Everyone knows that comics have come a long way in recent years. Once snubbed as among the lowest of low culture forms, comic books and graphic novels are now reviewed in prestigious magazines and journals, taught in schools and universities, and generally regarded as a form of artistic expression almost (if not quite) as reputable as traditional arts like literature, visual art, music, and so on. But not all comic books are created equal. Why do some works and authors enjoy commercial and critical success while others – perhaps equally as good – languish unknown and uncelebrated?
The Greatest Comic Book of All Time: Symbolic Capital and the Field of American Comic Books, a new book by Bart Beaty and Benjamin Woo, explores these questions in a series of short, provocative essays about value and reputation in the world of American comic books. Inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s analyses of fields of cultural production, we try to understand why works have the reputations that they do and what it might take to re-structure the comics world along different principles that would recognize different works.
The book serves as both a companion to an introductory survey of comic books and graphic novels and a call to reconsider how we practise and teach comics studies.
This website will feature a visual companion to the book, illustrating the essays’ arguments, and a blog, extending and expanding the book’s arguments to additional cases and examples.
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Bart Beaty (@bartbeaty) is Professor of English at the University of Calgary. Over the course of the past decade, his research has focused predominantly on comics as a specific field of cultural production. He is the author of Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, Unpopular Culture, Comics Versus Art, and Twelve-Cent Archie. He has also translated key volumes of comics theory from French to English, including co-editing and co- translating The French Comics Theory Reader. He is the principal investigator of the What Were Comics? project.
Benjamin Woo (@geek_worlds) is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada). His research examines the social worlds associated with geek media cultures, with a particular focus on comic books and graphic novels. He is currently conducting a study on labour in the field of English-language comic book production and is a co-investigator on the What Were Comics? project.