In one of my lives, I acquire and edit books for a university press. Many of those books concern comics studies and appreciation, which is territory that hits close to home. University Press of Mississippi, my current employer (but not for much longer), has been instrumental in establishing popular culture studies—particularly comics studies—as a legitimate field of scholarship, and I’m proud to have played a minor role in this development.
I never imagined that anyone would be interested in reading about my work in this field but I often forget how many other geeks exist in the world. Jeet Heer, a prominent comics scholar and journalist, interviews me at The Comics Journal about comics, comics studies, and the future of comics scholarship. Because the interview was conducted as a series of email exchanges, my typing fingers got all flustered, and so I get nerdy, wonky, and longwinded in a hurry. I hope I’m at least mildly funny and self-deprecating, too. Here’s a taste:
Comics studies certainly has its own version of auteurism, in that (in the U.S., at least) the criticism and study is very tied around a single cartoonist’s vision, often to the detriment of the historical and publishing contexts that aided and abetted him.
And it is mostly a “him” in comics, and that’s been one of the core flaws in comics studies so far–a decided lack of concentration on women’s contributions to comics’ aesthetics, production, and editing. Quick example: For all the attention paid to Art Spiegelman and the founding of RAW as a launching pad for alt-comics, there’s been almost no serious attention paid to Francoise Mouly, Spiegelman’s wife and RAW co-founder, despite the fact that she’s been The New Yorker‘s art director for over a decade. Her editorial guidance shaped RAW, and her use of cartoonists in The New Yorker‘s pages and on its covers has introduced a generation of cartoonists to the broader mainstream. As an editor, Mouly has been instrumental in shaping the “literary” comics, just as Diana Schutz has been absolutely key in shaping the “creator-owned” indies of the 1980s and 1990s. (We don’t have Paul Chadwick or, ironically, the hyper-masculine Dave Sim and Frank Miller, without her.) But, because comics scholarship is male-centered and auteurist-driven, industry-specific studies and/or contextual studies–i.e., ones in which women might serve a larger role in comics’ history–are woefully under-served.