Why Does Comics Studies Matter?

We hope everyone had a blast at this year's Comic Con or at least had fun following events online. Comic Con is one of our favorite events of the year! So many of our staff members at UPM are obsessed with pop culture, and almost every fandom is covered.

We reached out to a few of our staff members and authors, Tim Jackson and Daniel Marrone (both nominated for an Eisner this year), to ask why Comic Con, and comic studies in general, means so much to them.

Tim Jackson, author of Pioneering Cartoonists of Color

Black Cartoonists Matter. Growing up, aspiring cartoonist, I longed to see comics in the morning paper that positively reflected my life. That’s when I was urged to research my historic new book, Pioneering Cartoonists of Color, published through the University Press of Mississippi. Pioneering Cartoonists of Color takes readers on an enlightening decade-by-decade tour of the creative contributions African-American cartoonists brought to the print media from the expansion of the Black Press around the 1870s through 1968 when the first comic strips illustrated by African American cartoonists, with a cast of multiracial characters appeared in America’s newspapers.

Daniel Marrone, author of Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory

All media are mixed. Comics may be more explicitly mixed than most, but even those works of art that seem to involve only a single substance – language, image, sound – are not pure representations. Comics are more than the sum of their parts: what happens on the page can’t quite be reduced to a combination of words and pictures. I think this is why many people still think of comics as basically disposable, because they don’t aspire to the kind of material purity we associate with art that lasts. In its shifting materiality, the medium of comics offers an explicit reminder: all media are mixed.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, Electronic, Exhibits, and Direct-to-Consumer Sales Manager, UPM

Every year when I attend conventions such as Mississippi Comic Con or Dragon Con, I love to see all of the amazing cosplays. What I enjoy even more is simply talking to people. Often many con attendees have such a vast trove of pop culture knowledge that I am simply astounded. Many of these same people are amazed that comics studies exists as an academic discipline. The highlight of one con for me was when an eight-year-old boy told me he now wanted to be a comics scholar when he grew up. This is why comics studies matters to me, and why in my mind it is equally important to raise awareness of comics studies so that future generations can continue to actively pursue the study of comics.

Pete Halverson, Senior Designer, UPM

Comics are another mode of expression for artists and writers. They can teach us about personal experiences, history, and open our minds by pushing the limits of storytelling and art. One need look no further than movies and television to recognize the impact that comics have had on current popular culture. Comics are the folklore of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Craig Gill, Director, UPM

When I was twelve years old in Dumas, Arkansas, (population 5000) there was no reliable source for comic books. I spent at least one day a month riding my bike in a loop around town from the Fetch n’ Go, to the Mad Butcher, to the Magic Mart, and finally to the Jr. Food Mart, hunting for new comics. (This is why even today my collection of comic books has irritating gaps in the sequences from the late ’70s.) The idea of a comic book store was beyond my imagination. Graphic novels, as understood today, did not exist. The notion that comic books would dominate popular culture and rule Hollywood would have been absurd. And yet, I am the director of a press that publishes more books on comics than any other university press. Books that win Eisner Awards. Books that provide in-depth understanding of the philosophy of comics, of the theory and practice of how comics are adapted for the screen, of the role played by race, gender, and nationality in modern comics. I am thrilled to have spent twenty years working for a publisher that helped make the study of comics a serious scholarly endeavor. And on behalf of my twelve-year old self, I have to say that the current world is pretty damn cool. I hope you all have a happy Comic-Con! (Oh, and go see Wonder Woman again, it’s worth it.)