By Benjamin J. Villarreal

While droves of comic book, movie, television, video game, and toy fans roam the San Diego Comic-Con floor booths and exhibit halls, university professors and students are upstairs tackling the big questions through their ongoing research. The Comics Arts Conference is an academic conference that runs in conjunction with both Comic-Con International and Wonder-Con.



Sunday’s Comics Art Conference panels included “Comics and the Punk Aesthetic,” a scholarly look at the ways in which comics and the punk movement have influenced one another. Christopher B. Field kicked things off by looking at Jack Kirby’s blue, Mohawk-wearing OMAC. Field described a Kirby ever with his finger on the pulse on rising trends, forecasting the popularity of punk and using it to shock viewers with his own superhero of counterculture, battling against capitalistic greed.

Michael MacBride (Minnesota State University) studies underground comix and punk’s obsession with phalluses, both symbolic and actual, a relationship that seemed to encourage one another. Despite these mediums envelope-pushing (which peaked with 74 penises and 34 phallic objects in the pages of “Binky Brown”), MacBride asks, “Why isn’t anyone studying this?”

Christopher Douglas from Southern Illinois University discussed the ways in which the 1988 Akira film simultaneously featured bosozoku motorcycle gang members (prevalent in Japan’s own counterculture movement) as heroes fighting for social responsibility.


Finally, Keegan Lannon of Aberystwyth University [hey! I was at University with him! – Steve] shared his research into the ways Grant Morrison seems to have been influenced by the punk lifestyle in his series The Invisibles. In many ways, Lannon argues, The Invisibles appears to be a “punk manifesto,” featuring protagonists given the choice to fight the status quo or become sheep. And while this panel does not attempt to prove a direct correlation between punk and comics, the overlap in themes and aesthetics between the two suggests that this area of research can merit a deeper understanding of counterculture mediums.


Benjamin J. Villarreal is a Doctoral Candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, and an Instructor of English at Kingsborough Community College. Read more of his work at


  1. sigh
    as one of (from what i can tell) a small number of internet nerds who knows punk as well as he knows comics, i am not surprised this article doesnt mention anything like DIY or punk kids making comics or anything of note…then again, i have learned that often when ‘the punk aesthetic’ is mentioned its just going to be about fashion from 30+ years ago.

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