“Publish or perish” is a mantra frequently heard in academia, and university presses exist to further research. As the geek diaspora follows the path blazed by St. Ignatius of New Orleans, many professors seek to merge their personal interests with their academic specialties. So, where scholarship was once relegated to fanzines and APAs, it now appears in subject-specific journals and handsome monographs.
Be warned: traditional publishing is experiencing a massive paradigm shift. University titles have always been “small press” with print runs in the low thousands, if not hundreds. You’ll see that reflected in the prices listed for the titles below. No one is getting rich, it’s just that the costs of production are averaged over fewer copies. Some university presses have even gone into hibernation for a season, deciding to save costs by not offering new titles.
Unlike other publishers, university presses have a mission to offer scholarly works to a wide audience, publishing titles major commercial houses would avoid. this is why you’ll see hardcover and paperback editions offered simultaneously, as well as e-book editions. These presses also offer significant previews of each title, as their primary customer base (university libraries and professors) are a very critical audience.
It is not unusual for university presses to specialize in specific subjects, in much the same way commercial publishers create imprints for specific audiences. For geeks, the pre-eminent university press for comics is the University Press of Mississippi, which has been publishing comics-related titles for over twenty years! Other presses will offer the occasional graphic novel title as part of a larger series.
Of course, there are many universities with comics collections. And lots of university professors instructing with comics. So, if your parents ever ask you how you’ll make a living reading comics…
(Preview available at the above link! Hardcover, trade paperback, and e-book!)
The first critical exploration of the work of a great comics creator
Jack Kirby (1917-1994) is one of the most influential and popular artists in comics history. With Stan Lee, he created the Fantastic Four and defined the drawing and narrative style of Marvel Comics from the 1960s to the present day. Kirby is credited with creating or cocreating a number of Marvel’s mainstay properties, among them the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and the Silver Surfer. His earlier work with Joe Simon led to the creation of Captain America, the popular kid gang and romance comic genres, and one of the most successful comics studios of the 1940s and 1950s. Kirby’s distinctive narrative drawing, use of bold abstraction, and creation of angst-ridden and morally flawed heroes mark him as one of the most influential mainstream creators in comics.
In this book, Charles Hatfield examines the artistic legacy of one of America’s true comic book giants. He analyzes the development of Kirby’s cartooning technique, his use of dynamic composition, the recurring themes and moral ambiguities in his work, his eventual split from Lee, and his later work as a solo artist. Against the backdrop of Kirby’s earlier work in various genres, Hand of Fire examines the peak of Kirby’s career, when he introduced a new sense of scope and sublimity to comic book fantasy.
Charles Hatfield, Northridge, California, is associate professor of English at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Follow his blog at http://handoffire.wordpress.com/.
304 pages (approx.), 7 x 10 inches, 32 line illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index
(Hardcover, e-book, and preview available at the above link!)
A wide-ranging survey of how comics have portrayed southern ways of life
Contributions from Tim Caron, Brannon Costello, Brian Cremins, Conseula Francis, Anthony Dyer Hoefer, M. Thomas Inge, Nicolas Labarre, Alison Mandaville, Gary Richards, Joseph Michael Sommers, Christopher Whitby, and Qiana J. Whitted
Comics and the U.S. South offers a wide-ranging and long overdue assessment of how life and culture in the United States South is represented in serial comics, graphic novels, newspaper comic strips, and webcomics. Diverting the lens of comics studies from the skyscrapers of Superman’s Metropolis or Chris Ware’s Chicago to the swamps, back roads, small towns, and cities of the U.S. South, this collection critically examines the pulp genres associated with mainstream comic books alongside independent and alternative comics. Some essays seek to discover what Captain America can reveal about southern regionalism and how slave narratives can help us reread Swamp Thing; others examine how creators such as Walt Kelly (Pogo), Howard Cruse (Stuck Rubber Baby), Kyle Baker (Nat Turner), and Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge) draw upon the unique formal properties of the comics to question and revise familiar narratives of race, class, and sexuality; and another considers how southern writer Randall Kenan adapted elements of comics form to prose fiction. With essays from an interdisciplinary group of scholars, Comics and the U.S. South contributes to and also productively reorients the most significant and compelling conversations in both comics scholarship and in southern studies.
Brannon Costello, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is associate professor of English at Louisiana State University and is the editor of Howard Chaykin: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi). Qiana J. Whitted, Columbia, South Carolina, is associate professor of English and African American studies at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of “A God of Justice?”: The Problem of Evil in Twentieth-Century Black Literature.
(Hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and preview available at the above link!)
A critical study of a postmodern comics writer who flaunts superhero conventions
One of the most eclectic and distinctive writers currently working in comics, Grant Morrison (b. 1960) brings the auteurist sensibility of alternative comics and graphic novels to the popular genres–superhero, science fiction, and fantasy–that dominate the American and British comics industries. His comics range from bestsellers featuring the most universally recognized superhero franchises (All-Star Superman, New X-Men, Batman) to more independent, creator-owned work (The Invisibles, The Filth, We3) that defies any generic classification.
In Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics, author Marc Singer examines how Morrison uses this fusion of styles to intervene in the major political, aesthetic, and intellectual challenges of our time. His comics blur the boundaries between fantasy and realism, mixing autobiographical representation and cultural critique with heroic adventure. They offer self-reflexive appraisals of their own genres while they experiment with the formal elements of comics. Perhaps most ambitiously, they challenge contemporary theories of language and meaning, seeking to develop new modes of expression grounded in comics’ capacity for visual narrative and the fantasy genres’ ability to make figurative meanings literal.
Marc Singer, Hyattsville, Maryland, is assistant professor of English at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He is the coeditor of Detective Fiction in a Postcolonial and Transnational World.
(Hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, and preview available at the above link!)
“My interest always was, from the very earliest days, in extending the medium as far as I possibly could.”
Will Eisner’s innovations in the comics, especially the comic book and the graphic novel, as well as his devotion to comics analysis, make him one of comics’ first true auteurs and the cartoonist so revered and influential that cartooning’s highest honor is named after him. His newspaper feature The Spirit (1940-1952) introduced the now-common splash page to the comic book, as well as dramatic angles and lighting effects that were influenced by, and influenced in turn, the conventions of film noir. Even in his tales of crime fighting, Eisner’s writing focused on everyday details of city life and on contemporary social issues. In 1976, he premiered A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, a collection of realist cartoon stories that paved the way for the modern “graphic novel.” His 1985 book, Comics and Sequential Art, was among the first sustained analyses and overviews of the comics form, articulating theories of the art’s grammar and structure. Eisner’s studio nurtured such comics legends as Jules Feiffer, Wally Wood, Lou Fine, and Jack Cole.
Will Eisner: Conversations, edited by comics scholar M. Thomas Inge, collects the best interviews with Eisner (1917-2005) from 1965 to 2004. Taken together, the interviews cover the breadth of Eisner’s career with in-depth information about his creation of The Spirit and other well-known comic book characters, his devotion to the educational uses of the comics medium, and his contributions to the development of the graphic novel.
M. Thomas Inge, Ashland, Virginia, is Robert Emory Blackwell Professor of the Humanities at Randolph-Macon College. He has edited over forty volumes, including Charles M. Schulz’s My Life with Charlie Brown; Charles M. Schulz: Conversations; Conversations with William Faulkner, and others published by UPM. Inge is general editor of two series, Conversations with Comic Artists and Great Comics Artists, both published by University Press of Mississippi.
“I love the comic medium. it is one I shall never abandon. But the industry… it’s dark satanic mills.”
British comics writer Alan Moore (b. 1953) has a reputation for equal parts brilliance and eccentricity. Living hermit-like in the same Midlands town for his entire life, he supposedly refuses contact with the outside world while creating his strange, dense comics, fiction, and performance art. While Moore did declare himself a wizard on his fortieth birthday and claims to have communed with extradimensional beings, reticence and seclusion have never been among his eccentricities. On the contrary, for long stretches of his career Moore seemed to be willing to chat with all comers: fanzines, industry magazines, other artists, newspapers, magazines, and personal websites. Well over one hundred interviews in the past thirty years serve as testimony to Moore’s willingness to be engaged in productive conversation.
Alan Moore: Conversations includes ten substantial interviews, beginning with Moore’s first published conversation, conducted by V for Vendetta cocreator David Lloyd in 1981. The remainder cover nearly all of his major works, including Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, Marvelman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, From Hell, Lost Girls, and the unfinished Big Numbers.
While Moore’s personal life and fraught business relations are discussed occasionally, the interviews chosen are principally devoted to Moore’s creative practices and techniques, along with his shifting social, political, and philosophical beliefs. As such, Alan Moore: Conversations should add to any reader’s enjoyment and understanding of Moore’s work.
Eric L. Berlatsky, Boynton Beach, Florida, is associate professor of English at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He is the author of The Real, the True, and the Told: Postmodern Historical Narrative and the Ethics of Representation.
Hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook available! Google preview available at the link above!
(And it’s on sale, 33% direct from UT! Sweet Christmas!)
Super Black places the appearance of black superheroes alongside broad and sweeping cultural trends in American politics and pop culture, which reveals how black superheroes are not disposable pop products, but rather a fascinating racial phenomenon through which futuristic expressions and fantastic visions of black racial identity and symbolic political meaning are presented. Adilifu Nama sees the value—and finds new avenues for exploring racial identity—in black superheroes who are often dismissed as sidekicks, imitators of established white heroes, or are accused of having no role outside of blaxploitation film contexts.
Nama examines seminal black comic book superheroes such as Black Panther, Black Lightning, Storm, Luke Cage, Blade, the Falcon, Nubia, and others, some of whom also appear on the small and large screens, as well as how the imaginary black superhero has come to life in the image of President Barack Obama. Super Black explores how black superheroes are a powerful source of racial meaning, narrative, and imagination in American society that express a myriad of racial assumptions, political perspectives, and fantastic (re)imaginings of black identity. The book also demonstrates how these figures overtly represent or implicitly signify social discourse and accepted wisdom concerning notions of racial reciprocity, equality, forgiveness, and ultimately, racial justice.
Adilifu Nama is Associate Professor and Chair of the African American Studies Department at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of the award-winning Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film, the first book length examination of the topic.
Hardcover, paperback, preview available at the link above!
Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle is the first comprehensive look at comic books by and about race and ethnicity. The thirteen essays tease out for the general reader the nuances of how such multicultural comics skillfully combine visual and verbal elements to tell richly compelling stories that gravitate around issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality within and outside the U.S. comic book industry. Among the explorations of mainstream and independent comic books are discussions of the work of Adrian Tomine, Grant Morrison, and Jessica Abel as well as Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s The Tomb of Dracula; Native American Anishinaabe-related comics; mixed-media forms such as Kerry James Marshall’s comic-book/community performance; DJ Spooky’s visual remix of classic film; the role of comics in India; and race in the early Underground Comix movement. The collection includes a “one-stop shop” for multicultural comic book resources, such as archives, websites, and scholarly books. Each of the essays shows in a systematic, clear, and precise way how multicultural comic books work in and of themselves and also how they are interconnected with a worldwide tradition of comic-book storytelling.
Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English at Ohio State University. He is the author and editor of eleven books, including Postethnic Narrative Criticism; the MLA–award winning Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas; Why the Humanities Matter; Your Brain on Latino Comics; and A User’s Guide to Postcolonial and Borderland Fiction.
(Hardcover, e-book, and preview available at the above link!)
In many ways, twentieth-century America was the land of superheroes and science fiction. From Superman and Batman to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, these pop-culture juggernauts, their “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men,” thrilled readers and audiences—and simultaneously embodied a host of our dreams and fears about modern life and the onrushing future.
But that’s just scratching the surface, says Jeffrey Kripal. In Mutants and Mystics, Kripal offers a brilliantly insightful account of how comic book heroes have helped their creators and fans alike explore and express a wealth of paranormal experiences ignored by mainstream science. Delving deeply into the work of major figures in the field—from Jack Kirby’s cosmic superhero sagas and Philip K. Dick’s futuristic head-trips to Alan Moore’s sex magic and Whitley Strieber’s communion with visitors—Kripal shows how creators turned to science fiction to convey the reality of the inexplicable and the paranormal they experienced in their lives. Expanded consciousness found its language in the metaphors of sci-fi—incredible powers, unprecedented mutations, time-loops and vast intergalactic intelligences—and the deeper influences of mythology and religion that these in turn drew from; the wildly creative work that followed caught the imaginations of millions. Moving deftly from Cold War science and Fredric Wertham’s anticomics crusade to gnostic revelation and alien abduction, Kripal spins out a hidden history of American culture, rich with mythical themes and shot through with an awareness that there are other realities far beyond our everyday understanding.
A bravura performance, beautifully illustrated in full color throughout and brimming over with incredible personal stories, Mutants and Mystics is that rarest of things: a book that is guaranteed to broaden—and maybe even blow—your mind.
Jeffrey J. Kripal is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University. He is the author of several books, including Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion and The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion.
(Trade paperback, preview strips available at the site above!)
The Bec Doux et ses amis series constitutes a rare example of weekly newspaper comics written in Cajun French and dedicated to the self-representation of an often overlooked and stereotyped ethnic minority. Co-written by two Cajun authors, Ken Meaux (art) and Earl Comeaux (text), it was published for the first time in The Kaplan Herald in August 1969 and ran on a weekly basis for over twenty years until July 1992, appearing in other southwestern Louisiana newspapers as well. It depicts, in the style of caricature, daily situations of Cajun life, staging the (mis)adventures and social commentary of the main character, Bec Doux, and his sidekick, Zirable, with regular appearances from a cast of other Cajun protagonists, including Chère (Bec Doux’s overweight and combative wife), Pas Belle (Zirable’s unattractive wife), and their many children.
Tout Bec Doux is the first complete collection of the comics and includes critical introductions by Fabrice Leroy and Barry Ancelet, two of Ken Meaux’s pre-Bec Doux graphic stories—Louisiana Folklore and The Cajuns—and an unseen Bec Doux et ses amis comic strip that publishers refused to print.
“The first ever graphic history from Oxford University Press”
(Trade paperback and previews available at the link above!)
Abina and the Important Men is a compelling and powerfully illustrated “graphic history” based on an 1876 court transcript of a West African woman named Abina, who was wrongfully enslaved and took her case to court. The book is a microhistory that does much more than simply depict an event in the past; it uses the power of illustration to convey important themes in world history and to reveal the processes by which history is made.
The story of Abina Mansah–a woman “without history” who was wrongfully enslaved, escaped to British-controlled territory, and then took her former master to court–takes place in the complex world of the Gold Coast at the onset of late nineteenth-century colonialism. Slavery becomes a contested ground, as cultural practices collide with an emerging wage economy and British officials turn a blind eye to the presence of underpaid domestic workers in the households of African merchants. The main scenes of the story take place in the courtroom, where Abina strives to convince a series of “important men”–a British judge, two Euro-African attorneys, a wealthy African country “gentleman,” and a jury of local leaders–that her rights matter. “Am I free?” Abina inquires. Throughout both the court case and the flashbacks that dramatically depict her life in servitude, these men strive to “silence” Abina and to impose their own understandings and meanings upon her. The story seems to conclude with the short-term success of the “important men,” as Abina loses her case. But it doesn’t end there: Abina is eventually redeemed. Her testimony is uncovered in the dusty archives by Trevor Getz and, through Liz Clarke’s illustrations, becomes a graphic history read by people around the world. In this way, the reader takes an active part in the story along with the illustrator, the author, and Abina herself.
Following the graphic history in Part I, Parts II-V provide detailed historical context for the story, a reading guide that reconstructs and deconstructs the methods used to interpret the story, and strategies for using Abina in various classroom settings.
Trevor R. Getz is Professor of History at San Francisco State University. He is the author of Modern Imperialism and Colonialism: A Global Perspective (2010) and Slavery and Reform in West Africa (2004). He is also the editor for the new Oxford University Press series, African World Histories, the first volumes of which will appear in 2012.
Liz Clarke is a professional artist and graphic designer based in Cape Town, South Africa.
(Hardcover, also distributed via University of Chicago Press.)
Although France has changed much in recent decades, colonial-era imagery continues to circulate widely in comics, in part because the colonial archives are easily accessible, and through the republication of colonial-era comics that are viewed as classics. The latter include the Tintin series of comic books, by the Belgian artist Herge, and the ‘Zig and Puce’ series by Alain Saint-Ogan, a Frenchman.
In this important new study Mark McKinney situates comics in debates about French colonialism, arguing that cartoonists still use representations of colonial history in their comics as a way of intervening in debates about contemporary France and its current relationships to its former colonies. McKinney argues that comics offer unique opportunities to both reproduce and thereby perpetuate colonial ideologies, images and discourses, as well as to deconstruct and contest them. The ways, and the degree to which, they do one or the other tell us a great deal about the heritage of imperialism and colonialism in French comics and society.
Mark McKinney is associate professor of French at Miami University and editor of the journal European Comic Art, also published by Liverpool University Press.
(Hardcover, also distributed via University of Chicago Press.)
We are all nostalgic about comics. Many of us still peek at them – some of us even collect them. British Comics: A Cultural History is the first historical study of these cherished British comic papers and magazines and their place in our society, from their origins in the late Victorian period to the present day.
Beginning with the first comic superstar, the likeable rogue Ally Sloper, cultural historian James Chapman traces the rise of comic publishing and comic reading in Britain. British Comics considers the major genres, including comics for girls, boys’ adventure, sports and war stories. The heyday of British comics came in the 1950s and ’60s when titles such as Eagle and School Friend sold nearly a million copies a week. A new breed of violent comics appeared in the 1970s, including the controversial Action and cult favourite 2000AD, and in the 1980s came the rise and fall of adult comics such as Warrior, Crisis, Deadline and Revolver. Chapman discusses alternative comics such as Viz, and analyses the work of contemporary British comic writers including Alan Moore, Ian Edginton, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis whose success has prompted a renaissance of British comics.
Examining both the creators of comics and their readers, Chapman argues that British comics have a distinctive identity in their own right that is different from the comic books of America, France and Japan. They have responded to cultural and ideological currents in British society, not only providing escapism for their readers but also offering a mirror of their times. An invaluable reference for all comic fans and collectors, British Comics showcases the major role they have played in the imaginative lives of British children, teenagers – and many grown-ups too.
James Chapman is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester. He is the author of many books, including Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1895 to the Present (Reaktion Books, 2004) and War and Film (Reaktion Books, 2008).
(Hardcover, paperback available; also distributed by the University of Chicago Press.)
This book is the first attempt to chart the history of art and its interaction with written language. Art, Word and Image examines the use of words (or language) in many genres of art – most often painting, but including prints, the book as art, sculpture, installation, and performance. This book asks what does it mean when a painting is ‘invaded’ by language? How do the two forms converse and combine, and what messages are intended for the viewer? In addition, other important themes that are also addressed include the naming or titling of paintings, the uses of narrative in art, and the literary connections and aspirations of artists.
Art, Word and Image is constructed around three wide-ranging essays by John Dixon Hunt, David Lomas and Michael Corris. These essays discuss the use and significance of words in art – from Classical Greece and Assyria, through to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, to modern times and today’s digital media, where the words and image question has become a central issue. The essays cover a variety of movements (Pre-Raphaelites, Cubists, Surrealists, and Lettrists, for example) and many artists, among them Duchamp, Picasso, Ernst, Twombly, Michaux, Warhol and Kruger. The book also includes ‘spotlight’ essays on artists whose work engages substantially with questions of word and image: Blake, Klee, Schwitters, Haack, Pettibon, McCahon and Walla.
This ground-breaking book will form a new framework for thinking about the interactions between word and image in the visual arts.
With contributions by Jeremy Adler, Stephen Barber, Rex Butler and Laurence Simmons, Michael Corris, John Dixon Hunt, Michael R. Leaman, David Lomas, Joseph Viscomi, Hamza Walker, Barbara Weyandt and Michael White.
John Dixon Hunt is Professor Emeritus of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania. He is editor of the journals Word and Image, and Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, and author of many books including Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay (Reaktion Books, 2008).
David Lomas is Reader in Art History at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, University of Manchester. He is the author of The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis and Subjectivity (2000).
Michael Corris is Professor of Art and Chair of the Division of Art at SMU, Dallas, Texas. He is the author of Ad Reinhardt (Reaktion, 2008).
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!