Introduction: Understanding Comics Work

Casey Brienza and Paddy Johnston

How are we to understand a work of comics art without any knowledge of the myriad varieties of cultural work that went into its creation, and how might each better inform our understandings of the other? This book is an exploration and interrogation of these two questions. In the comics art world—a world that is still being mapped out and defined with retroactive applications to the comics canon by comics scholars across various disciplines and departmental affiliations—there exists a tendency to canonize the writer and to advance a narrow, auteurist vision of production when analyzing and studying comics. Scholars, cartoonists, and comics fans alike will be familiar with Alan Moore, Osamu Tezuka, Neil Gaiman, Marjane Satrapi, Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Carl Barks, Charles Schulz, and Herge—but a few of the names that loom large in the intellectual firmament of comics studies. But they are little to no knowledge of these creators’ collaborating artists, pencillers, letterers, flatters, inkers, cover

C. Brienza (H)

City, University of London, London, UK P. Johnston

University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 1

C. Brienza, P. Johnston (eds.), Cultures of Comics Work,

Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-55090-3_1

designers, editors, publicists, typesetters, translators, distributors, or retailers. These roles, an indicative but not exhaustive list of the duties that can be undertaken in the journey of a comic from its conception all the way the hands of a reader, are, no doubt, work. All of these are roles that can be done in exchange for money and/or goods in the capitalist labor market, and all are examples of what, in the title of this book, we term “comics work.”

Why, then, when they are numerous, essential, and inescapable, are such roles routinely overlooked and forgotten in the study of comics, if not treated with outright suspicion? The idea of the auteur is a powerful romantic ideal, ubiquitous across fields of cultural production ranging from fine art to prose literature to cinema. After all, no hand but that of the author is credited with having created a Booker Prizewinning novel on its cover; no name but that of the painter accompanies their painting in neat type on an adjacent card when hung in a gallery. Scholars of comics, typically from literature, film studies, or art history disciplines, naturally draw upon their pre-existing theoretical and methodological training to apply established theories of authorship to comics for the purposes of formalist or textual-level analysis. This has created a solid basis for a field of inquiry and established vibrant and international comics studies. However, thus far, there has been very little engagement with the myriad labors that happen to create a comic, despite recent calls for a sociological approach to the study of comics (Brienza 2010, 2012, 2013; Lopes 2009; Murray 2013) and nascent attempts to begin understanding and analyzing comics at a much deeper and greater level than their textual and material surfaces, such as through methodological surveys of working conditions and patterns (e.g. Woo 2015b); analyses of comics retailing as cultural work (e.g. Miller 2013); and politically driven analyses of contemporary economies and their effects on the production of comics (e.g. Johnston 2015). These moves are, however, scattered and few and far between, and the criticism of comics scholarship as being text focused and driven by the methodologies of literary criticism is now a familiar one, which makes the intervention of a book such as this one particularly timely. This book, therefore, does not ask why such labors are largely overlooked and obscured. Instead, it focuses mainly on how such roles have had a significant and pivotal impact on the comics they have helped to create. This “comics work” unites the work of this book’s 18 chapters and, we hope, will provide a foundation for future research.

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