important that they are studied and appreciated. Though this is in the process of changing, for the longest time telling someone you were an adult that read comic books would get people to assume that you are in a state of arrested development. It is true that comic books are not the symphony, opera, or any form of high art that is meant for the upper classes and not the masses. What people forget so easily is that at the time Shakespeare’s plays were current, they were also low art. As time went by appreciation of Shakespeare morphed into high art. It is a strange catch 22: The more an art form is studied the more respect it gets, but to get studied it must earn a certain amount of respect. Thus it is vital to evolution of comic books as an art form to study it as such. It is also a matter of respecting the common people. To discount an art form because it is not high art inherently means disrespecting those who love said art from. Thus we must give any art form its proper due.
There are many avenues of study that are worthwhile the field of comic book studies. With the amount of creators that have created great, and not so great work, out there the potential to take unique looks at interesting subjects is near unlimited. There are many artists whose work has not been studied in depth to find out what their strength as story tellers are. The same is true of writers. I’m not talking about the obvious ones either. Even the worst writer is worth their due as a writer, even if the paper ends up shredding the stories as incoherent messes.
In the following months we will embark upon a journey to create an active intellectual space for studying comic books as serious art. This will never become a space of pure academia, but rather where conversations will start. It will be a place for debate, and the sharing of new ideas. Most importantly, this space will inspire young people to realize that if they love comic books they can make it into a serious focus in their college career as I did.