III Pushing the Boundaries
Gatekeeping in Comics Publishing: A Practical Guide to Gatekeeping Research
The 2014 output of comics scholarship in English is focused on only a few substantive areas. The predominant focus is on superheroes, and to a lesser degree there is interest in social issues (such as the representation of minorities), biographical histories, and works of individual artists.1 In contrast, other areas, such as the economics of comics publishing, are largely neglected. Yet before the widespread introduction of the internet, publishers were the only way to get a comic mass distribution.2 It was (and largely still is) the publishers who invested their money in the material production, distribution, and promotion of a comic, and even today they take on greater financial risk than all other players later in the chain, such as distributors or retailers. Book publishing remains, after all, “a complex, adaptive, semi-chaotic industry” (Greco 2013, 5).
Publishers—whether large or small—have played an ineluctable role in the development of the global culture of graphic narrative since the nineteenth century. These entrepreneurs were also responsible for launching conventional publication formats, such as the many types of serial publication (like comic strips or comic books in the USA, weekly or monthly manga magazine and tankobon in Japan, weekly comics magazines and
P. Lefevre (H)
University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 205
C. Brienza, P. Johnston (eds.), Cultures of Comics Work,
Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels,
album series in Western Europe, etc.).3 The influence of such publication formats on the work itself cannot be underestimated, but it is, unfortunately, often mostly overlooked in formal or content analyses (Lefevre 2000, 2013).
While in the past most publishers were focused on print activities, nowadays they are trying to take a more active role in various other fields because the entertainment industries are increasingly exploring the cross- or transmedia possibilities of intellectual property (Hesmondhalgh 2009; Jenkins 2006). As such, it is no surprise that they are attempting to deploy their content as efficiently as possible across various platforms and media. The structure of the organizations is changing, too; while in the beginning of the twentieth century a significant number of publishing houses were small businesses, today they usually are part of a larger media conglomerate. But as Clark and Phillips (2014, 10) contend, “there will always be room for innovative, imaginative and entrepreneurial small publishers that are more agile compared to larger competitors.”
Admittedly, sometimes articles and books on comics publishers are written as well, but on the whole such publications have more interest in what these companies have published and their popular artists than in their organizational structures or economic models.4 Seldom do these texts pay deep attention to the people working “behind the scenes,” or to the financial data, or to the process of selecting material to be published from artists’ submissions. Concerning this last aspect, other fields of publishing such as news reporting in dailies or weeklies, by contrast, often came under the scrutiny of so-called gatekeeping researchers. This kind of methodology, I argue, should be fruitful for analyzing the comics publishing industry as well.