On History: Focus

By | Tuesday, November 04, 2014 Leave a Comment

A few hundred years ago, many of the scientific fields we're familiar with today didn't exist. There was no such thing as electronics. Or robotics. Or particle physics. Science hadn't evolved enough for people to have discovered those avenues of thought. Even fields of study that were around were largely combined in broader categories. Biology and chemistry were the same pursuit as far as most people were concerned.

Despite general advances and specialization, the public writ large still held "science" as a single field well into the twentieth century. How many comics of the Golden Age feature scientists that are comfortable switching from mechanical engineering to biophysics? How does Hank Pym make any sense? He developed a shrinking gas, has a complete biological understanding of insects, and can build sentient robots!

I bring it up in a History post because I'm thinking about how the study of comics history has a similar specialization that most people aren't aware of. How many people even within comics still see it as a single field if study? I used to think I knew my comics history pretty well... until I read a history of comic strips that introduced a slew of comics and creators I'd never heard of. And then I read a history of manga that was filled with names I'd never seen before. And there was a video that included comments on European creators. And a book on Indian comics. And a book on Mexican creators. And...

I still know next to nothing about comics from South America. A whole continent of comics about which I'm scarcely even aware exists!

One of my goals from many years ago was to become a comics expert. I wanted to be THE answer man for comics. That's about the same as trying to become THE expert on science. It's just too broad a topic for one person to become an expert in. I saw someone recently looking for an expert on Charlton creators that might be the equivalent of what Doc Vassillo is to early Marvel creators. I know someone out there working on her advanced degree on Richard Outcault and another who wrote his doctoral thesis on Batman. The level of specialization is astounding!

It's not impossible to know a great deal about comics in general. But there's an increasing world of difference between being a comics generalist and being an expert in a specific field of comics studies. And I haven't even been talking about comics business or production processes!

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