Comics Scholars Survey Results, November 1995
compiled by Peter M. Coogan
In Comic Art Studies #46 I offered a survey of comic scholars
and presented the results at the Popular Culture Association and
American Culture Association Conference (the PCA), held in
Louisville, Kentucky, March 18-21, 1992. I presented my findings
in one session, and then hosted a round-table discussion of the
survey in another session. The round-table turned out much
better than I had expected; we had a full room, and held a
serious discussion for the full hour and a half. An earlier
version of the following was also published in Comic Art Studies
We opened the round-table with remarks by Thomas Inge,
Blackwell Professor of the Humanities at Randolf-Macon College,
Julie Ratliff, professor of English at Ball State, and myself,
graduate student in American Studies at Michigan State, about the
general state of comics scholarship today.
Dr. Inge commented on some of the things we don't need in
comics scholarship. We shouldn't treat comics as if they're a
source of empirical data about the culture; thus a study of the
height of women in 20's comic strips won't tell us anything about
the height of women in the 20's. He also said that methodologies
adapted from other fields, although useful, won't help us get to
the root of what makes comics distinctive. We shouldn't try to
prove that Maus, for example, is as important as The Sound and
The Fury. On the other side, Inge stated that we do need
biographies of creators, just like all other fields; and that, as
yet, no definitive history of the comic strip exists. He added
that many creators of the Golden Age are still living, and if we
act quickly we can collect and preserve their valuable papers.
Finally, Inge closed with a call for a serious journal for comics
Ms. Ratliff concurred with Dr. Inge's comments and added that
the field suffers from a lack of resources and access to
materials, as well as the fact that we really have no criticism
which is our own (i.e. we have to borrow from other fields). She
mentioned that she has come across many articles lacking
theoretical bases and written by scholars woefully unfamiliar
with the medium and the field. She cited Richard M. Turner's
paper "Metacomics" (presented at the 1991 convention) as the kind
of responsible work the field needs more of.
While agreeing with everything Tom and Julie said, I decided
to focus on some of the positive features of the state of comics
scholarship. I see a great and rising interest in comics
studies, especially at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
There seems to be a coming generation of scholars interested in
centering their careers in the field. With the increase of
multi- and interdisciplinary programs and departments, interest
in and acceptance of comics studies should grow, due to the
inter-disciplinary nature of comics themselves. Holding annual
Comic Arts Conferences at the major comic book conventions will
hopefully provide a place for scholars to gather and share ideas
On to the survey. I plan to constantly revise and update the
survey results as new responses come in. Contained here are the
responses of 26 scholars and some of my own thoughts in addition.
The survey questions have been revised and reordered based on the
various comments of the respondents and some thought I put into
the questionnaire's design. I would like to run the survey every
year or two and keep it updated as barometer of comics
scholarship. Hopefully my survey will serve as a collection of
the issues of comics scholarship and a springboard for future
You may want to refer to the survey to follow along. Pertinent
questions are included below. The open-ended nature of my
questions made collating the results difficult, so for that
reason alone I'm actually glad that 200 responses didn't come in
(although it would have been an interesting problem). I'd like
to thank all the respondents, especially those I quote
frequently. Please click on the desired section heading to see
Back to Comic Art
Collection Home Page
- A. Defining
- A.1. What is the definition of comics? and what is included in the term
comics? (comic books, comic strips, single panel, editorial cartoons, etc.)
- A.2. Are comics unique? and if so, why?
- A.3. What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of the medium?
- A.4. Do we need a new term?
- A.5. What is included in the term comics? (comic books, comics strips,
single panel, editorial cartoons, etc.)
- A.6. What are the extremes, in terms of balancing words and pictures, that
are acceptable as comics?
- B. History
- B.1. What histories have been written?
- B.2. What do you like or dislike about these histories?
- B.3. What kind of histories need to be written?
- B.4. What specific topics need histories written about them?
- B.5. What age are we in, and is ages a good way to continue to define
historical periods? (Golden, Silver, Marvel, Bronze, new, independent, Baroque,
- C.1. What about the industry has been and needs to be studied? (independent
publishers, censorship, creator's rights, etc.)
- C.2. How is the comics industry similar to and different from other media
industries (t.v., film, recording, etc.) and how do we know
- D.1-2. What studies have been done and what methodologies work?
- E. Gender
- E.1. What work needs to be done on gender issues?
- E.2. Gay and Lesbian issues.
- E.2.a. What gay/lesbian comics are there?
- E.2.b. What about gay/lesbian professionals has been and needs to be done?
- E.2.c. How have gays and lesbians been portrayed in comics?
- F.1. How can genre/formula theory be applied to comics?
- F.2. What impact have comics had on genre/formula in other media? and what
impact has genre/formula in other media had on comics?
- F.3. How does genre/formula work in comics? and which ones work better or
- F.4. Are the differences between comic books, comic strips, and the various
kinds of cartoons generic differences or differences of media? What terms can
be used to discuss these differences?
- G. Comics As
An Art Form
- G.1. What questions are there about comics as an art form?
- G.2. What is at stake in claiming the status of art for comics?
- G.3. What can we learn from the movement of other media into the status of
- H.1. What about superheroes needs to be studied?
- H.2. What approaches or methodologies work?
- I.1. Where specifically are comics being studied, taught, and archived?
- I.2. How are comics being used in education (what is being
taught, how, and what materials are being used)?
- I.3. How can libraries be encouraged to build comics
- K.1. What comics related organizations exist?
- K.2. In what other organizations and associations are comics studied, and
which ones accept comics related papers at their meetings?
- K.3. Would you support a comics organization or newsletter to inform you
about what is being studied and done?
- L.1. What bibliographies and indexes exist?
- L.2. What publi cations need indexing?
- L.3. Who publishes bibliographies and indexes?
- M.1. Where can comics scholarship be published?
- M.2. Is there a need for a journal devoted to comics?
- N.1. What would a rhetoric or poetics of comic contain?
- N.2. Do we need a rhetoric or poetics of comics?
- N.3. What makes for good criticism?
- N.4. Where can Scott McCloud's
Understanding Comics be improved on? What did
he overlook or deal with inadequately? (This question can be extended to
encompass Will Eisner and R.C. Harvey's treatises).
- N.5. Which comics creators have written or are writing knowledgeably about
the work of other creators? If not professionally published, where can these
writings be found? In fanzines? On the Internet?
- O.1. What contact do and should scholars have with creators and other
- O.2. What do creators think needs to be done?
- O.3. Recommended reading:
- O.5. How can comics (and comics scholarship and criticism) attain the
respectability of film, literature, and art (and their scholarship and
criticism), and should comics (scholarship and criticism) try to
- P.1. What five things would help you most as a comics scholar?
- P.2. What five projects would you like to see done, like to
help with, or like help with?