Conclusion: Toward Possibility

With these questions in mind, it perhaps becomes most appropriate to think of the history of comics production in the Pioneer Valley not in terms of material failure and institutional demise, but rather in terms of possibility. The area witnessed an incredible amount of creative work dedicated to improving the cultural capital of comics and enhancing the treatment of comics artists. Something unprecedented happened here. The immense financial success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a creator-owned property, was part of this, but so was the fervent and collective pursuit of autonomy that followed. It was this intense commitment to creating new and improved spaces for both making and reading comics that has left such a lasting impression on the pages of comic history. Mirage, Xeric, Tundra, Words and Pictures Museum, Kitchen Sink Press: the work of these institutions showed that comics could be done differently, that artists could be treated better, and that the books themselves could become more than just pulpy images of men in capes.

Bourdieu saw the introduction of possibility as an important consequence of the struggle for autonomy:

Change in the space of literary or artistic possibilities is the result of change in the power relation which constitutes the space of positions. When a new literary or artistic group makes its presence felt in the field of literary or artistic production, the whole problem is transformed, since its coming into being, i.e. into difference, modifies and displaces the universe of possible options. (Bourdieu 1993, 32)

Read in these terms, the underground comix movement introduced comics production to a world of possibilities, including the direct market system of distribution that now dominates the industry. It was precisely these new cultural practices that enabled two guys to successfully publish a black and white comic about crime-fighting, Ninjutsu-practicing Turtles from the living room of their apartment in Western Massachusetts. Perhaps, then, it was the considerable efforts of these artists, from the Creator’s Bill of Rights to the Words and Pictures Museum, that has made possible the autonomy enjoyed by the web cartoonists of contemporary Easthampton.

The history of comics in the Pioneer Valley is thus a history of possibility. It is the story of a space that has enabled the constant reconfiguration of an artistic field, supporting the creation of new types of work. By this reckoning, the chronology outlined here cannot be read as comprehensive; it is only suggestive. As new possibilities continue to emerge from this dense collection of creative work, as these artists continue to produce new and varied cultural texts, this history will only continue to evolve, making these spaces rich sites for future research.

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