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Comics and Material Culture

Editors: Sylvain Lesage and Bounthavy Suvilay

In the past few years, the notion of material culture has been the object of renewed interest. It offers a conceptual tool in which to root our understanding of comics in its physicality. Stemming from material bibliography, the reflexion we would like to expand relies on the idea that the material form of the book is a device in which non-verbal elements and spatial dispositions have an expressive function in expressing meaning (McKenzie, 1986). With this issue of Comicalités: Studies in Graphic Culture, we would like to broaden our understanding of the role played by the physicality of comics: from paper to the screen, from original art to mugs, and from plastic action figures to deluxe editions.

With electronic publishing, new materialities appear. It makes a critical return to the materiality of comics even more pressing. Supports and objects carry comic art which is mediated by technical limitations, editorial uses, marketing choices... All of these contribute to determine readers’ uses. Even before opening a comic book, the choice of binding, the weight of the paper and the gloss of lamination, contribute to setting expectations that determine the reader’s experience. A hardback edition doesn’t provide the same experience as the serial issues, nor does reading a strip in the newspaper have the same effect as browsing through annuals. Alternative publishing is a good example of this importance of format, with the use of the graphic novel as a distinctive publishing medium.

Understanding the role of comics in a material culture also means analyzing the merchandising uses of comics. From Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, a wide range of options are open to creators, from the preservation of a graphic universe on paper, to its use on a large number of objects. Merchandising in Europe is also an important aspect of the business: the merchandising rights of Tintin are held by Moulinsart, which tries to adapt Hergé’s creation in all possible forms, from bed sheets to statues. With the death of the author and the refusal to continue the series, merchandising has become a key element of the financial balance of Moulinsart; as for the Smurfs, estimates run as high as 700 different licences across the world. But licensing doesn’t just have a financial impact; it also transforms the reader’s experience. What is Mickey for a child who discovered Disney’s creations through socks or plastic toys? But merchandising also influences creative processes, as suggests the creation by Todd McFarlane of a publishing house and a toy company. Our aim in this issue is not to oppose works of art versus products of the industry, but on the contrary to understand, as Marx put it, how “production is also immediately consumption, consumption is also immediately production”.

We invite abstracts for articles that shift our focus towards the multiplicity of mediums. Our aim here is not to study the discrepancy between an original work and its toys, for instance, but rather to study the narrativizations … We welcome propositions on all areas and time periods.


Suggested topics might include but are not limited to these three perspectives:

The physicality of comics:

  • The influence of publishing formats on the way readers understand comics, for example the way publishers tried to address different readerships;

  • How do publishers use publishing formats as a means to segment their readership, to create niches?

  • Is the boom of deluxe and limited editions a sign of a re-materialization of comics…

  • How do the authors play with these forms, pushing their boundaries?

  • Did the interest for original art transform publishing practices?

  • What are the codes used by the publishers to convey the idea of comics’ heritage?

  • What objects are favoured by collectors? What relationship do these collectors have with the objects they’re collecting?

  • How does the materiality of comics research (paper, microfilm, digitized versions, etc.) impact the research or the methods used?

Merchandising:

  • How do ad campaigns transform the image of a character, alter the graphic design?

  • In transmedia strategies or in Japanese media mix, to what extent can the support affect the fictional world and its reception beyond narrators or marketing directors’ strategies?

  • What is the impact of merchandising on the relationship between readers and their comics? Is discovering Peanuts on a mug the same thing as discovering it in the comics’ section? On the contrary, how is a popular series such as Calvin and Hobbes affected by the absence of legal merchandising?

  • To what extent do toys transform the way readers interact with a fictional universe?

  • Co-branding is a marketing strategy that involves an alliance between companies to work together on ad campaigns. How does co-branding transform comics?

Consumer culture in comics: the third perspective aims to understand how comics depict consumer culture, following Ian Gordon’s work.

  • How do children’s comics aim to initiate children to a consumer culture?

  • Comics have been massively used in advertising; was advertising a cradle of graphic modernity, or a haven of conservatism?

  • House-ads/commercials in mainstream (or alternative) comics;

  • Ian Gordon showed how Gasoline Alley could be understood as a study of how automobiles shaped modern society and language;

  • Philippe Squarzoni, in Climate Changed, depicts modern consumer culture by recycling a vast number of movies and ads that convey the idea of alienation. How do modern graphic artists use the visual language of advertising and consumption, both in mainstream and alternative comics?

Submission info:

Please send a one-page abstract and a CV to Sylvain Lesage (sylvain.lesage@univ-lille.fr) and Bounthavy Suvilay (bounthavy@gmail.com)

The articles will follow the formatting guidelines of the journal: http://journals.openedition.org/comicalites/364?lang=en. We also welcome alternative, shorter papers, such as interviews with professionals (printers, production managers, collectors, curators…).

Bibliography

Allison Anne, Millennial Monsters. Japanese toys and the global imagination, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2006.

Condry Ian, The soul of anime: Collaborative creativity and Japan's media success story, Duke University Press, 2013

Gordon Ian, Comic strips and consumer culture, 1890-1945, Washington D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998, 233 p.

Miller Daniel, Material culture and mass consumption, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1987.

Rhode Michael G, “The commercialization of comics: A broad historical overview”, International Journal of Comic Art, 1.2, 1999, p. 143-170.

Steinberg Marc, Anime's media mix: Franchising toys and characters in Japan, U of Minnesota Press, 2012.

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