Working with comics: labour, neoliberalism and alternative cartooning

Johnston, Patrick James (2016) Working with comics: labour, neoliberalism and alternative cartooning. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory. The state. Theories of the state
N Fine Arts > NC Drawing. Design. Illustration > NC1764 Comic books, strips, etc.
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2016 15:26
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2019 08:48
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/65444

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