Category Archives: Comics and Cultural Work

Comics and Cultural Work: Conclusion by Casey Brienza

As I wrote in my introduction to this Comics Forum Special Theme Month on Comics and Cultural Work:

[R]esearch into cultural work has thus far been broadly concerned with the following two questions: 1) Is cultural work distinctive from other forms of work? and 2) Is it exploitative? I will not rehearse the debates around these two questions as they have been performed in the study of other cultural sectors, from Hollywood to handicrafts, at this time. Instead, I ask you to watch this space and commend you to the thought-provoking contributions of Benjamin Woo, Paddy Johnston, and Tom Miller, which will be posted in the coming weeks. Each of these scholars has, each in his own way as researcher, reader, or cultural worker, begun to grapple with precisely these two questions.

(Brienza 2013)

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My Brief Adventure in Comic Book Retail by Tom Miller

I distinctly remember, on September 11th 2001, driving to the empty store in Oakville, Ontario that would be my comics and used book shop, and hearing a report on a Buffalo radio station about the World Trade Center towers falling. I was convinced, for the majority of my very short commute, that it was a joke. But when I reached the shop and went in, there had been no punch line. I turned on the radio in the store and listened, as I laid tile and patched holes, to the horrific tale unfolding many hundreds of kilometers south of me. I stopped work early that day, gathered with friends and family, and we watched, on television, the disaster unfold.

I really should have known, right then, what to expect.

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Comics and the Day Job: Cartooning and Work in Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka’s Conversation #2 by Paddy Johnston

James Kochalka is a prolific cartoonist known largely for his autobiographical comic American Elf (1998-2012), which ran daily for almost eleven years before he called time on it last year. The early years of American Elf chronicle his transition from working as a waiter to becoming a full-time cartoonist, with candid portrayals of the trials this career choice brought with it. Kochalka has also written some short and pithy essays about his own philosophy of comics and cartooning in prose and comic form, which are collected in a short book called The Cute Manifesto (2005) and have titles such as ‘The Horrible Truth About Comics.’ He has a clear vision of what comics, art and cartooning should be, with an aversion to craft and technical skill.

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Why is it so hard to think about comics as labour? by Benjamin Woo

Last year, Image Comics ran an in-house advertising campaign featuring simple, candid photographs of comic book writers and artists in their working environments (see Khouri 2012). Emblazoned with inspiring quotations and the slogan, ‘Experience Creativity,’ the ads argued that—unlike competitors?—Image’s comics issue forth from the vision of exceptionally creative individuals.

But cultural work is always exceptional. It doesn’t follow the normal rules of labour under capitalism because of the exceptional character of cultural goods. In the age of mass production, cultural goods are pretty easy to make but still hard to create. As anyone who’s ever stared at a blank page or computer screen can tell you, creativity can’t be engineered. The creative act is contingent, specific and unique, but it can also be tough to tell whether it has produced something valuable or not. For all the efforts of executives at the big culture industry conglomerates and creativity gurus, cultural work remains mercurial.

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Comics and Cultural Work: Introduction by Casey Brienza

‘All artistic work, like all human activity, involves the joint activity of a number, often a large number, of people. Through their cooperation, the art work we eventually see or hear comes to be and continues to be. The work always shows signs of that cooperation,’ wrote sociologist Howard Becker (1982, 1) in his seminal monograph on cultural production Art Worlds. Comic art is no exception to Becker’s basic insight. Writers, illustrators, graphic designers, letterers, editors, printers, typesetters, publicists, publishers, distributors, retailers, and countless others are both directly and indirectly involved in the creative production of what is commonly thought of as the comic book.

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