University of Sussex
Johnston, Patrick James.pdf (22.98 MB)
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Working with comics: labour, neoliberalism and alternative cartooning

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posted on 2023-06-09, 04:01 authored by Patrick James Johnston
The 21st century has seen an unprecedented rise in the volume of comics and graphic novels being produced and consumed and in scholarly interest in the form, with the interdisciplinary field of Comics Studies rising to become a vibrant global community with a significant body of work and an established academic infrastructure. Alternative comics and graphic novels – those outside of the superhero genre–dominated corporate publishing structures of Marvel and DC – have driven this rise and the ensuing legitimation of the form. What defines the specific nature of alternative comics and what they are is the particular work and labour of alternative cartoonists. This work is, in turn, characterized and defined by specific tensions between auteurism (driven by neoliberalism and late capitalism’s veneration of the individual and the entrepreneur) and collective production (driven by the sociological perspective of works of art always being the product of many hands). This thesis is an attempt to present specific examples of where these tensions are exhibited and, as a result, to offer new accounts of the specific nature of comics work. It is also an attempt to move away from the formalism that has dominated the field of comics studies and to move towards an understanding of comics as cultural work, informed by an understanding of comics through their creators and an approach that allows comics practice to inform comics theory. Each chapter of this thesis examines a specific aspect of the culture of working in contemporary comics, contextualised within neoliberal political economy and consistently bridging the gap between auteurism and collective production. These include the portrayal of art school and comics’ engagement with institutions; the direct portrayal of work itself in alternative comics; the use of colour in comics, which here facilitates a reading of the effects of the technical conditions of production on the content and construction of comics; and finally, the effects of digital culture and new disruptive technologies on the production, distribution and consumption of comics, and how this contributes to a present and future understanding of the figure of the auteur cartoonist. Drawing these chapters together, the thesis concludes with a presentation of the auteur cartoonist as one who drives the contemporary culture of comics and graphic novels in the emerging dialectic of comics work. Comics work is thus situated as a political act and a site of resistance and rebellion through collective production.


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