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 #47.

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 studies.

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 with professionals.

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 discussions.

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 current results:

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