Comics & Stuff

By | Friday, December 13, 2019 Leave a Comment
Comics & Stuff cover
Henry Jenkins might be called the father of fandom studies. When I first started working on my book on comics fandom, Jenkins was one of the only people who had studied fans academically at that point, and even that was largely focused on sci-fi fandom. Since then, the study of fans and fandom has become a thing and there are even whole conferences devoted to it now.

Jenkins' work on fan studies is fairly well known at this point, and he's taken a look at the phenomenon from several angles. Recently, though, Jenkins announced his next book, one which looks more closely at comics in particular and their relationship with readers via "stuff." Here's the official publisher description...
For most of their history, comics were widely understood as disposable—you read them and discarded them, and the pulp paper they were printed on decomposed over time. Today, comic books have been rebranded as graphic novels—clothbound high-gloss volumes that can be purchased in bookstores, checked out of libraries, and displayed proudly on bookshelves. They are reviewed by serious critics and studied in university classrooms. A medium once considered trash has been transformed into a respectable, if not elite, genre.

While the American comics of the past were about hyperbolic battles between good and evil, most of today’s graphic novels focus on everyday personal experiences. Contemporary culture is awash with stuff. They give vivid expression to a culture preoccupied with the processes of circulation and appraisal, accumulation and possession. By design, comics encourage the reader to scan the landscape, to pay attention to the physical objects that fill our lives and constitute our familiar surroundings. Because comics take place in a completely fabricated world, everything is there intentionally. Comics are stuff; comics tell stories about stuff; and they display stuff.

When we use the phrase “and stuff” in everyday speech, we often mean something vague, something like “etcetera.” In this book, stuff refers not only to physical objects, but also to the emotions, sentimental attachments, and nostalgic longings that we express—or hold at bay—through our relationships with stuff.

In Comics and Stuff, his first solo authored book in over a decade, pioneering media scholar Henry Jenkins moves through anthropology, material culture, literary criticism, and art history to resituate comics in the cultural landscape. Through over one hundred full-color illustrations, using close readings of contemporary graphic novels, Jenkins explores how comics depict stuff and exposes the central role that stuff plays in how we curate our identities, sustain memory, and make meaning. Comics and Stuff presents an innovative new way of thinking about comics and graphic novels that will change how we think about our stuff and ourselves.
I think the notion of intentionality here is interesting, in that I don't think I've seen it discussed in this manner before. The instances I have seen it all came from art/storytelling instruction books, and could generally be boiled down to: learn to draw mundane, background objects to make your comics stories feel more grounded and real. There was never any intention really considered, other than making the space the characters inhabit seem full and realistic. J. Jonah Jameson wouldn't just be at an empty desk -- he'd be surrounded by office equipment like any other publisher.

What Jenkins seems to be doing, though, is showing how that does have some intentionality behind it. In order to look like a publisher's desk instead of reporter's desk or a secretary's desk or whatever, it has to have certain "stuff" that is generally indicative of publishers. The artist has to think about that in order to draw it. And similarly, we -- as real people -- participate in a similar process to present an image of ourselves. Just as the artist draws a desk full of "stuff" to indicate Jameson is a publisher, we collect a desk full of "stuff" to indicate what type of person we are.

It sounds like an interesting premise, and I'll definitely look to checking the book out when it's published in April. Full details about the book can be found on the publisher's website.
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