Manga  does not easily attract scholarly interest as comics. In the name of manga, the critical focus is usually less on sequential art but rather a certain illustration style or character design, and closely related, fannish engagement in transformative or derivative creations (dōjinshi), up to and including cosplay. In many cases, scholars turn to manga as an entry point for research on girls’ (shōjo) culture and female consumers, gender and sexuality, the subcultures of fujoshi (self-designated “rotten girls” engaged in Boys’ Love, or yaoi) and otaku (geeks). Attempts at elucidating the peculiar role of the comics medium in that regard—for example, by focusing not only on “shōjo” but also “manga” when discussing shōjo manga  —remain a distinct minority whenever sociological and anthropological concerns prevail. Be it “fan culture,” “subculture” or “scene,” user communities are given preference over media specificity, texts and individual readings, at least outside of Japan. This applies especially to Japanese Studies, which is still the field yielding most manga research abroad. Here, manga is taken to represent, if not national culture in general, then Japanese popular culture, in the main understood as a youth culture with significant global impact and economic effects. Consequently, the utilization of manga as mere object appears to matter more than methodological diligence. Whether subjected to symptomatic readings of social issues or to sophisticated critical theory, media-specific contexts and manga-related expertise tend to be neglected. This is as much due to specific institutional requirements as it is indicative of a lack within the institution, that is, the absence of a respective field of research and criticism.
Tag Archives: USA
Comics studies has come a long way in the past few years. Scholarship centered on sequential art is no longer considered beyond the pale of the academy; academic conferences and journals focusing on comics studies are multiplying; more and more books are being published that take a scholarly approach to the medium. The Comics Arts Conference, one of the first academic conferences dedicated to the study of sequential art, has been instrumental in encouraging this recognition within the academy. By providing a home for comics scholarship, the CAC not only created a forum where individuals scholars could connect to become a larger field, it also helped to grow the profile of comics studies on the academic stage. Today, being a self-described Batman scholar is no longer cause for derision. Or at least, not from fellow academics.
Unfortunately, the legitimacy comics studies has gained inside academia does not seem to be replicated outside it. An obvious recent case-in-point would be Alan Moore’s treatment of Will Brooker in what may or may not be his last interview. Not only does Moore not name the mysterious “Batman scholar” who has questioned the representations of race and gender in his comics, he dismisses those concerns as essentially the whining of an emotionally stunted idiot who can’t understand anything without a caption box. He goes on to imply that comics scholarship as a whole displays a lack of rigor at best and is a waste of time at worst. Of course, Moore’s public persona is famously a curmudgeonly old fart, and Moore could certainly be exaggerating for emphasis here, but I don’t want to dismiss his reaction as extraordinary; instead, it seems to me that Moore’s belittlement of the highly regarded Brooker is emblematic of a larger trend in the public at large to consider scholarship on sequential art dubious and even ridiculous.
Vertigo, DC’s adult-oriented imprint, has been repeatedly praised for having ‘fully joined the fight for adult readers’ in the early 1990s (Weiner 2010: 10). It has been noted that this “fight” coincided with the imprint’s ‘adoption of the graphic novel format’ as well as ‘a new self-awareness and literary style’ which ‘brought the scope and structure of the Vertigo comics closer to the notion of literary text’ (Round 2010: 22). However, little attention has been devoted to the very cultural identity of the imprint, even if Vertigo has since its early days engaged in an intro- and retrospective discourse on the American comics form, its history, and the power relations inherent to its industry. This short essay intends to start filling that gap by investigating Vertigo’s archival impulse. It argues that in deploying various rewriting strategies which engage with specific past (comics) traditions, the label has activated a unique memorious discourse that provides a self-reflexive and critical commentary on the structuring forces of the American comics field, its politics of domination and exclusion, and hence its canons.
Between Supermen: Homosociality, Misogyny, and Triangular Desire in the Earliest Superman Stories by Eric Berlatsky
The Superman “shield” most familiar to contemporary readers is a pentagon. Emblazoned on his chest, it is a recognizable symbol of the “first superhero” whose emergence in Action Comics in 1938 gave birth to the genre most associated with the history of American comics. Interestingly, however, the symbol has little resemblance to that which first appeared on Superman’s chest in his debut. In those early days, Superman, created, by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist), had a simple triangle on his chest, with a sinuous “S” in its center. The shift in insignia is largely insignificant, but the original shape is reflective of the ways in which those early stories revolve around a “love triangle” that is both familiar and unconventional. 
I have a confession to make. When I sent the manuscript for Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero (Dittmer 2013) to its publisher, I fell off the wagon. After reading superhero comics for the better part of a decade, documenting the adventures of flag-draped superheroes in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom from 1940 to the present, I quit. I’m not someone who believes that a big wall separates the superhero comics from the rest of the comics world, but after over a thousand superhero comics I was definitely ready to switch things up a bit. So I dabbled in all the great new stuff that I had missed when my reading time was occupied by my book project – some of which were discovered by reading this very website (Fransman 2012) and are highly relevant to this essay. And all the while my monthly delivery of Captain America arrived like clockwork, joining its predecessors on my office desk. Last week, I was finally shamed by the verticality of the stack (almost a year and a half’s worth!) into taking them home and giving them some attention. The comics included the end of Ed Brubaker’s eight year run on the title (a pretty remarkable achievement nowadays), during which he famously brought Bucky back from the dead and walked Captain America through the Civil War crossover that made headlines around the world (e.g., Gustines 2007). One might expect a triumphant victory lap for Brubaker’s swansong on the title. Nevertheless, the end of Brubaker’s run seemed fixated on decline and the limits to power. In this essay I hope to briefly trace the ‘Powerless’ storyline (Brubaker and Davis 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012,d, 2012e), as well as the events leading up to and following from that storyline, before contextualizing it all with a tiny, painless dose of political theory. I will then argue that the trope of ‘Powerless’ (in which, not surprisingly, Captain America’s body loses its superpowers) is a relatively common one over the history of the character. While this is to a certain extent true of many superheroes, in the context of Captain America the plot device is freighted with the baggage of the nationalist superhero genre.