Confession: I did not know the name of the editor of the University Press of Mississippi’s excellent line of books about comics—spanning scholarly works on Chris Ware, Alan Moore, Osamu Tezuka and everyone in between—but his name is Walter Biggins and now he’s leaving. But luckily Jeet Heer, who wrote several books for the line, catches up with him first —hopefully USM’s strong comics list will continue:
In terms of UPM’s line, it’s a great question. When we began publishing in comics studies, over 20 years ago, the emphasis was clearly biographical and art-historical–i.e., placing the cartoonists and their work in socio-historical context. That’s probably because that largely hadn’t been done, and thus there was a need to establish a lineage, a tradition of comics that interacted with, and departed from, the worlds of literature and “high” art. Even in the “Great Comics Artists” series that I established, the monographs therein have a strong element of critical biography.
What has changed under my tenure is twofold. First, I think I’ve placed a stronger emphasis on comics theory and grammar–i.e., “What is a comic, exactly?” “What are its core elements, and the ‘rules’ for using them?” “What is comics as a form, and how is that distinct from other art forms, including those (literature and painting) with which it is forever linked?” My acquisitions have been largely concerned as much with global issues about comics–its production, its form, its grammar, and the discourse around all this–as they are about specific comics and cartoonists. This theoretical bent is in keeping with a more European school of comics criticism, which is more concerned with form than with history. This is all very odd to me, by the way, as I have absolutely no formal training in critical theory and what I know of it has been gleaned from my readings for the press and from, of course, MAD magazine. Anyway, Thierry Groensteen’s Comics and Narration, Jean-Paul Gabilliet’s Of Comics and Men, Hannah Miodrag’s forthcoming Comics and Language, and Elisabeth El Refaie’s Autobiographical Comics are all (pardon the pun) big-picture, macroscopic books rather than close analyses of a single cartoonist or set of works.