The Architecture in Comics by Renata Rafaela Pascoal

At first sight, the relationship that architecture has with comics seems to be obvious and inarguable. According to Frank Lloyd Wright ‘architecture is life; or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived’ (Baker 2008, 117).

As comics is a medium that usually portrays human life through its characters, the representation of architecture will help the reader/viewer to understand the characteristics of the characters, since architecture is an interface created by Man to make the world fit to his needs and routines. However, the relationship that architecture has with comics is not limited to obvious representations of it in comics; it is also present in depictions of its creative process and even in the similarity between the experiences of the comics reader and the user of architecture. According to Buchet (2013), the architect can be compared to a strip cartoonist: when he draws a museum or even an airport terminal, there is an implicit narrative that the visitor reads when attending these places.

In this article I will enumerate four instances where architecture is present in comics and explain the different scopes and effects of its presence.

1. Comics where architecture is the main subject and the main reason for their creation.

In this case, comics is the chosen medium to communicate ideas of architectural projects and theory of architecture to a wide-ranging audience, composed of specialists and non-specialists. The choice of the comics language to communicate architectural ideas is related to its combination of images and words, which is common to architectural drawings. According to Syma and Weiner (2013): ‘visual narratives like comics and graphic novels show that they hold possibilities for communication that are unique, exactly because they combine the regimens of art and literature’ (187). The image in comics summarizes a description that would be extensive if it was written in other media and according to Scalera (2011, 74), ‘words are placed strategically and artistically to complement and guide the flow of the artwork’.

But what makes comics special relative to the technical drawings of architecture are the sequentiality that allows the reader/viewer to see the contiguous panels almost simultaneously with the vignette that is being read and the possibility for the reader/viewer to control the speed of the reading (and the knowledge apprehension). If architectural drawings are organized by scale, from the largest to the smallest, the vignettes in comics are organized by time. As such, comics could be a great media to understand the partial chronologies that are implemented in any plan (Bartual 2013) because it allows the creator to show the interaction that inhabitants have with the drawn architecture by time sequence. In architectural plans and sections, the functions of the drawn spaces seem to be abstract areas at the first glance.

Bjarke Ingels, author of the archicomic Yes is More confessed that before applying for architecture he wanted to be a comic artist. Apart from his assumed passion for comics, he chose comics as a medium to communicate some of his architectural projects because rather than showing the final results, the Bjarke Ingels Group studio ‘wanted to show the concerns and demands, conflicts and contradictions that shape our cities and buildings into what they are.’ [1]

Figure 1: Pages 68 from the book Yes is More. A sequence of axonometries in the top of the page shows the different stages of the building volume-shapes until reaching its final shape.  Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

Figure 1: Pages 68 from the book Yes is More. A sequence of axonometries in the top of the page shows the different stages of the building volume-shapes until reaching its final shape.
Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

During the book, architecture is shown by schemes, technical drawings, models, photos and renders supported by text that links these images. The book consists essentially of an illustrated monologue addressed to the readers, in which the architect is the narrator and sometimes a character. The texts from Yes is More do not depend on the images to be understood, unlike its images which depend on the text to make sense and add new architectural information to them.

The biggest part of the narrative happens in flash-back; project decisions that were taken during the architectural conception are explained by the architect in diegetic time, however, the images that are exhibited in the book were produced during the project´s development process, that is, in the past. As such, the text of the book obeys a time sequence that is typical for comics; however images are shown just to illustrate the projects that are described in the text. For this reason, the idea developed by McCloud (1994, 100) that time and space in comics are one and the same is not applicable to this case.

As happens with photography, the abundant use of realistic renders produced in computer software to show the created spaces in perspective, beyond abolishing the authors’ emotions, experiences and the characterization that the space could have if it was inhabited also abolishes the time duration that McCloud (1994, 102) refers to in Understanding Comics, conferring the idea of eternity upon the depicted architecture. According to Hatfield (2005, 52), synchronism, in which a single panel represents a sequence of events occurring at different “times”, offers images that can make sense only within a static medium. This sequence of events to which Hatfield refers is absent in these architectural renders because there is a lack of motion lines and other ideographic shorthand to denote movement.

Figure 2: Page 20 from the book Yes is More. This page shows the environment lived in the architectural design studio. Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

Figure 2: Page 20 from the book Yes is More. This page shows the environment lived in the architectural design studio. Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

However, these images belong to a logic defined by the architect to help the reader to build in their mind a model of the project through which he can understand the volume, the colors and the main concept of the project. Actually, this strategy used by Ingels is similar to a usual conversation between the architect and his client.

In this specific case we can conclude that comics as a medium was adapted to serve the architect´s goals and this justifies why the author uses the term “Archicomic” to differentiate his book from conventional comics. After reading this book, we feel that the potentialities that comics has to communicate were not fully explored.

More than explaining the project´s development process, comics could be used to forecast the interaction that the inhabitants will have in the created architectures by presenting narratives where the inhabitants are the main characters. However the methodology used here, collecting images that were created during the project´s development and articulating them with the text, does not allow Ingels to do that. In a comic book that has as the main scope explaining architectural projects we could expect that the drawn scenario representing the created spaces would be the main element responsible to simulate sequentiality, similarly to the narrative time in films (Harvey 1996, 176), but this does not happen here.

However the book also explains efficiently the project choices by sequences of axonometries [2] that show the transformations of the volumes during the project, the environment lived in the studio during the project and even the constraints of all architectural stages.[3] Such benefits can be considered a great argument for the creation of new archicomics.

Figure 3: Pages 26 and 27 from the book Yes is More. Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

Figure 3: Pages 26 and 27 from the book Yes is More. Credits: Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Used with permission from BIG.

2. Comics whose authors use the project based methodology of architecture to create fictional scenarios that fit to the actions and characteristics of the characters.

Some comics’ authors that create science fiction series have a creative attitude that is similar to that of architects: they select and discard the existing things to create something new. Consequently, the created architecture that belongs to these scenarios is the sum of elements from architectures that already exist in reality.

The project methodology includes scientific research, building models of the created cities and drawing subtitled plans and sections of the buildings that contribute to the coherence and sequentiality of the represented diegetic scenario and to the naturalness of the interaction of the characters in the scenario. As the authors have the freedom to create a new architecture, they often use it as a metaphor to characterize a society, a regime, etc. (Lefévre, 157). Sometimes these comics also work as myths that are created to stimulate interventions in the contexts where they were created. According to Georges Sorel, “we act politically according to myths of the future which may never materialize literally, but which motivate us nonetheless into productive action”. (Birenbaum 1988, 188) In the series Le Cycle de Cyann by Bourgeon and Lacroix, a new universe was created. Fortunately, the created places are not comparable with the real ones; however it is a representation of how our world could be in the future if we do not try to change it.

For example Marcade, from the book Les Couleurs de Marcade, is a capitalist city where even the right to privacy is paid for and consequently all human actions are supervised. The people pretend to conform to this situation; however they do not feel comfortable with the public exposure of their intimate lives. In terms of its architecture, the city is built on a limited platform above the soil that is supported by pillars. Below the platform, a set of clouds covers the soil, on which people do not know what happens.

This architectural attitude is reminiscent of the city upon columns, created by Eugéne Hénard (a visionary urbanist) and one of the five points for a modernist architecture, enumerated by Le Corbusier. For Le Corbusier, beyond the use of pilotis [4] to liberate the soil from construction and allow the free circulation of people and vehicles, modernist architecture should have free design of the ground plan, horizontal windows, free design of the façade and roof garden. If pilotis were used by Corbusier to allow the freedom of movements, in Marcade they are used to trap people in a limited area.

The use of pillars in buildings confirms that the created planets in the series have an identical gravitational force to Earth. The science fiction essence of the series is mainly given by the clothes and bizarre hairstyle fashion, the animals’ bodies (but not their vital systems), the different names given to things, the vehicles and the shape of the buildings. According to Bourgeon, the scenario should be narrative and this example proves it very well [5], because it helps us to understand the regimen of Marcade and its inhabitants´ behaviors.

For the reader/viewer that certainly has experienced better places to live, he can easily speculate that the soil represents a utopian place in which all the Marcade inhabitants would wish to live if they knew of its existence and the clouds an element that serves to instill fear in people and that they wish to avoid. From this point of view, the architecture in this study case does not serve to protect its inhabitants as it should do in reality and as its inhabitants think: architecture is no more than another instrument created by someone who wants to isolate people from the rest of the world to control them and impose a dictatorship.

This importance given to the scenario is possibly influenced by Bourgeon’s previous creation of historic novels like Les passagers du Vent, where the accuracy and realism of the scenario make the reader understand that the narrative is about the transatlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century. His previous experience in creating historic novels made him understand that a logical and accurate representation of the scenario is indispensible to make the narrative credible, independently of the series´ genre. If in historical novels a previous work of research is required to have sufficient elements to represent the scenario coherently, in science-fiction the elements used to support the representations of the scenarios need to be created. Bourgeon and Lacroix chose to materialize the created cities by constructing models to facilitate the visualization of the created scenarios.

Despite the attention given to making the characters’ actions and proportions correspond to the created scenarios and the fact that the newly created objects have similar characteristics to the real ones, they are detached from reality by the new designations attributed to things.This detachment obliged the authors to create a special book which is a compilation of all research work and a glossary that is intended for use by the readers to facilitate their reading process by explaining the fictional elements and comparing them with the real ones.

The places which were represented in this study case are mostly dystopian. Dystopias can only be understood as such if the reader-viewer has ideas of utopias. In response to the dystopias presented in comics, the reader/viewer generates a mental construction of an ideal place, to escape from these represented spaces.

3. Architecture in comics as a representation of the reality, framing the narrative in a certain real spatio-temporal context.

In some series, the representation of real architecture in comics can assume a pedagogical function, allowing the reader/viewer to acquire knowledge from architectural history, even if he does not have intentions to learn. Great examples of such titles can be found in the Les aventures d´Alix [6] and Vasco [7] series, where architectural representations are accurate and texts are sometimes extensive and very informative about the historical facts. However, sometimes the pedagogical role is simply to prompt the reader/viewer to research more widely about architecture, even if the architecture represented in the scenarios has some inaccuracies and indicates a lack of knowledge. Asterix, in the genre of humor, is a great example of this.

In the first example, authors like Jacques Martin and Gilles Chaillet must undertake exhaustive research that includes travelling to the represented places and the study of some specialized bibliography. When the represented places are currently in ruins, they are reconstructed in their representations as if they were inhabited, and sometimes the images that the comics’ authors create of these buildings in ruins are the only existing representations of those places.

According to Desrochers (2006, 189) westerners’ perceptions of ruins have changed since the Second World War, and the worsening of environmental problems became a subject of appropriation instead of an enchanted memory from a distant culture. But what is the enchanted memory to which Desrochers refers? Westerners have not lived in the period when the buildings were built: the memories are limited to those which historians have imagined and have articulated based on the traces of which they have no memory. The authors of comics in the historical genre, as well as historians, interact in the process of constructing memories, by the chaining together of the images and the narrative.

Apart from the representation of the unknown, according to Lefévre (2009, 157) some authors ‘use stereotypical icons (like the Statue of Liberty for New York or the pyramids for Egypt) because such famous buildings or monuments can be easily recognized by the readers.’ By recognizing these stereotypical elements, the reader/viewer also assumes that the narrative happens in the city where these icons belong in the reality, even if there are other elements that were created by the author.

The representation of old buildings in comics can also affirm desire on the part of the author to generate respect for these buildings and is not necessarily used to build new patrimony or to give an opinion about ancient architecture and urbanism. As we can see, the representation of architecture from the past could have a pedagogical role, but it also could communicate the author´s desire for an intervention in the views of the audience.

4. Authors that avoid the representation of architecture in comics.

When spatio-temporal coordinates are not needed to understand the narrative the absence of architecture may emphasize the characters’ actions. Some funny comic strips like Peanuts or Garfield invest in minimal or absent architecture, because it does not add relevant information to the narratives. (Lefévre 2009, 157)

However when the absence of architecture occurs in a scenario that aims to exist as an empty place, without an adaptation to Man, and the main characters are humans, the role of architecture should be more important than it seems at first glance. Man has a symbiotic relationship with architecture: Man needs architecture to protect him; however architecture needs Man to be built and to acquire history. When architecture is absent, that means that there is no history of Man in the place and a human visitor should feel lost in this place.

In the Le monde d´ edena series by Moebius, these kinds of scenarios are very frequent. In the second book of the series, Les Jardins d´ edena, the main characters are sent to a garden that is similar to the Christian Garden of Eden, something that is alluded to by the book’s name. This garden has sufficient resources to guarantee the inhabitants´ subsistence, however as the characters always lived in a world where all is transformed to fit to them, even the food, the characters feel uncomfortable in this place. This episode makes us think about the role of architecture in our lives and how we are currently dependent on it.

As the series also occurs in a series of dream stages, the occasional absence of architecture could be related to the contrast between the immateriality and abstraction of the dreams with the rigidity and materiality of the architecture. As such, we can think about the representation of architecture in comics as a way to make a narrative more plausible and grounded in reality.

*             *             *

Having analyzed four instances where architecture is present in comics, we may conclude that architecture is present in comics as it is present in reality. When it does not appear, the reader finds its absence strange because the actions of the real people and the characters are adapted to the space they are attending, just as space is created and adapted to the actions of Man. This justifies the choice of using the same methodology that is used in architectural projects to create scenarios for science fiction comic books.

As comics are usually composed of panels that frame characters actions and architecture frames human actions, the choice of comics as a medium to explain architectural projects has some potentialities that seem not to have been fully explored yet. However, examples like Yes is More have some strong points that may indicate directions for further exploration in future attempts.


‘Bjarke Ingels’ : The official site of Denmark [Accessed 12th December, 2013] URL

Baker, W., 2008. Architectural Excellence in a Diverse World Culture. Victoria: Images Publishing.

Bartual, Roberto. ‘Architecture and comics: Jimenez Lai’s Citizens of No Place’ The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. [Accessed 15th November, 2013] URL

Birenbaum, H., 1988. Myth and Mind. University Press of America.

Bourgeon, F. and Lacroix, C., 1997. La Clédes Confins.Bruxelas : Casterman.

Bourgeon, F. and Lacroix, C., 2007. Lescouleurs de Marcade.Porto: Asa.

Buchet, Alex. ‘Strange Windows: Draw Buildings, Build Drawings (part 1)’ The Hooded Utilitarian : A pundit in every panopticon. [Accessed 15th November, 2013] URL

Choay, F., 2002. O urbanismo: utopias e realidades: uma antologia. São Paulo : Editora perspectiva.

Costin, Aaron. ‘Reading Drawings: Architecture and Comics’ The Hooded Utilitarian : A pundit in every panopticon. [Accessed 15th November, 2013] URL

Harvey, R., 1996. The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Haslé, Brieg. ‘Entretien avec François Bourgeon’ [Accessed 14th December, 2013] URL

Hatfield, C., 2005. Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.

Hockings, P., 2009. Principles of Visual Anthropology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Ingels, B., 2009.Yes is more : An archicomic on architectural evolution. Köln : Taschen.

Lefévre, P., 2009. The Construction of Space in Comics. In: Heer, J. and Worcester, K. A Comics Studies Reader. Mississipi: University Press of Mississippi,157-162.

Mackay, J. and Sirrup, D., 2013.Tribal Fantasies: Native Americans in the European Imaginary, 1900-2010. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Madge, J. and Peckham, A., 2006. Narrating Architecture: A Retrospective Anthology. New York: Routledge.

McCloud, S., 1994.Understanding Comics : The invisible art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Moebius, 1992.O mundo de Edena: os jardins de Edena. Lisboa : Meribérica-Liber.

Scalera, B., 2011. Creating Comics from Start to Finish: Top Pros Reveal the Complete Creative Process. Ohio: Impact.

Syma,C and Weiner, R., 2013. Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom: Essays on the Educational Power of Sequential Art. Jefferson: McFarland.

Renata Rafaela Pascoal holds a MA in Architecture from the Universidade de Coimbra. She has presented papers at several international conferences as an independent researcher, and her field of interest in research includes comics, architecture, videogames and pedagogy. Apart from research, she also works as an illustrator, graphic/web designer and animator. For more information, you can visit her website at

[1] Information obtained through e-mail interview.

[2] Similarly to perspective, axonometries are projections that simulate three dimensionality through a bi-dimensional drawing. Axonometries differ from perspective in its method of construction: if perspectives are constructed through one or more vanishing points that belongs to the same horizon line; the visual construction rays in axonometries are parallel, vanishing to no point or to a point located infinitely far away.

[3] Constraints are considered to be all the factors that obligate the architect to make certain options during the project. The program, the legislation, the place on which the building will be built (its dimensions, inclination, orientation, etc,..), the available budget, the costumes, etc. are a few examples of these constraints.

[4] Pilotis are supports of reinforced concrete such as columns and pillars that are used in the ground level, allowing the use of this level for circulation, gardens and other uses.

[5] Interview made by Pierre Dharréville and available at

[6] Les Aventures d´Alix is a French series created by Jacques Martin (1921-2010). According to Miller (2007, 19), this author used the clear line style from the École de Bruxelles, similarly to well-known authors like Hergé and E.P.Jacobs.

[7] Vasco is a French series created by Gilles Chaillet (1946-2011), one of the disciples of Jacques Martin. He also drew two albums from the series Les Voyages d´Alix that was created by Martin.

1 Comment

Posted by on 2015/01/23 in Guest Writers


Manga Studies #6: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 2: The Historiographic Basis of Manga Formalism by Nicholas Theisen

In part one, I showed how the manga artist Tezuka Osamu and his body of work function as more than a mere object of analysis within manga studies but as a totalizing discourse upon which a number of larger critical concerns are projected. This has the rather odd effect of rendering “Tezuka” a milieu which can absorb even those critiques which seek to overcome a Tezuka-centric purview as to what manga might be in both historical and formal terms. I used the critical writings of Takeuchi Osamu not to evaluate them as such but to demonstrate the discursive mechanics of this totalizing absorption. In part two below, I will once again use Takeuchi’s critical oeuvre to examine, in addition to how the critic’s own personal predilections can become subsumed into seemingly objective claims, the assumptions underlying manga formalism: how manga fit with other media, how manga is understood as children’s literature, and how manga is treated as, if not entirely presumed to be, a predominantly postwar phenomenon.

Jaqueline Berndt, in her essay, “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” identifies four generations of manga studies in Japan. The first, emerging in the early 1960s, is identified with the journal Shisō no kagaku (The Science of Thought), and the second, from the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, with the journal Mangashugi (Manga-ism). Both of these generations were largely concerned with manga as a sociological phenomenon. The first sharp turn in manga studies discourse came with the third generation, the so-called “first person narrators” (boku-gatari) for whom manga critique was not only a function of one’s subjective, emotional response to comic reading but, as “reader” rather than “scholar,” the manga critic “functioned as an arbiter of taste and a means for the fan community’s self-affirmation.”[1] The turn away from a sociographic approach to the study of manga was, then, commensurate with an increased parochialism, wherein the values of a limited, fannish readership were held to be the ideal. This turn, while problematic, was nevertheless liberating for women writing about shōjo manga, which in the 1970s and 1980s was still widely denigrated.

Takeuchi most properly belongs to the fourth generation, emerging in the 1990s, which she identifies with Yomota Inuhiko and Natsume Fusanosuke, who seemed to eschew the subjective criticism of the previous generation as well as the sociologically oriented criticism of even earlier ones in favor of semiotics or, more specifically, manga hyōgen/manga expression: “[Yomota’s and Natsume’s] semiotic approach was intended to claim manga as an autonomous medium by explicating its unique means of expression from an internal perspective.”[2] I say “seemed to eschew,” because while the study of manga expression seeks to make objective claims about how manga are put together, those claims quite often betray their origins in the critic’s personal experiences. For instance, I noted in part one how Takeuchi set his own experiences reading Tezuka’s manga as a child against the “fashionable” trends of the 1960s and ‘70s in order to make the rather bald assertion that Tezuka lay at the heart of it all as well as how Natsume, thinking back on his earliest work, could see that it stemmed from his own particular interests and was, as such, rather limited.

The particular kind of manga formalism that followed from the more subjective criticism that preceded it did not entirely leave the “first-person narrators” behind. In fact, the study of manga expression, despite its objective pretensions, is profoundly subjective, though in ways that are not immediately apparent. What is not always clear and yet must be kept in mind is that formalist approaches, while broadly empirical, are not strictly descriptive—rather, something is first presumed to be manga (even while excluding a number of textual artifacts that go by that designation), that “something” is broken down into structural components, and then a formal theory based on those components is used as a lens to look back on manga in toto.[3] One only ever gets the occasional glimpse of what manga is presumed to be, though in Takeuchi’s critical corpus these manga presumptions are somewhat more common and easier to identify.

For Takeuchi, the study of manga expression is but one facet of the study of a much broader range of means of visual [re]presentation in all popular media. He identifies both Natsume and Yomota as initiators of the study of manga expression, but then almost immediately turns the discussion to how he believes it to be much older than the work of those two foundational critics. He locates manga hyōgen (i.e. manga expression) within what he refers to simply as hyōgen (i.e. expression/presentation), by which he appears to mean all visual expression in media, thereby combining the visual aesthetics of forms as disparate as film and children’s picture books (ehon) under one large hyōgen umbrella.[4] This understanding of manga among other media goes all the way back to the beginning of his career as a manga scholar/critic, 1989’s Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature), and is central both to his own manga formalism and to the place the study of manga expression occupies within the history of manga studies. It is for this latter reason especially that I have preferred the work of Takeuchi in examining how manga formalism fits within a larger discourse to Yomota or Natsume, even though those two are, arguably, far more influential. It is in Takeuchi’s broader purview that the historiographic assumptions underlying manga formalism, even in those works for which the history of manga seems not to be a concern, is revealingly laid bare. Takeuchi himself does not explicitly point to these assumptions, but because his critical works have been directed both toward the history of manga and occasionally toward the history or, at least, important moments within the ongoing discourse of manga studies, we can see both how certain presumptions concerning what manga is (i.e. its formal properties) are embedded in historiographic treatments as well as how those histories inform what kinds of manga (and, in Takeuchi’s case especially, what kinds of graphic narrative generally) are chosen as the most common object of seemingly objective formal analysis.

In his overview of the study of manga history,[5] Miyamoto Hirohito identifies two rather sweeping though nonetheless useful categories of manga historiography: one which regards manga history as going back to the 12th century illustrated scrolls (emakimono) Chōjū jinbutstu giga, a common locus for the “origins” of manga, and one which takes the end of World War II as the proper point of departure for manga history.[6] Of these two categories, Takeuchi is placed quite rightly in the latter, especially given the title of his most well-known historiographic work, Sengo manga no 50nen-shi (50 Year History of Postwar Manga), published in 1995, which clearly takes the year 1945 as a point of demarcation. These groupings are, moreover, not limited to Japanese language manga studies discourse. Both Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (published in 2004) and Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga take the postwar era as the proper historical locus for the study of manga, the latter going so far as to claim manga, rather dismissively, to be a “strikingly contemporary phenomenon,”[7] with little in the way of explanation as to what that might mean.

The “postwar,” by which is meant not just the immediate postwar period but every year since the end of World War II, works well enough as a historical frame of reference, precisely because the history of modern Japan, in Japanese language discourse especially, is so pervasively, though not universally, divided in two: one period beginning roughly from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and a second from the Allied occupation in 1945. The postwar as a historiographic frame is not limited to formalist approaches. Tsurumi Shunsuke’s Manga no sengo shisō (Thoughts on Manga in the Postwar) considers the impact of a number of postwar manga artists, but his formal considerations, such as they are, appear in the context of a long historical treatment of doodles (rakugaki) in Japan.[8] Moreover, none of the formalists identified here—Natsume, Yomota, or Takeuchi—simply disregard the significance of pre-war manga. Takeuchi’s Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: from Rakuten to Tezuka), for instance, closely examines a number of manga artists from this period. Rather, postwar manga is seen as initiating a distinct shift, a novel mode of expression that prewar manga fails to fully encapsulate. This stylistic shift is commensurate with the cultural and political upheaval in Japanese society under the Allied occupation and subsequent economic boom. Arguably more than any other nation, Japan was radically transformed at the end of war with the emperor’s public rejection of his “divinity,” the occupation, the rewriting of the Japanese constitution under Allied pressure, the dissolution of the army, the restructuring of the Japanese economy, and the sudden influx of foreign media after years of privation.

A number of disparate frames of reference—manga as children’s culture, manga expression as media expression, and manga as postwar phenomenon (despite continuities with the prewar/wartime[9])—come together in the opening of the first chapter of Takeuchi’s 50 Year History of Postwar Manga. He begins with the political upheavals of 1945 and continues with the sudden change in lifestyle of the Japanese populace as a result of American films and fashion trends. From there, Takeuchi turns to the subject of his book, so-called “story manga” (i.e. long form[10] narrative manga), about which one might claim a “new style of expression” (atarashii stairu no hyōgen), yet Takeuchi himself considers matters to be not so clear cut. Manga is, for him, a creature of mass media, so his first entrée into discussing manga in the postwar concerns itself less with form (i.e. panels, speech balloons, figures, etc.) than with format. The distinction between form and format here is a crude one but is meant to show how Takeuchi’s formalism is not merely a function of what one sees on any given page but also of the printed format in which it appears, be it book or magazine or whatever.

This, then, leads him into a discussion of akahon, “red books” so called for their predominantly red covers. Unlike the hardbound volumes of popular pre- and postwar manga series, akahon in many ways more closely resembled magazines without actually being so, staple-bound newsprint with cardstock covers, selling for as little as five yen, a price suitable for purchase by and for children.[11] In the postwar era, as Ryan Holmberg notes, “[p]hysically and stylistically, they [were] clearly products of an age of want. They [were] flimsier, sometimes due to lack of high-grade paper and printing facilities after the war, sometimes from simple cost-cutting. The anything-goes energy of the age fueled many artistic innovations, some lost to history, others becoming the foundation stones of story-telling in postwar manga.” Despite going back long before, the akahon of the postwar are, for both Takeuchi and Holmberg, creatures of a very particular time and place, whose innovations become foundational for all manga to follow. The sense that is given, then, is not that manga did not exist in this prewar era but rather that those manga are largely other to what we see nowadays.

This focus on print media and, more specifically, print media for children makes sense of a number of peculiar inclusions and exclusions in Takeuchi’s larger critical practice. For instance, the Gendai manga hakubutsukan, 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga, 1945-2005), which Takeuchi edited along with Yonezawa Yoshihiro and Yamada Tomoko, omits a number of prominent comic strip (koma manga) artists (Hasegawa Machiko, the creator of Sazae-san, being the most glaring omission) yet includes a number of highly regarded artists/writers of emonogatari (illustrated stories). The inclusion of illustrated stories alongside the rather spare inclusion of comic strips can be accounted for somewhat by the fact that the manga magazines of the midcentury were far more mixed than the monthly and weekly magazines of today. Those magazines contained both manga and emonogatari in addition to puzzles, game boards, glossy photos, and a number of other visual media. Moreover, the koma manga that Takeuchi et al. do include are those that are found in these mixed media periodicals for children. Those they do not include, for the most part, are to be found outside them in newspapers and other periodical media aimed at, if not an exclusively adult, then a general audience.

Thus, what is regarded as manga in the first place, manga at all, as far as Takeuchi is concerned, stems from illustrated narratives produced for children in the immediate postwar. This presumption becomes the object of formal analysis, and the principles derived therefrom become the frame of reference for examining manga from all time periods. How this retrospection works can be seen in how Takeuchi, in Giants of Children’s Manga, characterizes Kitazawa Rakuten’s Chame manga as “for children,” despite the fact that many of the periodicals in which those strips appeared, Tokyo Puck, for instance, could not be meaningfully understood as being exclusively for a younger audience.[12] According to this purview, then, which makes invisible much of the manga “for adults” (or for a general audience) that preceded the war and persisted thereafter, the juvenilia of postwar manga print media grows into the more adolescent and young adult-oriented manga of the late 1950s and ‘60s and so forth and so forth in an easily digestible myth of progress. If permitted to speculate, I would say this is because, as I have argued elsewhere, shōnen manga of the postwar function, in practice if not in intent, as generic rather than as tailored to a certain gender and age demographic. According to this somewhat concealed logic, then, manga “for children” provide the base structure from which later manga presumably emerge.


Berndt, Jaqueline, 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in MacWilliams, Mark W. ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 295-334.

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design.

Groensteen, Thierry, 1991. L’univers des mangas: Une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise (The Universe of Manga: An Introduction to Japanese Comics). Tournai: Casterman.

Holmberg, Ryan.

— 2012. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga” in The Comics Journal, January 5, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

— 2012. “Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The case of New Treasure Island” in The Comics Journal, October 1, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Itō, Gō, 2005. Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta manga hyōgenron e (Tezuka is Dead: Toward an Enlightened Theory of Manga Expression). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

Kinsella, Sharon, 2000. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Lamarre, Thomas, 2010. “Speciesism, Part II: Tezuka Osamu and the Multispecies Ideal” in Mechademia vol. 5: Fanthropologies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 51-85.

McCarthy, Helen, 2009. The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. New York: Abrams ComicArts.

McCloud, Scott, 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Miyamoto, Hirohito, 2009. “Rekishi kenkyū” in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 96-101.

Nakano, Haruyuki, 2007. Nazo no mangaka Sakai Shichima: “Shintakarajima” densetsu no hikari to kage (The Mysterious Manga Artist Sakai Shichima: The Light and Shadow of the Legend of “New Treasure Island”). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Natsume, Fusanosuke.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?). Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

— 2013. “Where is Tezuka?: A Theory of Manga Expression” trans. Matthew Young in Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 155-171.

Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō.

Ōtsuka, Eiji, 2013. Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Kadokawa Sōsho.

Schodt, Frederik L., 1983. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kondansha International.

Suzuki, CJ. “Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga” in Comics Forum, August 11, 2014. Accessed August 17, 2014,

Takeuchi, Osamu.

— 1989. Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature). Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu-ron (On Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

— 1995. Sengo manga 50nen-shi (Fifty Year History of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 1995. Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: From Rakuten to Tezuka). Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō.

— 2005. Manga hyōgen-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to the Study of Manga Expression). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 2009. “Manga kenkyū no ayumi” (“A Walk Through Manga Studies”) in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 248-257.

Takeuchi, Osamu and Koyama Masahiro, eds., 2006. Anime e no hen’yō: gensaku to anime to no bimyō na kankei (Adaptation to Anime: The Subtle Relationship Between Anime and Original). Tokyo: Gendai Shokan.

Takeuchi, Osamu, Yonezawa Yoshihiro, and Yamada Tomoko, eds., 2006. Gendai manga hakubutsukan 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga 1945-2005). Tokyo: Shōgakkan.

Theisen, Nicholas, 2013. “13a. The Problematic Gendering of Shōnen Manga” in What is Manga?, May 27, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Tsurumi, Shunsuke, 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite (As a Manga Reader…). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Yomota, Inuhiko, 1994. Manga genron (Principles of Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Nicholas Theisen is a research fellow with the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Iowa. His research is interested broadly with textual and formalist issues in poetry, popular music, and comics, and he has written articles on the comics of Dave Sim, Tezuka Osamu, and Miyazaki Hayao. He is currently at work completing a book project which reconfigures comics as a hermeneutic practice rather than as a visual form. He is also the creator of the blog What is Manga?

[1] Berndt, 303-304.

[2] ibid., 304.

[3] Though I have limited myself to a discussion of manga, one could easily substitute each instance of the word “manga” in this paragraph with the words “comics” or “comic,” and the argument would largely remain the same.

[4] Takeuchi, “Manga kenkyū no ayumi,” 250-251.

[5] Miyamoto, 96-7.

[6] Miyamoto’s purpose in identifying these two camps, it should be noted, is to critique them and to show how treating manga as a postwar or as a transhistorical phenomenon are both problematic.

[7] Kinsella, 19.

[8] “Comics [manga] have their origins in doodles, and in the modern day comics are one source of doodles.” Tsurumi, 89.

[9] Ōtsuka Eiji’s Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga), for example, attempts to disrupt the convenient distinction between pre- and post-war and tries, to a limited degree, to re-assert continuity.

[10] “Story manga” (sutorii manga) is a relatively recent term, and “long form” here is a rendering of chōhen, a term actually used in the immediate postwar period.

[11] Exchange rates fluctuated wildly during the occupation, but in 1949 the rate was fixed at 360 yen to the US dollar, making five yen roughly equivalent to the purchasing power of a single US penny.

[12] What is more, the trajectory of Giants is one meant to arrive at Tezuka, the most common locus for the postwar stylistic shift.

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 2015/01/09 in Manga Studies


Tags: , ,

News Review: December 2014


South Africa


Pop the Culture’s Kunjanimation Expo took place in Cape Town in November. It is a new initiative that looks at doing workshops and events to improve storytelling in comics, cartooning and animation. Link 1 (English, MR), Link 2 (English, MR)

Bliksem! South African Comic Art Exhibition is running until the 24th January. Link 1 (English, MR), Link 2 (Afrikaans, MR)


United States


Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #9 and All New Captain America #1 took the top two spots for Diamond Comics Top 100 Comic Books for the month of November. Rounding out in the third spot was DC’s Batman #36. Link (English, MB)

The Walking Dead Volume 22: A New Beginning (Image) was the highest selling graphic novel for the month of November, according to Diamond Comics. Teen Titans Earth One Volume 1 (DC) and Saga Deluxe Edition Volume 1 hardcover (Image) were second and third respectively. Link (English, MB)

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) occurs annually on the first Saturday of May with comic book shops participating worldwide. A list of the 50 free comic book titles to be offered in 2015 has been released online and in the January issue of Diamond’s Previews. Link (English, MB)


The 39th German Studies Association annual conference will be held in Washington, D.C. between the 1st and 4th October 2015 and will include the panel series, The German Graphic Novel, focusing on history, adaptations and pedagogy. Proposals are due by the 16th February 2015 and presenters must be members of the association. Link (English, MB)

Contributors are being sought for the Encyclopedia of World Comics: Manga, Anime, Tintin and More Comics From Around the Globe, a comprehensive A-Z of entries (500-1,000 words) and essays (1,500-2,500 words). The first wave of entries are due by the 1st March 2015, with full details and email address found through the link. Link (20/12/2014, English, MB)

Noah Berlastsky, editor of the blog The Hooded Utilitarian and author of several books, has penned Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, a new publication from Rutgers University Press. Berlastsky’s book analyses the comics for themes that include lesbianism, cross-dressing, rape, and incest. Link (English, MB)

Exploring the comics of the 1940s and 1950s, Michael Barrier’s Funnybooks: The Improbably Glories of the Best American Comic Books focuses specifically on children’s comics published through Dell Comics. In particular, Barrier’s historical narrative tours titles such as Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Little Lulu, and Pogo from the likes of Carl Barks, John Stanley and Walt Kelly. Link (English, MB)

The annual edition of Mechademia 9 Origins, edited by Frenchy Lunning, turns the table around and utilises manga, anime and other texts in which to analyse and challenge the concept of “Japan” as a product rather than the producer. Link (English, MB)

There is a call for papers for the 6th International Conference Comics and Medicine, which takes place between the 16th and 18th July 2015 at the University of California, Riverside. The conference theme is “Spaces of Care”, and proposals are due by the 30th January. Link (English, WG)

A new critical anthology, The American Comic Book, has been published through Grey House Publishing and Salem Press. Link (English, WG)

Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creators, by Robert C. Harvey, has been published through the University Press of Mississippi. Link (English, WG)




The annual report of the ACBD (Association des critiques de bandes dessinées) has been published for 2014. The report looks back on the state of the bande dessinée publishing industry over the previous year: notably, 2014 saw more titles published than in 2013, but smaller print runs. Link 1 (29/12/2014, French, LTa), Link 2 (French, LTa)



A Batman exhibition is shown in Cologne until the 5th February 2015. Link (01/12/2014, German, MdlI)

An exhibition on war illustration, including comics, is shown in Albstadt until the 19th April 2015. Link (11/12/2014, German, MdlI)

Tagesspiegel names its top 10 comics of the year; Irmina by Barbara Yelin takes the top spot. Link (11/12/2014, German, MdlI)

The comics festival, “Neue Wege”, takes place in Kassel from the 14th until the 18th January 2015. Link (15/12/2014, German, MdlI)

An exhibition of comics from the magazine, Le Monde diplomatique, is shown in Berlin from the 9th until the 31st January 2015. Link (22/12/2014, German, MdlI)


A seminar for librarians on reading promotion through comics is given in Hildesheim, Nordenham, and Lüneburg on the 5th, 6th, and 7th May 2015, respectively. Link (German, MdlI)


Marie Marcks died. Link (08/12/2014, German, MdlI)


The 10th Comic Kolloquium took place in Hamburg on the 11th December. Link (08/12/2014, German, MdlI)

Paul Gravett’s opening speech at the exhibition, Art-Comics: Artists’ Lives As Graphic Novels, in Ludwigsburg in November is available in English on his website. Link (10/12/2014, English, MdlI)



Hungarocomix 2014, a one-day festival of Hungarian comics and their creators took place with great success on the 6th December in Budapest. Link (Hungarian, ES)

The first crowd funded comics project in Hungary entitled “Nyugat+Zombik” is about to start in January 2015. The one-month Indiegogo campaign aimed at collecting the one-year income of the creator, Olivér Csepella, but it closed on the 7th December with 232% of the desired support. The greatly anticipated graphic story features canonical Hungarian poets from the beginning of the 20th century fighting an invasion of brainless and aggressive ex-readers. Link (English, ES)



There is a call for papers for the panel, The Sequential Art: Comics as a Cultural Nexus. It is attached to The Third Global Forum of Critical Studies: Asking Big Questions Again, organised by Euroacademia and taking place in Florence between the 6th and 7th February. Details can be found through the link. Link (English, WG)



There is a call for papers for the NNCORE 2015 International Conference in Comics Studies, which will take place at the University of Oslo, between the 11th and 12th June. The conference theme is “War and Conflict in Sequential Art”, and proposals are due by the 15th February. Link (English, WG)



The exhibition, Mujeres de tinta. Antología de autoras de comic (1926-2014), which explores the work of Spanish women comic artists, was shown at the Pabellón de Cristal de Casa de Campo (Madrid) between the 12th and 14th December 2014. There was also a cycle of conferences on the topic at Museo ABC (Madrid) as part of the comics festival Expocomic. Link (09/12/2014, Spanish, EdRC)

Moi, assassin, the new work by Antonio Altarriba (El arte de volar) and Keko, has been awarded the Grand Prix de la Critique ACBD 2015. Link (07/12/2014, French, EdRC)

The exhibition, Gastronomía y tebeos, dealing with the presence of food in comics (mostly Spanish), is being shown at the Palacio de Villauso (Vitoria) from the 4th December 2014 until the 17th January 2015. Link (04/12/2014, Spanish, EdRC)

The exhibition, Mafalda 50 años, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Quino’s famous character, is being shown at La Térmica (Málaga) from the 11th December 2014 until the 15th February 2015. Link (01/12/2014, Spanish, EdRC)


The illustrator and political cartoonist Máximo died on the 28th December. Link (29/12/2014, Spanish, EdRC)



Scholars Carolene Ayaka and Ian Hague have edited a collection of essays,Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, which delve into the representations of multiculturalism in the medium of comics. The collection is part of the Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies series. Link (English, MB)

The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship has published an open call for contributions to the journal. Link (English, WG)




There was a lot of activity at Squishface Studio in Melbourne this December, with the art exhibition Yeeha! on the 1st, the Squishface Coaster show on the 7th, and the launch of Tim Molloy’s latest graphic novel Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye on the 13th. Grants are also available to cover printing costs for the Homecooked Comics Festival next year. More information can be found through the link. Link (English, ALM)

Pikitia Press have begun their annual ‘Year in Review’ interview series, with Matt Emery interviewing comics creators from Australia and New Zealand (scroll down). Link (English, ALM)

Alisha Jade has started a comprehensive directory of women making comics in Australia. Link (English, ALM)


The ebook of Daniel Best’s study, Newton Comics – The Rise and Fall, is now available. Link (English, ALM)

*                    *                    *


News Editor: Will Grady (

Correspondents: Michele Brittany (MB, North America & UK), Enrique del Rey Cabero (EdRC, Spain), William Grady (WG, UK), Martin de la Iglesia (MdlI, Germany), Amy Louise Maynard (ALM, Australia), Moray Rhoda (MR, South Africa), Eszter Szép (ES, Hungary), Lise Tannahill (LTa, France).

Click here for News Review correspondent biographies.

Click here to see the News Review archive.

Suggestions for articles to be included in the News Review can be sent to Will Grady at the email address above.



Leave a comment

Posted by on 2015/01/04 in News Review


The Bi-Monthly ComFor Update: December 2014 by Nina Heindl

It’s the sixth and last column by the German Society of Comics Studies (ComFor) in 2014 and as in the previous five columns I’d like to give an overview on the last months’ activities in German comics studies. In the following you’ll find a potpourri of conferences and workshops, new publications and also exhibitions that took place in Germany and neighboring German-speaking countries.

Conferences, Workshops, Presentations

In Hildesheim, the conference “The Translation and Adaptation of Comics” was held from October 31st to November 2nd, 2014. The main question that ran through all the contributions was which possibilities and problems arise when translating comics with their non-verbal and para-verbal elements from one language and culture into another.

The Winter School “Transmedial Worlds in Convergent Media Culture” in Tuebingen already took place in February and was part of the April ComFor Update. Now the promised extensive English conference report written by Lukas R. A. Wilde is available at the Journal of Literary Theory Online.

Keith Knight, the award-winning American indie cartoonist, visited Germany for almost one month. At different locations (University of Siegen, University of Bremen, University of Osnabrück, University of Bochum and Free University of Berlin) Knight presented his slide show “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?”. The tour’s last venue in Berlin served also as the opening of the Comics Collection at the Library of the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies on November 25th, 2014. Since 2013, the library of Berlin’s JFK Institute has systematically developed its existing comic collection. Talks by Julia Mayer and Daniel Stein were also part of the opening event. They covered the importance of the collection within the wider field of German and international scholarship and the talks can be read on the ComFor website.

Before the library opening, the JFK Institute also hosted the workshop “Reading with Pictures. A Seminar on Comics in the (Academic) Classroom” with graphic-novelist Josh Elder on October 21st, 2014. Elder is the founder of the nonprofit literacy organization Reading with Pictures and presented his goal to enhance student engagement, improve the efficiency of instruction, and increase overall educational efficacy with comics and graphic novels.

Finally, the department of Japanese studies in Cologne hosted the symposium “Mediale Zeitenwende” (“Media at a Turning Point”) from November 14th to 15th, 2014. Scholars from media studies, narratology and Japanology investigated the range and effects of what has been described as a last decade’s “narrative turn,” with a focus on visual narratives. Comic books featured prominently as objects of inquiry, with presentations by ComFor members Silke Horstkotte, Stephan Packard, Jan-Noël Thon, and Lukas R.A. Wilde.


The German field of comic studies offered some new publications in the past few months. Björn Hammel published an introduction to webcomics: Webcomics. Einführung und Typologie. Hammel tracks the development of American and German webcomics and formulates a typology for this special kind of comics.

Also, the anthology Visuelle Medien im DaF-Unterricht (Visual Media in Classes for German as a Foreign Language), edited by Marc Hieronimus, has been published. Two essays in this volume deal with comics, one by ComFor member Ralf Palandt and another by linguist Chiara Cerri.

The first volume of Closure, an open-access e-journal for comics studies that is published by members of the University of Kiel, came out in November 2014. Five members of the ComFor are involved in this first issue, namely Julia Ingold, Arno Meteling, Véronique Sina, Lukas R.A. Wilde, and Janina Wildfeuer. They contributed essays and reviews on comics and secondary literature. Issue #1.5 with an exclusive focus on reviews is planned for May 2015.

The 15th German comics yearbook Comic! Jahrbuch 2015, edited by Burkhard Ihme, was published in early November 2014. This volume focuses on webcomics, the 16th International Comic Salon in Erlangen and the comics revolution in the 1960s, as well as interviews and reports on comics and cartoons.

Finally, Transcript recently published a collection on text-image-interrelations in graphic novels entitled Bild ist Text ist Bild (Image is text is image) and edited by Susanne Hochreiter and Ursula Klingenböck. The many essays highlight a wide range of theoretical approaches, ranging from literature, media and gender studies to art history.


A number of comics exhibitions opened in autumn and winter: In mid-October, the exhibition “Greetings from the war” started at the Valentin Karlstadt Museum in Munich. The exhibition focuses on a graphic novel by comic artist Uli Knorr and archive footage of the First World War. From December 6th, 2014 until April 19th, 2015, there is also a show about “war drawers” who were officially employed to draw war, which can be seen in the Städtische Galerie Albstadt. Artists like Gus Bofa, Frans Masereel, Joe Sacco and Jacques Tardi are part of the exhibition. On November 15th, 2014 an exhibition about Joost Swarte’s work opened at the Cartoonmuseum Basel. The Kunstverein Ludwigsburg shows “Art Comics – artists‘ biographies as graphic novels“ until February 2nd, 2015. British historian and curator Paul Gravett opened the exhibition with a talk about the art language of comics on November 23rd, 2014.


From January 15th to 18th, 2015 the city of Kassel is going to celebrate its second “Neue Wege” (“new paths”) festival of graphic novels. The five days of the festival will incorporate a wide program of talks, exhibitions and discussions, exploring where comics and graphic novels could be heading in the future.

With this overview about the last two months of what has been going on in Germany, we can look back on the first year of ComFor columns at In 2015, the German Society of Comics Studies will celebrate its 10th anniversary. It’ll be exciting to see what the future holds in store for us and we will of course report on that in detail in next year’s columns.

Nina Heindl, M.A. is PhD. student in art history at the Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany. Her dissertation project is about artistic forms of comics based on Chris Ware’s oeuvre and is funded by RUB Research School PLUS. She works as Graduate Assistant at the Department of Art History, University of Cologne, Germany, and is on the editing board of the website of the German Society of Comic Studies (ComFor).

Leave a comment

Posted by on 2014/12/27 in ComFor Updates


New Book: Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels

Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels

A collection of fifteen articles, originally presented as conference papers at Comics Forum 2012, has been published by Routledge as Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, edited by CF2012 conference directors Carolene Ayaka and Ian Hague. Here’s the synopsis:

Multiculturalism, and its representation, has long presented challenges for the medium of comics. This book presents a wide ranging survey of the ways in which comics have dealt with the diversity of creators and characters and the (lack of) visibility for characters who don’t conform to particular cultural stereotypes. Contributors engage with ethnicity and other cultural forms from Israel, Romania, North America, South Africa, Germany, Spain, U.S. Latino and Canada and consider the ways in which comics are able to represent multiculturalism through a focus on the formal elements of the medium. Discussion themes include education, countercultures, monstrosity, the quotidian, the notion of the ‘other,” anthropomorphism, and colonialism. Taking a truly international perspective, the book brings into dialogue a broad range of comics traditions.

And here are the contents and abstracts for each of the chapters; a huge thank you to all the authors who contributed to the volume!

  1. Multiculturalism Meets the Counterculture: Representing Racial Difference in Robert Crumb’s Underground Comix


Although underground comix were recognized as a key component of the 1960s counterculture in the United States, their controversial representation of African Americans suggests an ambivalent relationship between the counterculture and the simultaneous rise of multicultural perspectives following the earlier Civil Rights era.  Focusing specifically on Robert Crumb’s controversial images of African Americans in various underground comix, this article seeks to locate those images in their historical context in order to better understand their frequent recourse to antiquated, “racist” stereotypes in an era otherwise increasingly defined by images celebrating racial identity and difference.  This essay also considers the frequently contradictory claims made about these images within the critical and historical work on underground comix.

  1. The Impact of Latino Identities and the Humanizing of Multiculturalism in Love and Rockets


This article analyses the importance of the Hernandez Brothers work as prominent authors of the alternative fiction landscape of comics. Pioneers of multicultural style, they also developed a proto-feminist narrative adulthood in their comics. Over the course of three decades they developed in their work a multicultural sensibility that describes other realities where members of Latino communities are the main characters. They took the risk to represent through comics the contradictions of the American society with a political ethnic conscience.

  1. The Presidential Penis: Questions of race and representation in South African comic and satirical art­­


The reproduction of racial and ethnic stereotypes has long played an ideological role in South African comic art. As I have shown in my historical study of South African cartooning (2010), the stereotype of the African male as a threatening savage ‘other’ endowed with prodigious erotic power – a source of both revulsion and admiration amongst the colonial and neocolonial elites – is visible in the early popular visual literature of the colonial period and has endured into the post-apartheid period, where it is used ‘knowingly’ (in the postmodern sense) by cartoonists and satirical artists. But seldom has this tendency been so visible as in a scandalous slew of satirical images in which pictorial representations of Jacob Zuma’s penis were employed symbolically to refer to the state of South African politics and society.

The article examines usages of such imagery by three satirists: Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro), Brett Murray and Ayanda Mabulu. These usages have all been controversial and hotly debated in the nation’s media, but two instances in particular – Zapiro’s 2008 “Rape of Justice” cartoon, and Brett Murray’s 2012 painting “The Spear” – have aroused unprecedented levels of public response, both angry and appreciative, revealing deep cultural and ideological fissures in post-apartheid society.

Critical theorists in a range of disciplines have taken positions on these two images. For example, journalist Glenda Daniels (2012) examines the lawsuits advanced by Zuma against Zapiro as instances of the ANC government’s intention to intimidate critics and restrict press freedom; cultural theorist Steven C. Dubin (2012) sees the brouhaha around “The Spear” as a vindication of his contention that South African society is riven by “culture wars”; and political geographer Daniel Hammett (2010) visualises public responses to “The Rape of Lady Justice” as an ideological demographic ranged around the cartoon to reveal contestation around the nation’s constitutional project. I also refer to my 2010 article “The Cannibal Ogre and the Rape of Justice” which argues for a reception theory approach to Zapiro’s infamous cartoon.

The article argues that while contextual factors surrounding the production of comic art in South Africa, from the highly repressive apartheid period to the post-apartheid cultural renaissance, have allowed unusual levels of freedom of expression and experimentation, this has unfortunately been accompanied in some cases by intercultural insensitivities that may have had the effect of reinforcing racial attitudes amongst sections of the public, with a deleterious effect on interracial reconciliation. While strongly advocating the right to freedom of expression, the article makes a case for cultural sensitivity amongst cartoonists working in multicultural contexts.

  1. Recognition and resemblance: facture, imagination and ideology in depictions of cultural and national difference


This chapter explores the idea that depictions embody their producers and readers in specific relationships between subject, social institution, material and idea, in order to examine depiction in the context of narrative drawings of cultural and national differences. Citing examples of the works of Kerry James Marshall, Dr Lakra and Kunisada Utagawa, among others, the chapter brings together theorisations by Michael Podro, Louis Althusser, Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Hodge and Gunter Kress. The chapter aims to elucidate the roles of imagination and habituation in the production of ideology, considering the implications of objectification in cases where depictions are approached as resemblances of the situations that they depict.

  1. ‘Badgers? We don’t need no steenkin’ badgers!’ Talbot’s Grandville, anthropomorphism and multiculturalism


This chapter investigates how issues around multiculturalism are explored in the Grandville series of graphic novels by Bryan Talbot. Grandville, Grandville Mon Amour and Grandville Bête Noire depict a steampunk world in which animals are dominant and every species is considered equal, whether duck, fish or horse. This does not stop intolerance or prejudice, however. Humans also exist within this world, but are a minority seen by the animals as lesser beings. In considering these relationships and tensions, the chapter first looks at how economics and multiculturalism are linked in Grandville and then turns to a brief consideration of how language and national identity operate. It next looks at Talbot’s use of colour and art as a mechanism for signifying difference and diversity. Finally, it will focus down on issues of cultural intolerance, dominance and the terrorist other.

  1. The Image of the Foreigner in Historical Romanian Comics under Ceauşescu’s Dictatorship


Nicolae Ceauşescu’s humorless and ultra-nationalist dictatorship took its comics seriously, and even held official party meetings in order to establish what children’s magazines—the main space for comics at the time—should publish. Historical comics had to teach a version of the Romanian past that would boost nationalist sentiment and justify a negative perception of the outside, while painting Romania as a country of pure-hearted valiant and hard-working men (and rarely women), permanently assailed by evil forces.

This chapter examines the image of ”the foreigner” in several historical comic strips published in long-standing communist children’s magazines, where foreign nationals were extremely frequent, and generally evil. However, the representational code used by the artists in these didactic cartoons was quite realistic. The most frequently represented episodes from the (proto)Romanian past were the Roman conquest of Dacia (second century AD), the first unification of the Romanian provinces under the same political leadership (1600), a Russian-Romanian battle against the Ottoman Empire (1877), and World War II. The representations of foreigners in communist cartoons showed three main groups: the Romans (morally inferior conquerors of the proud Dacians, the Romanian ancestors), the Germans (always depicted as sly smirking uniformed Nazis, even decades after the end of World War II), and the Turks (Ottomans whose sole purpose was to conquer, pillage, and plunder). The comics contained a mixture of fictitious characters and actual participants in history, all of them treated as if they were equally “real.” During Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, the national superhero was a virtuous man (never a woman, despite the self-proclaimed feminist party line) endowed not only with heightened moral sense and loyalty to a nation whose identity had not yet been articulated, but also with uncommon physical prowess and an uncanny awareness that his bravery would help build something grand in the future, more specifically, Ceauşescu’s Romania.

  1. The Monster Within and Without: Spanish Comics, Monstrosity, Religion, and Alterity


Francisco Goya’s most famous proto-comic, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (1799), forms part of a series of prints called Caprices, implying whimsical playfulness. Nonetheless, these prints were far from playful. Meant to reveal, through the interplay of images and ironic captions, insidious social ills, this series suggests Goya’s Spanish contemporaries are more monstrous than the bogeymen they invented. In contrast, more than a century later and published under fascist dictatorial rule, several early 20th century Spanish adventure comics villianize and make monsters of specific religious elements of Spain’s multicultural past. One of the best-known series, Manuel Gago’s The Masked Warrior, (1944-1980) pits a medieval Christian hero against his duplicitous and Muslim murderer-rapist stepfather. Working within the confines of totalitarianism, this comic distances itself, in time and place, from Franco’s modern enemies to promote the same values as its dictator: One Spain, One Race, One Religion. This chapter explores the depiction of monstrosity and alterity from these two divergent moments in Spain. More specifically, it argues that these two examples represent two extremes in a range of practice of using stereotype to represent multiculturalism.

  1. Colonialist Heroes and Monstrous Others: Stereotype and Narrative Form in British Adventure Comic Books


This paper explores the representation of colonialist stereotypes and the colonised ‘Other’ in British comic book adventure stories using Edward Said’s theories of Orientalism. From the 1940s to the 1990s comic books, such as the Eagle, Hotspur and Victor, used ‘exotic’ locations and caricatured representations, visual and textual, to maintain these stereotypes and shape narrative structure so continuing the traditions of early 20th century boy’s illustrated magazines. These stereotypes were also central in driving the narrative within more innovative contemporary comic books such as Rogon Gosh and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen where additionally the image of an eroticised ‘Other’ emerged as a new archetype.

  1. Set Pieces: Cultural Appropriation and the Search for Contemporary Identities in Shōnen Manga


When does cultural appropriation become inappropriate? Focussing on contemporary Manga as D.Gray-man, Fullmetal Alchemist or Blue Exorcist, which use European history and Christian ico-nography as an eclectic backdrop or even visual “repository” for fiction, this chapter discusses how eclectic imagery and narratives can be (mis-)interpreted as political practice. Starting out from the historical discourses of post-colonial critique and the post-modern, it aims to analyse how the trope of ‘identity crisis’ and cultural eclecticism in Manga might offer a both critical and utopian counter-part to common models of multiculturalism.

  1. Narrative Exploration against Mentality Issues: Indirect Education for Multiculturalism in Tintin


This chapter aims to show that, despite accusations of stereotypical thinking, particularly of racism, Hergé’s classic The Adventures of Tintin is pervaded by the author’s intention to educate his audiences with respect to the world’s plural nature. In its various translations (such as into Catalan, a minority language with a spectacular history of emancipation), the Tintin series has gradually become representative of far more progressive attitudes than the ones it was initially associated with. The changing history of Tintin’s reception also suggests that comic strips can be highly effective in questioning received ideas about the world.

  1. Embracing Childish Perspective: Rutu Modan’s A Royal Banquet With the Queen


Studies on multiculturalism and children usually adopt a paternalistic perspective. This approach doesn’t take into consideration the possibility that a child’s perspective can positively affect the welfare of adults.

This article points to an alternative viewpoint based on the writings of psychologist Alice Miller and psychotherapist Piero Ferrucci. This viewpoint is further explored in light of Rutu Modan’s comic book for children. Modan’s narrative advocates a mutual respect which leads to a genuine dialogue and to a mutual transference of values between children and adults. Thus, in turn, Modan’s comic book enables us to reevaluate children’s role within the frame of multicultural discourse.

  1. An Innocent at Home: Scott Pilgrim and His Canadian Multicultural Contexts


This paper examines the coding of Canada and its relationship to multiculturalism in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. It both situates Scott Pilgrim in the history of Canadian Superhero comics and the Canadian culture industry and offers a reading of O’Malley’s critique and revision of Canadian identity.

At first read, Scott Pilgrim is a typical story of American youth. The name “Pilgrim” identifies Scott with both the origin story of the United States and atemporal myth. That he must fight a series of epic battles against increasingly threatening foes gives the story a Jungian feel, as though it were a graphic variant of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey. Because the American origin story depends on just such a universal, mythical quality, Scott Pilgrim appears to fit into the tradition of redemptive American narratives.

We argue that O’Malley in fact undercuts this apparent universality with “Canadian” signifiers that transform the comic into a mediation of Canada’s relationship to the grand American narrative and more particular cultural micronarratives. Many of these signifiers are visual cues embedded in t-shirts and signs that create a “secret” Canadian language for readers in the know. But the central relationship between Scott and Ramona Flowers is itself such a signifier; it invokes the relationship between Canada and the United States generally, with Ramona the worldly American and Scott the parochial Canadian. This cultural antagonism structures other antagonisms, such as that between Scott and his Chinese Canadian girlfriend, Knives Chau, who holds up a mirror to Scott that shatters the myth of the bland and blond Canadian “nice guy.” In spite of his occupying the structural position of hero in the narrative, Scott is incapable of mastering either the grand narrative or micro-narratives.

Thus, we present the series as a critique of Canadian helplessness in relation to both American hegemony and multiculturalism. This comic really is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a battle in which the Canadian hero is a hapless and oblivious slacker who finds himself embroiled in conflict almost by accident, his apparent innocence absolving him of responsibility and engagement.   

  1. The Lower East Side as Mishmash of Jewish Women’s Multicultural Images in Leela Corman’s Unterzakhn


New York’s Lower East Side has been widely documented in historical literature as a place of diversity rather than a local, limited Jewish phenomenon, in seminal works by Hasia R. Diner, Jeffrey Shandler, Beth S. Wenger and Deborah Dash Moore. I argue that Leela Corman’s 2012 graphic novel, Unterzakhn, complements historians’ works with an unexplored representation of the early twentieth century multicultural Lower East Side, which also touches on the process of assimilation but is primarily filtered through women’s images and private lives. My chapter will trace the graphic novel’s varied and at times controversial representations of womanhood in relation to traditional Judaic Eastern European lore and American mass media views of the early twentieth century by an analysis of three main articles of women’s dress featured in the narrative–head scarfs, shirts-and-waists, and corsets.

  1. They All Look Alike? Representations of East Asian Americans in Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and Scenes from an Impending Marriage


Adrian Tomine is, along with Derek Kirk Kim, Tak Toyoshima, and Gene Luen Yang, one of the most popular contemporary Asian-American comics creators. He has been praised not only for his artistic and storytelling skills but also for the way he addresses issues pertaining to race and identity. This chapter examines how East Asian Americans, especially those of Japanese descent, are represented in two of Tomine’s works, namely Shortcomings (2007) and Scenes from an Impending Marriage (2011).

  1. Tulips and Roses in a Global Garden: Speaking Local Identities in Persepolis and Tekkon Kinkreet


This article examines the way in which both Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Satrapi, and Tekkon Kinkreet (1994) by Taiyo Matsumoto, approach the articulation of local, popular expressions of cultural identity in strikingly similar ways.  On the surface, the narratives seem nothing like one another.  Persepolis tells of growing up in the context of the rise of the Iranian theocratic regime.  Tekkon Kinkreet concerns two superpowered Japanese urchins defending “Treasure Town” from colonization by a diabolical global corporation.  In both cases, however, we encounter narratives that recognize the articulation of cultural identity as contested space, in which popular ownership of that identity has to compete with more powerful or authoritative expressions of it that also lay claim to authenticity.  Both narratives recognize the complexities of speaking cultural identity in a global context, in which such an identity must be fixed enough to be specific, but also fluid enough to accommodate difference and cross-cultural communication.  The two narratives also suggest, in form and content, how both comics and myth offer a bridge between the self-representation of popular, local, cultural identity and its situation and participation in a global context.

At the heart of both Persepolis and Tekkon Kinkreet is the question of who, precisely, can speak cultural identity, and whether, when, and how it might be spoken.  They represent popular voices raised in opposition to, in the former, an oppressive regime that lays sole claim to speaking Iranian identity in collusion with its western antagonists; and in the latter, a potentially homogenizing, or at least disenfranchising, global corporate entity that among other things suggests the global city might be a colonizing culture unto itself. Each defends local specificity against a global entity while drawing from myth as a paradoxically global narrative wellspring of indigenous identity, and from comics as itself an increasingly global medium.

Ultimately, this essay concludes, both narratives make specific cultural content secondary to the right to its expression by popular voices through such popular channels as comics.  In both graphic novels, representing the fluid specificity of cultural identity in a manner that articulates it, and its immediate pressing concerns, without fixing it, shifts narrative emphasis to the fact of, and commitment to, self-representation perhaps above all else, while acknowledging a place in a world of many cultures, stories, and comics styles.


To find out more, or to order Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, click here to visit the Routledge product page.

To recommend Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels to your librarian, click here to be taken to a recommendation form.

If you’re an author or journal editor, and would like to review Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, click here to request a review copy (you will need to have a publication venue secured to receive a review copy).


Tags: ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 287 other followers

%d bloggers like this: