CfP: Whither comics studies?

Panel at the annual conference
of the French Association for American Studies
organized by Jean-Paul Gabilliet and Nicolas Labarre (Bordeaux Montaigne)
May 24-27, 2016
Stichtag: 04.01.2016

A panel titled „Whither comics studies?“ will take place within the annual conference of the French Association for American Studies held in Toulouse on May 24-27, 2016. The theme of the 2016 conference will be „America in the Works“ (

Comics studies have grown spectacularly in the last decade. From nine courses taught at post-secondary level (six in the USA, three in Canada) listed by the then newly created National Association of Comic Art Educators in 2011, there are nowadays dozens of non-studio comics courses offered in higher education establishments across North America. The number of academic books on comics has also increased dramatically during the same period.

Yet one should not trust a superficial reading of quantitative indicators. In their overwhelming majority, courses about comics are taught at undergraduate level in departments of English, occasionally languages, arts, and (even less frequently) communication studies. They are very often elective courses, loss leaders of sorts perceived by most of the students that choose them as moderately demanding, intellectually non-challenging means to secure extra credits. As far as faculty are concerned, scholarly expertise in comic art is a double-edged weapon : a PhD on comics is admittedly of little value in today’s hyper-competitive “market” of arts and humanities, where most of the young doctors specializing in canonical domains are hard-pressed to find jobs matching their expertise. As for “comic studies” positions, there are none, regardless of occasional three-headed monsters of the “children’s lit / popular culture / graphic novel” ilk…

The ultimate paradox of comics in the world of North American higher education is that the medium has gained acceptance mostly under the “graphic novel” sobriquet. Popularized in the 1980s, the term was originally (and still is to a large extent) a marketing ploy but it originated the gradual acceptance by the general public and academics of comic-strip narratives provided they seemed to share structural characteristics with the literary form of the novel. From this evolution resulted new reading habits sometimes more inspired by snobbishness and cultural blindness than by any actual interest in the medium, encapsulated in the now commonplace one-liner : “I don’t read comics—I only read graphic novels.”

Academia is by no means immune to the allure of the graphic novel as a would-be vehicle of cultural distinction. A recent study of the scholarship on comics in English-speaking journals has evidenced the thematic domination of a politically correct and transnational leading trio comprising Art Spiegelman (Maus), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), whose landmark titles are almost invariably cited in the present-day graphic novel “canon.” Yet, just as many foremost creators (A. Bechdel, A. Spiegelman, D. Clowes, C. Ware, etc.) say they create comics, not graphic novels, there is no reason why the scholarly study of the medium should be dominated by “literary” and/or “artistic” approaches because comics are supposedly pretty pictures with real chunks of text inside.

The goal of this panel is to look into the diverse angles from which comics studies can develop both in North America and/or by engaging North American-made comics.

Rather than formal case studies of individual works, we will welcome focuses on the following topics (inclusively of course) :

  •  comics as objects of cultural history
  •  historiographic trends
  •  primary sources : newspaper comic strips, comic books, original art, fanzines, etc.
  •  comics vs. graphic novel : economic models, cultural models, historical mutations
  •  the making of legitimacy : permeability and rigidity between scholarly criticism (academia, The Comics Journal) and popular criticism (IGN, comicbookresources, Wizard, etc.)
  •  superheroes : what to make of them ?
  •  North American perspectives on the transnational study of comics
  •  paper vs. screens/paper and screens : digital media, webcomics, transmedia products.

Bibliographic suggestions :

Charles Hatfield, « Indiscipline, or, The Condition of Comics Studies », Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2010, mis en ligne le 27 septembre 2010, consulté le 15 juillet 2015. URL :

Gregory Steirer, « The State of Comics Scholarship : Comics Studies and Disciplinarity », International Journal of Comic Art 13.2 (Fall 2011) : 263-285. URL :

Please send a 250-word abstract and a short biography to Jean-Paul Gabilliet ( and Nicolas Labarre ( by January 4th, 2016.

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