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I once watched an interview with Kevin James (Silent Bob) discussing comic books for a History Channel program about the history of comics. In the interview he described the comic book store as being a den, isolated and apart from society in which "nerds" could revel in their passions privately. This, I believe, makes a lot of sense and affords an opportunity to think of the omnipresent Comic Book Guy image. Isolation and alienation seems to be fundamental in the modern graphic novel tradition. This is sort of a mixed bag as readers and characters alike can and often seem to suffer from alienation and disconnection with the mainstream flow of modernity. Sometimes this isolation can be liberating as Kevin Smith suggests, or terrifying and tragic. This aspect of comics and isolation and alienation is what I intend to discuss in my paper.

            One of the issues I intend to examine is the source of this alienation. This will require my research to examine the cultural and economic development of the modern comic book as an art form and commodity. The taboo origin of comics reinforces trends of isolation in terms of the interaction of the reader and text. I also intend to explore this concept of alienation as it relates to Marxist notions of alienation and its origins in capitalist modern culture. Marx suggests living in a commodity culture creates decay of human interaction as everything turns into some sort of capital. The feeling of depression in modern existence yielded by something like Jimmy Corrigan's life is, I believe, what Marx was getting at.

Beyond origins of alienation and isolation I intend to look at some of the ways these feelings manifest themselves in characters. The most significant, or at least cogent at this time, is concealment. That is either, hiding via body language (Jimmy Corrigan) or masks (Rorschach) or even the very concept of superhero costumes in general which enable the often social recluse "mild mannered" real person to act in public while remaining hidden. This effort to conceal yet also interact in public speaks to the anxiety of the comic book's historical target market of the nerdy teenager.

 Overall the idea here is that the alienation evidenced in comics we've read, Jimmy Corrigan, The Watchmen, Concreteand doubtless further to come is an expression of the interaction between reality and art. Comic book readers and characters are often isolated from general society. That's part of what makes this a special sort of literature even as it becomes more socially recognized.

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  1. Unknown User (mdl8)

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    Eric,

     

    Your idea sounds interesting! I think that you can do a lot with the idea that both the readers and characters seem to, as you put it, "suffer from alienation and disconnection with the mainstream." While you can point to a lot of examples of comic book characters feeling disconnected, though, I wonder how you will be able to show the personality demographics of comic book readers. I would make sure that your overarching idea does not rely solely on the stereotype of the "nerdy teenager." You may be able to avoid this problem by citing something like psychological data or a survey that shows that feelings of isolation are common in teenagers, or show that certain comics have a target audience of socially-challenged teenagers.

                It seems like a strong point of your paper will be your exploration as to how isolation and alienation can be both liberating and terrifying/tragic. This is an interesting paradox. In thinking of the comic book as a commodity, you could consider the fact that an alienated teen may buy and read a comic book in order to escape his isolated life, but not because the comic book offers an escape into a world of un-isolated characters, but because of the opposite. In some super-hero comics, and in graphic novels like Jimmy Corrigan andWatchmen, as you point out, characters are just as isolated and alienated as the reader is. This does not provide a traditional escape to an idealized setting, but instead gives the alienated reader something more useful---the knowledge that he is not the only one of his kind, that he is not alone. In this sense, these comic books seem to attract their target audience not by offering them an idealized world, but by showing them that they are not alone in their imperfect one.

                I like your investigation of how Marx fits in with Jimmy Corrigan, and how specific characters conceal themselves, and why they might be doing so (both from the character's perspective and from a marketing perspective). Good luck! I look forward to reading more.

     

    -Mike

  2. I agree with Mike as to his sense of this project's possibilities and to the point about the "paradoxical" nature of comic-book alienation described in his second paragraph.  It will be pretty easy to establish, amidst contemporary culture, that cliche about dens & isolation (indeed, you already mention a couple of the better-known instances).  What I'm taking away from your abstract is the genesis of an historically specific response to the alienation of industrialization, urban living, ethnic flux, mass-mediated consciousness, and so on.  When I (briefly) dealt with this earlier in the semester, I was drawing upon David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America -- written for the non-academic, and a chapter early in the book.  I think Ware's Jimmy Corrigan is a good fit for several reasons.  First, it returns you back to almost precisely this moment of comics' emergence as a cultural form.  Secondly, there's ample reason to think that Ware is being pretty self-conscious in his critique of mass culture & comics: World Columbian Exposition, narrator's voice, and some of his other projects like Acme Novelty Library.  Take a look at these interviews where he talks about being "dislocated"out of one's own time, or his fondness for turn-of-the-century buildings where craftsmanshipstill was valued.  I see two primary challenges ahead of you:

    1. Theorizing the topic.  Marx looks good to me; how deeply will you go into his oeuvre?  Sociologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries might likewise be useful to your endeavors: Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, Georg Simmel, and Lewis Mumford.  Could be heavy going, at times, but it will help to expand your conceptual & critical vocabulary.

    2. What's the relation between this primal site of comics genesis and our own?  Again, the doubling of the two Jimmy Corrigans gives you a relatively natural way to juxtapose the two time periods.  The silence of Silent Bob might be something, too....

    Looks like it will be a cool project, Eric.