Illustrating Workers

The second part of this book, Illustrating Workers, looks closely at creators and collaborative workers, examining comics work through individual examples and presenting various studies of how creators’ approaches have framed their eventual products. Peter Wilkins and Brenna Clarke Gray’s chapter begins the discussion on collaboration, which is a recurring theme throughout as we attempt to reconcile the ideology of auteurism with other modes of production. Gray and Wilkins provide an anatomy of various types of collaboration, providing contemporary examples and contrasting the assistant-led approach of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds with a more explicitly and outwardly equal partnership of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer. Collaboration, they show, may take a variety of distinct forms.

Roei Davidson’s chapter on Guy Delisle follows with a perhaps more controversial argument: that fatherhood constitutes comics work in the autobiographical comics of Guy Delisle, who presents true but exaggerated depictions of his ineptitude as a father for humorous effect in his travelogues and memoirs. Davidson draws explicitly on scholarship related to cultural work and the tensions between working time and leisure time and between work life and private life. Comics work, for Delisle, exists at the intersection of these tensions. Needless to say, it’s complicated—he struggles to be an adequate parent while also earning a living as a Quebecois cartoonist laboring under military regimes as he follows his wife, a doctor working on foreign aid projects, around the globe.

These struggles for autonomy and the desire for autonomous practice are ubiquitous throughout broader study of cultural work and the creative industries. Paddy Johnston’s chapter on American self-publishing stalwart John Porcellino closely examines autonomy, exposing it as the driving factor characterizing comics work in the context of American underground comics of the 1980s to the present day. However, Johnston’s chapter also draws upon Bourdieu to interrogate autonomy as a bourgeois promise. Comics work, for Johnston and for Porcellino, thus becomes rooted in class, race, and gender and enabled by a wider social context of privilege. Such critical interrogation of creative autonomy is also key to the thorough understanding of comics work.

Bringing autobiographical accounts and practitioner input into the conversation, Annick Pellegrin’s chapter presents a direct and critical assessment of her own comics work as an advisor to Fabien Vehlmann on South America for the bande dessinee series Spirou et Fantasio. Although Pellegrin downplays her input into the Spirou album Dans lesgriffes de la vipere, for which she provided many of the South American names and advice on cultural references, it could be argued that her chapter’s account of conversations and dealings with Vehlmann reveals that her contribu?tion fundamentally changed the narrative, and thus the reception and cultural impact, of Dans les griffes de la vipere. Pellegrin’s contribution to the album, that of a cultural adviser and “source,” does not necessarily conform to any of the traditional and established roles in the field of comics work, but it is comics work nonetheless—an important example of internationalized comics work and convergence.

Ahmed Jameel follows Pellegrin with a similar autobiographical account of his own practice and continues the discussion of collaboration in comics begun by Wilkins and Gray. Presenting art from his own comics and contextualizing them within a deconstruction of auteurism, Jameel discusses his collaboration as a writer with artist Ali Hasen Didi and portrays collaboration as a conversation, a dialogue in which two minds approach the comic with different ideas, both of which end up fundamentally changed in the end product. Comics work here is a site of both tension and of compromise, the collaboration itself called, poetically, a “third hand.” For Jahmeel, it facilitates the creation of artistic identity and thus is central to the creation of a comics art world and, by extension, a full appreciation of the sequential art medium.

The second section concludes with Benjamin Woo’s analysis of the documentary Comic Book Artists: The Next Generation, building upon Woo’s already significant contribution to the development of comics work (2013, 2015b) and his survey of the conditions of those engaged in it (2015a). Woo’s analysis of the artists portrayed in Comic Book Artists: The Next Generation draws upon the existing scholarship of cultural and media work (e.g. Deuze 2008; Banks 2007) to present the mainstream vision of comics workers as an occupational imaginary. He also discusses the problematic exclusion of those workers who aren’t white (or Asian) middle-class men who have always wanted to draw superheroes.

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