Publications

I’m privileged to research and write about what I find interesting–and to have been supported by the federal government to do so. I want to make the results of that work as widely available as possible, and so I’ll endeavour to keep this list of publications up to date and make versions/copies of my publications available whenever I am legally allowed to do so. If you have any questions or want to talk about my work, you’re welcome to email me.

Journal Articles

Understanding Understandings of Comics: Reading and Collecting as Media-Oriented Practices”

Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies 9, no. 2 (2012): 180–99. PDF

Much writing about comic books and comic-book culture assumes we all know what a comic-book fan is and what she or, more often, he does. This may be premature. The audiences of comic books and graphic novels are best understood as participants in a set of socio-cultural practices. ‘Audiencing’ thus relies on skills and tastes acquired through participation in a community of fellow reader–practitioners. This article draws on qualitative research in comic-bookstores and interviews with a small group of current and former audience members to explore the range of practices oriented to contemporary comic books, paying particular attention to the emerging divide between readers and collectors. The rise of graphic novels and of ‘slabbed’ collector’s comics both signal a new autonomy of reading and collecting from each other. What it means to be part of the audience of comic books depends very much on what practice(s) one actually undertakes as an audience member.

Alpha Nerds: Cultural Intermediaries in a Subcultural Scene”

In “Cultural Intermediaries in Context,” edited by Jennifer Smith Maguire and Julian Matthews. Spec. issue, European Journal of Cultural Studies 15, no. 5 (2012): 659–76.

Recent studies of cultural intermediaries demonstrate that economic activity in even the most rationalized organizations and industries is thoroughly cultural. But they may not do justice to contexts where production and mediation are embedded in communities with distinctive traditions and aesthetic standards. This article offers an ethnographically informed account of intermediaries working within one such context: namely, the organizations and stores composing the “nerd-culture scene” in a Canadian city. Retailers and group organizers enable geeky cultural practices by providing spaces where individuals can develop their interests and hobbies. Their labour is analyzed in terms of their subcultural careers, gatekeeping functions within the scene, and their dispositions towards the “mainstream.” They are not simply economic agents but also culturally and socially situated actors motivated to do this work for its intrinsic rewards. Subcultural scenes cut across industrial sectors and cultural industries, making them a special context for the work of cultural intermediaries.

The Android’s Dungeon: Comic-Bookstores, Cultural Spaces, and the Social Practices of Audiences”

Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 2 (2011): 125–36.

An adequate understanding of the readers of comic books and graphic novels must extend beyond reader–text relationships to comprise contexts of reception. Chief among these is the direct-market comic-bookstore. In contrast to newsstand distribution, the direct market represents the institution of comic-book collecting and connoisseurship as subcultural practices. Comic shops are not simply distribution points in a commodity chain but also social settings integral to the reproduction of comic-book fandom, yet they occupy an ambivalent position between the comic-book industry and its consumers. Citing findings from qualitative research conducted in three Canadian comic-bookstores and drawing on the work of Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, and Erving Goffman, this article develops three approaches to the sociology of the comic-bookstore, theorizing them as locales for interaction among participants; as nodes, interlocks and regions articulating the communities served by a given store; and as both sanctuaries from mainstream hierarchies of taste and status, and arenas of competition for social and cultural capital.

Subculture Theory and the Fetishism of Style”

Proceedings of the Western Canada Communication Graduate Students Conference. Spec. issue, Stream: Culture/Politics/Technology 2, no. 1 (2009): 23–32. PDF | HTML

Subculture theory, a paradigm most closely associated with British cultural studies, promised to provide a Marxian sociology of the connections between social-structural determinants and their expression in the relatively autonomous sphere of culture. This promise has remained largely unfulfilled. The more recent, so-called “post-subcultures” literature has decisively demonstrated the limitations of the model elaborated by the scholars of the Birmingham School. However, in abandoning its class-based critique, they have tended to fall back upon a single-minded concern with the emancipatory potential of lifestyle and consumption. In neither of these “moments” is the issue of style itself opened up as an arena of social and cultural reproduction. That is to say, subculture theory has tended to fall prey to a fetishism of style. In this paper, I will briefly outline post-subculture critiques of “classical” subculture theory and, drawing on Jean Baudrillard’s theory of consummativity, point towards the need for a defetishizing study of subcultures as an integral part of a critical cultural studies project. I will also outline a typology of cultural formations as an analytical model for future subculture research.

An Age-Old Problem: Problematics of Comic Book History”

International Journal of Comic Art 10 (2008): 268–79. PDF | HTML

The Ages of Comics is a historiographical system that comics studies has inherited from the fan scholarship tradition. While it is frequently criticized, it is almost inevitably recuperated with a new set of Ages or an adjusted canon. However, these attempts to fix the only address problems of content, while the model’s true weakness is the totalizing and essentializing concept of an “Age.” This essay outlines a critique of the Age system on this basis and argues for its obsolescence as a historiographical problematic. In its place, an alternative problematic is proposed: the genealogy of comics scenes.

Book Chapters

Reconsidering Comics Journalism: Information and Experience in Joe Sacco’s Palestine”

In The Rise and Reason of Comics and Graphic Literature: Critical Essays on the Form, edited by Joyce Goggin and Dan Hassler-Forest, 166–77. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. PDF | HTML

In this chapter, I examine claims made concerning the “inherent subjectivity” of comics journalism, as practised by the cartoonist Joe Sacco in graphic novels like Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, versus the “objectivity” of traditional journalistic practice. I explore some of the issues raised by the non-fiction graphic novel and interrogate the concept of comics journalism by appealing to another model of non-fiction representation: the documentary film. I develop an ideal-typical distinction between the reporting of information and the communication of experience, which is ultimately rooted in the work of critical theorist Walter Benjamin. I then use examples from Palestine to situate Sacco on the continuum between information and experience.

Toxic Gaming?: On the Problems of Regulating Play”

With Stephen Kline. In Communication in Question: Competing Perspectives on Controversial Issues in Communication Studies, edited by Josh Greenberg and Charlene D. Elliott, 97–104. Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2008.

Reviews

  • Review of the exhibition Krazy! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games +
    Art
    , curated by Bruce Grenville et al., Vancouver Art Gallery. International Journal of Comic
    Art
    10 (2008): 821–23.

Selected Conference Papers

  • With Kenneth Huynh. “‘Asian Fail’: The Nerdiness of Asians and the Asianness of Nerds.” Paper to be presented at Working the Frame: Comparative Approaches to Asian Canadian Literature & Culture, the 2012 John Douglas Taylor Conference, Hamilton, ON, October 25–26, 2012.
  • Virtues, Vices, and Media-oriented Practices: Towards a Normative Framework for Cultural Policy.” Paper presented at Moral Economies and Creative Labour, a Media Industries Research Centre (Leeds) and Centre for Research on Sociocultural Change (Manchester & Open University) conference, Leeds, UK, July 7–8, 2011.
  • The Android’s Dungeon: Comic-Book Stores as Social Settings.” Paper presented at the Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels, Bandes dessinées and Comics, Manchester, UK, July 5–6, 2011.
  • Whose Policy? Which Culture?: Putting ‘Audiences’ and ‘Consumers’ into Cultural Policy Studies.” Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Communication Association, Montreal, QC, June 1–3, 2010.
  • ‘White Kids Love Hip-Hop’: Nerdcore and the Performance of Subcultural Identity.” Paper presented at the annual conference of the Canadian Communication Association, Vancouver, BC, June 4–6,2008.
  • The Clash of Civility and the Right to Communicate: The Jyllands-Posten Mohammed
    Cartoons.” Paper presented at Enclosure, Emancipatory Communication and the Global City,
    an international conference of the Union for Democratic Communication, Vancouver, British
    Columbia, October 25–27, 2007.
  • An Age-Old Problem: Problematics of Comic-Book Historiography.” Paper presented at the International Comic Arts Forum, Washington, DC, October 18–20, 2007.
  • Guttered Stories: The Documentary Comics of Joe Sacco.” Paper presented at Visible Evidence XII, Montreal, QC, August 21–25, 2005.

Guest Lectures, Invited Talks, and Public Engagement

  • Presentation on academic writing and publishing. Communication Grad Caucus professional development workshop, March 23, 2012.
  • Beyond Our Borders: Mapping the Space of Comics.” Guest post at ComicsForum.org.
  • Popular Art Worlds?: Comic Books and the Nerd-culture Scene.” CMNS 488 Special Topics: Art Worlds (Jan Marontate, instructor), School of Communication, SFU, October 26, 2011.
  • Developing a Qualitative Field Study; or: How I Learned to Stop Being a Hater and Love Research Methods.” SOCY 210 Social Research Methods (Rebecca J. Scott, instructor), Dept. of Sociology, Queen’s University, October 26, 2010.
  • A Risk Factors Approach to Media Effects.” CMNS 130W Explorations in Mass Communication (Ian Chunn, instructor), School of Communication, SFU, January 29, 2009.
  • The Kids are All Right?: Children and Promotional Culture.” CMNS 323W Cultural Dimensions in Advertising (Shane Gunster, instructor), School of Communication, SFU, 27 February 2006 and 26 June 2007.