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Reading Between the Panels (Part I)

Steve Collins & Can Yalcinkaya

Comic books have been often treated derisively as a hybrid of art and literature, but ultimately a product of low culture. In the late 1940s, Dr Frederic Wertham warned that "Comics [is] death on reading" (Dorrell, Curtis, and Rampal 1995:226). Works by artists, writers and scholars including Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Will Brooker and Danny Fingeroth have forced a reappraisal of the space occupied by comic books: "A form that was once solely the province of children's entertainment now fills bookshelves with mature, brilliant works . . . Cartoonists' work is hung on the walls of galleries and museums" (Wolk 2007:3).

Over the last two decades comic book stories have diverged from hero-centric mythologies to explore the full gamut of human experience. Domestic violence was exposed in Watchmen. The notion of human (over superhuman) achievement was explored in The Dark Knight Returns. Teenage sexual anxiety is the subject of Black Hole whilst fundamentalism and terrorism is the focus of Johnny Jihad. Comics are an effective means of communicating various concepts to diverse audiences. Unlike moving images where the medium sets the pace of engagement between viewer and content, comics merge time and space allowing the reader to control the rate at which information is transmitted (McCloud 1993:100). "In a culture that has become the most visually oriented in the history of humankind, comics retain the original concept of storytelling and remain a potent force of information" (Jacobson and Colón, online). Indeed, as Sones states, "the potency of the picture story is not a matter of modern theory but of anciently established truth. Before man thought in words, he felt in pictures . . . pictures tell any story more effectively than words" (Sones, 1944:239).

The "growing up" of comics (Sabin, 1993:87) and the rising interest of the Media and Cultural Studies disciplines in the previously ignored areas of popular culture resulted in an increase in the number of comics-related academic and non-academic books, journals and magazines published around the world, as well as articles on the internet. Robert C. Harvey's The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History presents an historical overview of the comics medium with particular focus on how it works; Roger Sabin's Adult Comics: An Introduction looks at adult comics in Britain and the United States, paying attention to various aspects and genres of the medium, such as underground comix, graphic novels, censorship, women and adult comics, and industrial problems. John A. Lent, one of the contributors to this issue, has published extensively on comics, cartoons and animation, including comprehensive bibliographies of Comic Art in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA), a journal that has published articles on different aspects of comic art from 50 different countries.

The diverse forms of the comic book medium serve a myriad of functions which are explored through the articles presented in this issue, which aims to contribute to the academic studies on the comic book and graphic novel format.

Laura Perna's Reconstructing History questions Witek's observation that comics subversively challenge or reconfigure historical fact. Perna tests Witek in an examination of comic book and graphic novel portrayals of a continuing discourse of a post World War II struggle.

As James Zeigler states in Too Cruel: The Diseased Teens and Mean Bodies of Charles Burns's Black Hole, the kids who populate Burns' are "definitely not alright". Zeigler provides an insightful analysis of Black Hole's representation of suburban youth culture atrophied by the anxieties of emergent adulthood.

Michael Goodrum reveals a largely unknown aspect of the Man of Steel in The Superman Radio Show in 1946. Through an analysis of the Superman radio show between 16th April and 1st July 1946, Goodrum shows how Superman was employed  as an instrument for social change and a "super-New Dealer".

John A. Lent's Out of Africa: The Saga of Exiled Cartoonists in France provides an account of the situations of West African and North African cartoonists that are in exile in France mostly for political reasons. Supported by the author's interviews with the cartoonists, this article informs the reader about the types of narratives produced by these artists as well as the difficulties they have to face in exile.

Ahu Paköz reviews Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir Persepolis within the larger framework of Iranian Politics and Iranian Women's memoirs in A Reawakening of Memories in Comic Form: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Her article gives an insight to the place of women in Iranian culture and the experiences of Iranian expatriates through Satrapi's work.

In The Cultural Biographies and Social Lives of Manga: Lessons from the Mangaverse, Mio Bryce, Jason Davis and Christie Barber interrogate the absence of Manga from undergraduate textbooks for Media and Cultural Studies students, despite its success in transcending Japanese visual culture and becoming an international publishing success.

Peter Doyle's If Walls Could Talk: The Comic Strip in the Museum, discusses the implications of exhibiting comics and graphic novels in museums. Through case studies of two museum exhibitions of graphic novel storyboards, this article questions the relationship between the traditionally non-linear space of the museum and the linear nature of the comic art.


Dorrell, L., Curtis, D., and Rampal, K. (1995) 'Book worms without books? Students reading comic books in the school house'. Journal of Popular Culture, 29, 223-234.

Harvey, R. C. (1996). The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History.  United States of America: University of Mississippi Press. 

Jacobson, S. and Colón, E. 'A Statement on the 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation'. accessed 17th July 2008.

Lent, J. A. (1994a). Comic Books and Comic Strips in the United States: An International Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (1994b). Comic Art of Europe: An International Comprehensive Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (1996). Comic Art in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America: A Comprehensive International Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (ed). International Journal of Comic Art. (Since 1999).

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Sabin, R. (1993). Adult Comics: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

Sones, W. (1944). 'The comics and instructional method'. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18, 232-240.

Wolk, D. (2007) Reading Comics and What They Mean. United States of America: Da Capo Press.