Negotiating Artistic Identity in Comics Collaboration
It cannot be argued that creators are neglected, certainly not in comics scholarship’s rush to establish comics as literature, visual art, or its own specific medium. As the field discusses form, function, and definitions, creators are often integral to the conversation. Though this conversation is expanding in many directions, absorbing theories and methodologies from many different fields to great advantage, scholars regularly neglect the collaborative nature of comics. It is taken for granted that a “main” creator loads a work with meaning waiting to be activated by readers.
When exhibiting narrative or intellectual complexity, comics are considered “written” well. This may be because comics scholars often work in literature departments, because comics writers in the 1970s and 1980s emphasized the textual component, and/or because of insistent association of (certain) comics with the respectability of literature, aiming to work against presuppositions that comics are for children. In any case, one result is that complexity is conflated with good writing or literariness. This ignores the fact that writing in comics differs from conventional prose or poetry (Miodrag 2013, 61) and that literariness cannot account for masterful use of visual qualities.
A. Jameel (H)
University of the Arts London, London, UK
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 175
C. Brienza, P. Johnston (eds.), Cultures of Comics Work,
Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels,
Take how UncannyX-Force Vol. 1, issues #1-35, tellingly titled Uncanny X-Force by Rick Remender in trade paperback volumes, is considered by many to be Rick Remender’s X-Force “run” (Richards 2012a). Remender was the writer and only constant in the creative team throughout a recognizable, tonally consistent series of story arcs. However, considering Remender a sole genius ignores the division of visual duties into penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, as well as labor related to printing and actual selling, all of which involve countless processes and roles fulfilled by individuals who rotate throughout production and publication. Taking into account the number of people required to bring a comic to a reader, even just the assumption that a creator who both writes and draws comics is a sole genius can be rendered false.
The idea of a “main” creator within a team comes from a deeply rooted and cultivated notion that works are loaded with authorial intent, meanings intended for readers to uncover. If the aforementioned Uncanny X-Force run is loaded with Remender’s authorial meanings, the series is as loaded with the interpretations of these meanings and whatever additional layers of meaning resulting from the many visual factors put into play by artists. Many readers and scholars are aware of such things, yet it is easier to buy into the idea of authorial intent and subsequently the assumption that collaborations have one author who crafts this meaning, whose intent either overrides or pulls other collaborators’ intents into its field of gravity. This school of thought is referred to as auteur theory or auterism.
Auteur theory suggests that the singular vision or voice of an author emerges from a work, despite production being possible only due to the efforts of many others. The belief is that there is a larger personality to the auteur that subsumes all others (Abrams 1981, 19). Such theories take on a number of different new forms as the old ones are dismantled. While some contemporary versions break with previous incarnations in lacking outright claims that the fingerprint of an auteur is clear to the audience, the idea that the intention somehow reaches the audience in some form persists. This is adherence to the idea of the author implying a “final signified” (Barthes 1977, 147), or “true” meaning, which imposes limitations on how readers may construct meaning from texts. These assumptions did not, of course, go uncontested.