Reading Comics / by b.woo

There's a new issue of the audience and reception studies journal Participations out. It's a monster, and among its many special sections is one on the audiences of comics. I have an article called "Understanding Understandings of Comics: Reading and Collecting as Media-Oriented Practices," which you can now also find on my Publications page. Briefly, I argue that we can't just talk about generic audiences or fans. Doing "audiencing" is an activity that may comprise several different practices. In the article, I discuss two: "collecting" and "reading." While many people who collect comics read them and vice versa, I'm trying to get at distinct ways that people orient themselves to comics when they think of being a comics fan as "essentially" about collecting commodities or consuming narratives. Comics are very different things to readers and collectors, and these practical orientations (and the "understandings" that go along with them) are materially embedded in the publishing format of the graphic novel and the "slabbed" CGC collector's item, respectively.

I was very glad to be included in this issue of Participations by editor Martin Barker, as he collected together an impressive set of contributions to the study of comic-book audiences, an aspect that is sadly neglected by a lot of comics scholarship. Not everyone can or should study audiences and fans, but too many claims about comics are made in absence of any consideration of them at all. There are some really great articles here:

  • Martin Barker on the reception of Joe Sacco's Palestine as measured by online reader reviews
  • Shari Sabeti on the reading practices of adolescent comic fans in a school graphic novel club
  • Liam Burke on the emergence of the "comic-book movie" as a genre and how it's understood by self-described comic fans
  • Ian Gordon on the career paths of letter of comment writers in Superman comics
  • Kevin Patrick on the reception of The Phantom in Australia, where it is viewed as distinct from American superhero comics
  • and Ofer Berenstein on the linguistic interactions fans use to recommend comics to one another

I'm thinking a lot about the state of scholarship on readers, audiences, and fans lately for another project, and it's nice to see that there's a community of people working in this part of the field and that so many of them are doing such interesting empirical research on how audiences read comics.