Reading Between the Panels (Part II)

edited by Steve Collins

This special issue of Scan Journal continues Reading Between the Panels (Part I).

Comic books have been often treated derisively as a hybrid of art and literature, but ultimately a product of low culture. In the late 1940s, Dr Frederic Wertham warned that “Comics [is] death on reading” (Dorrell, Curtis, and Rampal 1995, 226). Works by artists, writers and scholars including Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Will Brooker and Danny Fingeroth have forced a reappraisal of the space occupied by comic books: “A form that was once solely the province of children’s entertainment now fills bookshelves with mature, brilliant works . . . Cartoonists’ work is hung on the walls of galleries and museums” (Wolk 2007, 3). Furthermore, the emergence of computer generated imagery has facilitated bringing comics and graphic novels from the exclusive preserve of geeks and fanboys to the status of big screen blockbusters. Whilst movie adaptations are (predominantly) introducing non-comic book reading audiences to superheroes their appeal largely lies in special effects making the fantastical appear real whether it is Wolverine’s protruding adamantium claws or Jon Osterman’s transformation into Dr. Manhattan. Between the panels, however, from mainstream titles outwards, the full gamut of human experience is explored. Marvel’s Civil War series examined the implications of totalitarian control whilst fundamentalism and terrorism is the focus of Johnny Jihad. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis recounts a primary insight into the lives of Iranian women and expatriates and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer winning Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is a memoir detailing the experiences of Spiegelman’s father in surviving the Holocaust.

Comics provide an effective means of communicating various concepts to diverse audiences. Unlike moving images where the medium sets the pace of engagement between viewer and content, comics merge time and space allowing the reader to control the rate at which information is transmitted (McCloud 1993, 100). “In a culture that has become the most visually oriented in the history of humankind, comics retain the original concept of storytelling and remain a potent force of information” (Jacobson and ColoŽn, online). Indeed, as Sones states, “the potency of the picture story is not a matter of modern theory but of anciently established truth. Before man thought in words, he felt in pictures . . . pictures tell any story more effectively than words” (Sones, 1944, 239).

Any notion of comic books as purely entertainment for children has been negated by the production of adult-oriented titles and a rising scholarship surrounding the area. For example, Will Brooker’s Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon explores contested homoerotic readings of Batman originally posited by Wertham (1968), whilst the International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA) has extensively published articles examining comic art from over fifty countries.

The diverse forms of the comic book medium serves a myriad of functions which are explored through the articles presented in this issue, which aims to contribute to the existing academic studies on the comic book and graphic novel format.

Simon Locke’s Considering comics as medium, art, and culture - the case of From Hell considers Moore and Campbell’s From Hell and raises questions concerning the nature of comics as medium, art and culture.

Justine Toh examines the conduct of America’s “war on terror” through Batman’s appropriation of military hardware in The Dark Knight. Toh argues that Batman’s suit and Batmobile are representative of a military-industrial-entertainment complex that encapsulates the militarization of popular culture.

In Remasters of American Comics: Sequential art as new media in the transformative museum context Damian Duffy rebuts the discomfiture established by dichotomies of high and low culture which cast museums as bastions of the former, and comics as harbingers of the latter. Through case studies such as Comic Release!, Duffy demonstrates that comics museology need not be at odds.

Christopher Hayton looks at the relationship between motion pictures and comic books, specifically the body of work published by Charlton Comics during the 1960s. Fantastic Giants: Charlton Comics’ Monster Movie Adaptations pays homage to the work of Steve Ditko and Joe Gill which laid the foundations for later titles published by Marvel, Dark Horse and others that used movies as their basis.

Bobby Kuechenmeister challenges McCloud's theories in Understanding Comics and offers an alternative method of analysing comics through classical rhetorical theory.

In the information section of this issue, Karl Suhr presents an analysis of two seminal graphic novel titles: Watchmen and American Born Chinese. Suhr canvasses the narrative devices of a play within a play and the doppelganger.


Brooker, W. Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon (2000) London; New York: Continuum Books.

Dorrell, L., Curtis, D., and Rampal, K. (1995) ‘Book worms without books? Students reading comic books in the school house’. Journal of Popular Culture, 29, 223-234.

Harvey, R. C. (1996). The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. United States of America: University of Mississippi Press.

Jacobson, S. and ColoŽn, E. ‘A Statement on the 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation’. accessed 17th July 2008.

Lent, J. A. (1994a). Comic Books and Comic Strips in the United States: An International Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (1994b). Comic Art of Europe: An International Comprehensive Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (1996). Comic Art in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America: A Comprehensive International Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Lent, J. A. (ed). International Journal of Comic Art. (Since 1999).

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Sabin, R. (1993). Adult Comics: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

Sones, W. (1944). ‘The comics and instructional method’. Journal of Educational Sociology, 18, 232-240.

Wertham, F. (1968). Seduction of the Innocent. London: Museum Press.

Wolk, D. (2007) Reading Comics and What They Mean. United States of America: Da Capo Press.