Comics Scholars Survey Results, November 1995

compiled by Peter M. Coogan

O. Scholarship

Many of my questions on earlier versions of the survey focused on what methodologies work well for comics. Basically, good methodologies work. Scholars should make use of the methodologies appropriate to their own disciplines.

O.1. What contact do and should scholars have with creators and other professionals?

More needs to be done here. At the PCA we discussed the need for t his kind of contact and the possibilities of such contact due to the industry's reasonably open nature. Amy Nyberg wrote that it "would be nice if we could induce the 'Big Two' to designate a liaison person to work with scholars." I have been in co ntact with Marvel and DC on this issue and may have established scholars liaisons; I hope to solidify these relationships at the 1994 conventions. The Comic Arts Conference should increase the level and number of contacts significantly.

O.2. What do creators think needs to be done?

Martin Barker brought up a problem with this question, "It would be a mistake to encourage the creators to set our agendas. They have particular skewed interests and needs, which we are not in the best position t o satisfyŠand it would distort our intellectual agendas if we listened too closely to their wishes."

I think that it's important for us to consciously work at keeping the field of comics scholarship as open as possible. Some other fields have retre ated into academic sterility, but because we're creating this field right now, we can, I believe, prevent those disciplinary and professional walls from going up. That way we'll never have to tear them down. The Comic Arts Conference represents an attempt to open and maintain lines of communication between creators, critics, academics, fans, scholars, librarians, industry personnel, and all other interested parties. Creator/scholars like Scott McCloud and Leonard Rifas offer examples of how t he gap can be bridged. Amy (an academic scholar) and John (an inker at DC) Nyberg's marriage hopefully provides an interesting metaphor for the future of this communication. Some creators, such as Neal Adams, have expressed a desire to keep academi cs away from comics. While I understand their concerns, it's my belief that scholarly community has something to offer the creative community (a certain legitimacy, according to Will Eisner), and as I stated above, we can prevent the sterilization o f comics scholarship that they fear.

Barb Rausch believes that scholars and creators should meet informally and socially more frequently at conventions, outside of the structure of the Comics Arts Conference.

O.3. Recommended reading:

Howard S. Becker, Art Worlds 1982 (from Leonard Rifas).

On women and comics--Rossella Laterza and Marisa Vinella's Le donne di carta. Personaggi femminili nella storia del fumetto , Bari: Dedalo Libri, 1980; and a collection on superheroes--Brolli ed. Il cre puscolo degli eroi , Bologna: Telemaco, 1992 (both in Italian and from Luca Somigli).

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 attain that?

Since I asked two questions here, I received two answers. Steven Sossaman wrote, "Comics can attain the respectability of film, literature, etc., only when specific comics are as great as spec ific works in other fields, and move as many people over a long period of time." He suspects that this will take some time. I believe that we are seeing the beginning of this acceptance, especially in relation to works like Maus.

Barb Rausch, from her perspective of a working professional, turned this questions toward her professional concerns, by suggesting that comic book creators might become as respectable as newspaper cartoonist, and--more importantly--be able to maintain creative control when their creations are adapted for other media and merchandising.

Kenneth Nordin addressed the other half of this question. "The study of comics will be perceived as a field for serious inquiry when research tools of various disciplines are skillfully applied to the subject. All too frequently, however, the literature on comics is anecdotal and superficial.

Back to the Introduction and Survey Outline