comic studies · Research

The super-duper-basics of comic studies

So, a friend of mine pointed out that the idea of “comic studies” or a “comic scholar” is kind of a weird thing that isn’t really understood, and that got me further thinking that I never really explained what makes a good comic (or, rather, an effective one) and maybe some of my audience is less acquainted with comic theory and such–if what is out there can even be called that.

So! I’ve decided to explain a little bit about it. Behold!

comic scholar is someone who looks at a comic (be it a graphic novel, webcomic, comic book, comic strip, etc., there are seriously tons of definitions and arguments about what a comic is and that’s a totally different blog post or even book). Simple, right? We look at them from different angles depending on interests, such as literary, artistic, design, or even sociopolitical effects. For me personally, I’m interested in all of those but my research for SDCC is looking at the social and psychological merging with the art and literary stuff. Fun!

We might take things in context of a culture, a genre, an artist or writer’s repertoire, a time period, a movement, or nothing at all. We look at characters, art and layout choices (I’ll get into that later), plot structure, similarity or differences to other comics or literature and media in general…We might look at trends, history, the future, innovations in technology (like all the kooky things webcomics are doing these days)…

Look, a comic scholar is basically just someone who looks at comics as more than just trash to read and throw away.

Now, for some things that we evaluate when looking at comics (not even really to say whether it’s good or not but how or why it is effective–or not) are…

Lines: are they thick or thin? Are they clean or sketchy? Does that have an emotional effect on the piece? (You bet it does!) Was it intentional? (So many things in our studies are ‘was this intentional or just sloppy/an accident?’ but maybe that’s anyone who studies any kind of art or literature.)

Color: did they use it? To what effect? Did it work? Blues mean sad, greys mean simple or maybe also sad?…Are the colors consistent? Do they change based on if we’re in the past or present? Washed out or bright? Neatly colored in the lines or bold watercolor splashes?

Page layout: Is it a vertical or horizontal layout? Do the panels have clear borders? Did they use the page creatively, wisely for their purpose, and in a way that makes it easy to read? (Readability is the number one thing in comics, honestly, which is one of the only things most scholars agree on.) Is it easy to see the right order of panels/bubbles?

Cooperation of art and words: Too many words? Too few? Do the bubbles go in the right places in the right panels? Are the words redundant or not what the panel needed?

Then there’s all the stuff you look at in a normal piece of art–can you tell what’s happening? Do you like the style? Does it work?–and the normal stuff for writing–do you like/believe the plot? The characters?

Arguably what’s most important is how the two work together.

Once we get past all that stuff, we can see how all of that works into the grander scheme of things like the message, the genre it belongs (or doesn’t?) belong in, the effects it will have on its audience–teach? inspire? shame?–and so on and so forth.

So, that’s a super quick and fast way to know what I mean when I mean comic studies. Fwee!

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