Toward an Understanding of Comics Work

Comics work is a concept rooted in cultural studies and sociology and one that is agnostic toward many of the shibboleths of the study of comics while also having the ability to work around and within them. For example, the graphic novel, as a term, format, and literary form carries much weight within comics studies; numerous books have been written about the form and its absolute centrality to the growth of comics consumption and production and thus the growth in the scholarly study and legitimation of comics (Lopes 2009; Gabilliet 2010; Heer and Worcester 2007;

Hatfield 2005; Lyons and Williams 2010; Beaty 2012). Comics work, however, is not an idea that need trouble itself with formats or with literary prestige—it is as applicable to Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Maus as it is to a 12-page, photocopied, hand-stapled zine given out for free at a small-town comics convention attended by ten people, never to be seen again. Both are comics work, and we consider both to be of equal value to scholarship.

Similarly, comics work rejects formalist analysis and is concerned with the primacy of collective creation rather than the formal properties of the comics art object. Comics work also rejects repeated and continued attempts to define the medium or to answer the question of what comics are or are not, inasmuch as this excludes certain actors. Instead, comics work is about the people within this field of cultural production, to use the language of Bourdieu (1993), and if we are biased, we lean toward maximizing inclusion rather than exclusion. The chapters of this book provide examples of what may be included, but in no way do they prescribe what can or cannot be called a comic.

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