The Rise of the American Comics Artist

The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Rise of the American Comics Artist
    Book Description:

    Starting in the mid-1980s, a talented set of comics artists changed the American comic-book industry forever by introducing adult sensibilities and aesthetic considerations into popular genres such as superhero comics and the newspaper strip. Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen (1987) revolutionized the former genre in particular. During this same period, underground and alternative genres began to garner critical acclaim and media attention beyond comics-specific outlets, as best represented by Art Spiegelman's Maus. Publishers began to collect, bind, and market comics as "graphic novels," and these appeared in mainstream bookstores and in magazine reviews.The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts brings together new scholarship surveying the production, distribution and reception of American comics from this pivotal decade to the present. The collection specifically explores the figure of the comics creator--either as writer, as artist, or as writer and artist--in contemporary U.S. comics, using creators as focal points to evaluate changes to the industry, its aesthetics, and its critical reception. The book also includes essays on landmark creators such as Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware, as well as insightful interviews with Jeff Smith (Bone), Jim Woodring (Frank) and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics). As comics have reached new audiences, through different material and electronic forms, the public's broad perception of what comics are has changed. The Rise of the American Comics Artist surveys the ways in which the figure of the creator has been at the heart of these evolutions.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-793-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: In the Year 3794
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    Salvador Dali’s prediction invites one to hypothesize what the world of 3794 will look like—and whether any of its social coordinates will correlate to the ones we recognize at the start of the twenty-first century. Not so long ago, admirers of the medium’s possibilities might have asked whether there could be any similarity between an Anglophone world that considers comics as culture and the one in which they currently lived. Over a thousand years in the future—that would sound about right for the kind of radical cultural reestimation that would have to take place before comics could escape...

  5. I: Marketing Creators

    • CHAPTER ONE How the Graphic Novel Changed American Comics
      (pp. 3-13)

      The American comic book landscape changed dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s primarily because of two factors: first, the creation of the “direct market,” a system where publishers sold comic books directly to specialty comics stores, and second, challenges to the Comics Code Authority that regulated the newsstand comic book industry. This chapter will argue that these economic and institutional factors indirectly led to the creation of the graphic novel. In turn, after a series of unstable economic and material conditions, the graphic novel has become a fixture on library and bookshop shelves independent of the comics shops and newsstands....

    • CHAPTER TWO “Is this a book?” DC Vertigo and the Redefinition of Comics in the 1990s
      (pp. 14-30)

      Not only comics publishing but also perceptions of it have changed radically during this century, and the comic book has become a graphic novel, invoking notions of permanence, literariness, and artistry. In Chapter Three, Chris Murray considers the emergence of literary themes and allusions in DC Comics during the 1980s as a consequence of British writers crossing the Atlantic and entering the U.S. comics industry. This chapter offers a complementary examination of the technological changes and marketing innovations that contributed to the redefinition of comics at the end of the twentieth century, specifically with regard to the role of DC...

    • CHAPTER THREE Signals from Airstrip One: The British Invasion of Mainstream American Comics
      (pp. 31-45)

      When The Beatles made their first appearance onThe Ed Sullivan Showon February 9, 1964, the American press proclaimed the “British Invasion” of rock and roll. Exactly twenty years later DC Comics published issue 21 of their then flaggingThe Saga of the Swamp Thingtitle, written by Alan Moore, a comics writer from Northampton, England. The British Invasion of American comics had begun.

      The association between these two waves of cultural crossover is not made frivolously—in both instances British artists appropriated then revolutionized genres that seemed typically American, challenging audience expectations and creating waves of media interest....

    • Interview:
      (pp. 46-54)

      To date, Jeff Smith’s commercial success and critical attention has concentrated on his black-and-white bimonthly seriesBone, published by Cartoon Books.Bonenarrates the adventures of the three Bone cousins, who are slowly drawn into the political machinations and history of a valley filled with humans, dragons, rat creatures, talking bugs, and other fantastical beings. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Cartoon Books is an example of the creator-owned comics companies the self-publishing movement of the early 1990s was based on (Smith established Cartoon Books in July 1991, and his wife Vijaya Iyer is credited as publisher of Smith’s comics).

      It would...

  6. II: Demo-Graphics:: Comics and Politics

    • CHAPTER FOUR State of the Nation and the Freedom Fighters Arc
      (pp. 57-67)

      Comic books have generated increased critical, scholarly, and popular attention; in 2007, Daniel McCabe wrote that they are “much more sophisticated since the advent ofArchieorSupermanand are now a legitimate area of scholarship.” Recent scholarly studies of the superhero narrative alone include Richard Reynolds’sSuper Heroes: A Modern Mythology(1994), Will Brooker’sBatman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon(2001), Geoff Klock’sHow to Read Superhero Comics and Why(2002), Danny Fingeroth’sSuperman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves(2004), Tom Morris and Matt Morris’sSuperheroes and Philosophy(2005), Jeffrey Kahan and Stanley Stewart’s...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Critique, Caricature, and Compulsion in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism
      (pp. 68-88)

      Since the early 1990s, when Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust memoir in comic book form,Maus, won a Pulitzer Prize, comics creators have gained increasing attention for producing comics about contemporary events. Joe Sacco’s comics about Palestine and the former Yugoslavia, Ted Rall’s “graphic travelogue”To Afghanistan and Back, a comic book adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report, and Seth Tobocman’sPortraits of Israelis and Palestinians: For my ParentsandWar in the Neighborhoodall represent the growing interest in using properties of word and image specific to comics to capture “the news.” As a result, comics journalism has begun to pop...

  7. III: Artists or Employees?

    • CHAPTER SIX Too Much Commerce Man? Shannon Wheeler and the Ironies of the “Rebel Cell”
      (pp. 90-102)

      In the end pages ofWake Up and Smell the Cartoons of Shannon Wheeler(1996), a collection of the comics artist’s early work, Wheeler provides a short professional biography that is worth quoting in full:

      Shannon Wheeler’s cartoons first appeared in college newspapers and obscure publications throughout the country. Shannon graduated from UC Berkeley’s architecture department in 1989. After a couple of years of angst ridden meaningless retail work, Wheeler re-located to Austin, Texas, where he continued to work retail jobs. It was during this time that he hooked up with Blackbird Comics, who published his first collection of cartoons:...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Comics Against Themselves: Chris Ware’s Graphic Narratives as Literature
      (pp. 103-123)

      The recent rise in scholarly interest regarding graphic narratives has been precipitous and remarkable. This intellectual ferment is evidenced both by the strength, volume, and range of the comics produced, as well as an attendant enthusiasm and productivity in comics criticism and theory.¹ Graphic narratives’ ability to reinvigorate literary theoretical questions of temporality, narrative, and periodization, among others, points toward the catalytic effect that studies of comics are beginning to provide for conventional literary scholarship (for examples, see Chute and DeKoven 2006; Chute 2008; Baetens and Blatt 2008).

      In this essay I will concentrate in particular on periodization and explore...

    • Interview:
      (pp. 124-132)

      Jim Woodring was born in Los Angeles in 1952. His early work found print in various alternative publications such asThe Los Angeles Free Press. During his time working in an LA animation studio, he self-published the first issue ofJimin 1980. This “illustrated autojournal” was a collection of images and comics that Woodring professes is based on the hallucinations of his childhood. The comics publisher Fantagraphics later publishedJimas a comics magazine, the success of which led to Woodring leaving his job as an animator and becoming a full-time comics writer and artist. His work has since...

  8. IV: Creative Difference:: Comics Creators and Identity Politics

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Questions of “Contemporary Women’s Comics”
      (pp. 135-149)

      In the graphic novelThe Sandman: A Game of You(published as an edited collection in 1993), a young female character—provocatively named Barbie—ventures into a comic book store, where the adolescent male inhabitants stop to stare at her. When Barbie brings her purchase to the till she recounts, “There was a biggreasy guybehind the counter who seemedreallyamused that I was like, female, and asking for this comic. He said itwasn’tvery collectable. Then he said they didn’t normally see breasts assmallas mine in his store, and all these guys laughed.”


    • CHAPTER NINE Theorizing Sexuality in Comics
      (pp. 150-163)

      The study of representations of sexuality—even specifically the study ofvisualrepresentations of sexuality—is nothing new. Clustered mainly around refrains such as liberatory potential through psychoanalytic models (Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane) or agendas of self-representation (Vito Russo, Emmanuel Cooper), scholarship on the visual representation of sexuality already enjoys a rich tradition. Within this broader field, writers in the comparatively new field of comics studies have quickly begun to borrow theoretical structures from other areas of media studies to explore the representation of sexuality in comics.

      Two common structures are represented, for example, by Joseph W. Slade’s division...

    • CHAPTER TEN Feminine Latin/o American Identities on the American Alternative Landscape: From the Women of Love and Rockets to La Perdida
      (pp. 164-176)

      The fall 2007 volume of the academic journalMELUS, which discusses multiethnic literatures in the United States, was dedicated to graphic narratives and featured essays and reviews of comic works and graphic novels by such authors as Adrian Tomine, Ben Katchor, Will Eisner, Ho Che Anderson, Gene Luen Yang, and the Hernandez brothers. Gilbert, one of the Hernandez brothers, created the cover for this particular edition (volume 32, number 3), which played with the border iconography of his world and offered a multiethnic vision of the reality of the United States. Professor Derek Parker Royal, editor of the volume, interviewed...

  9. V: Authorizing Comics:: How Creators Frame the Reception of Comic Texts

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Making Comics Respectable: How Maus Helped Redefine a Medium
      (pp. 179-193)

      Over the last twenty years comic books have undergone a substantial change in terms of types and content available and in their critical reception. The genesis of this shift can be traced to certain events in the production and distribution of comics. For fans of superhero comic books the key moments include Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’sWatchmen(collected in 1987) and Frank Miller’sBatman: The Dark Knight Returns(collected in 1986). For others, including the great mass of non-comic-book readers, the publication of Art Spiegelman’sMaus(collected in 1986 and 1991) and the critical response to it, is the...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE “A Purely American Tale”: The Tragedy of Racism and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth as Great American Novel
      (pp. 194-209)

      In the last ten years, few comics have garnered enthusiastic critical attention equal to Chris Ware’s graphic novelJimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth(2000). In his book,Chris Ware(2004), Daniel Raeburn hails Ware as a “luminary” who has won “every award a cartoonist can win: Eisner, Ignatz, Harvey and Rueben” (9). Raeburn overlooks the comics prizes of the non-Anglophone world, but he is right to emphasize Ware’s star status. Ware’s accolades extend beyond the comics industry, winning the BritishGuardiannewspaper’s First Book Award in 2001 forJimmy Corrigan(Brockes 2001, 4). In the U.S., his work...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN “That Mouse’s Shadow”: The Canonization of Spiegelman’s Maus
      (pp. 210-234)

      On May 26, 1985,The New York Timespublished an important document in the history of the American comic book. In “Cats, Mice and History—the Avant-Garde of the Comic Strip,” Ken Tucker discussed early chapters of Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust narrativeMaus, published serially at the time in the comics anthologyRawand as yet uncollected in a single volume. “Perhaps because ofRaw’s limited circulation,” Tucker suggested, “few people are aware of the unfolding literary eventMausrepresents.” Were they only to see it, Tucker argued, they would recognize a major work of art, “an epic story in tiny...

    • Interview:
      (pp. 235-242)

      Scott McCloud was born in Boston in 1960. The major work of his early career was the Eclipse-published superhero dramaZot!(1984–1991), but international fame and academic attention has focused on McCloud’s graphic-novel-length comics essayUnderstanding Comics: The Invisible Art(1993). McCloud usedUnderstanding Comicsto outline the formal grammar of meaning-making in comics, to offer a history of the medium and to discuss key compositional features including color, time, and framing.Understanding Comicswas ambitious and brave, and few comic texts have been as ubiquitous in the last twenty years—or as controversial.

      McCloud attracted striking praise, and...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 243-246)
  11. Index
    (pp. 247-253)