Cinema and Media Studies Comics, Film, and Media
Aaron Kashtan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0220


Comics emerged as a mass medium at the same time as film, and were one of the most popular and influential media in pre–World War II America. In the postwar period, comic books were ghettoized as a medium for children and subliterates, while comic strips entered a decades-long stagnation. Conversely, other countries, particularly France and Japan, developed their own comics traditions, which derived from the American model but diverged from it at an early point; in these countries, comics have retained their status as a mass medium. In America, the cultural status of comics began to improve in the 1980s as a result of influential works like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. Thanks largely to Maus and later works like Persepolis and Fun Home, comics are now commonly taught in a variety of university courses, primarily but not exclusively within literature departments, and comics studies is emerging as an academic field. In the Anglo-American academy, scholarly interest in comics came primarily from the field of literary studies. However, due to developments such as the rise of big-budget superhero films in the 1990s, comics have emerged as a central element of the contemporary media ecology, and an increasing amount of work now focuses on the relationship between comics and other media, including but not limited to film. This bibliography surveys the wide range of work that specifically examines comics in the context of film and media studies. It focuses primarily on comic books and strips, rather than related art forms such as caricature and political cartooning. While this bibliography focuses primarily on the Anglo-American comics tradition, it will also seek to incorporate discussion of other national comics cultures. It begins with lists of introductory works and general histories and theories of comics. Subsequently, rather than focusing on specific genres (e.g., superheroes or comic strips), this bibliography explores a series of topical focuses or axes that have been central to the study of comics and media. These focuses include form and narratology, technology and materiality, audience, cultural politics, nationality, industry, race and ethnicity, and gender and sexuality. These divisions between different axes or focuses of comics studies are not hard-and-fast; many works in this bibliography consider several of these issues at once, and the decision to place a particular work in one category rather than another is somewhat arbitrary. Finally, this bibliography concludes by examining texts that are not merely about comics, but are comics—that is, texts that use the comics medium to do media studies.

Introductory Works on Comics Studies

Comics studies is an emerging field, and the popularity of works like Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home has attracted many scholars to the field who are not comics experts and are often perplexed as to how to study or teach comics. The following works offer a basic introduction to the field for scholars and teachers who are new to comics. The complete novice is advised to start with Newgarden and Karasik 2014. Abel and Madden 2008; Duncan, et al. 2015; and Kukkonen 2013 are basic textbooks on the field, written from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Heer and Worcester 2008 and Smith and Duncan 2011 are useful collections of essays on various aspects of comics, while Baetens and Frey 2014 is a more focused introduction to one of the most widely taught types of comics. Tabachnick 2009 is a useful starting point for teachers interested in using comics. For film and media scholars interested in the study of comics, Beaty 2011 includes useful discussions of how the two fields can inform each other.

  • Abel, Jessica, and Matt Madden. Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: Making Comics, Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond. New York: First Second, 2008.

    This textbook, written by a husband-and-wife team of successful graphic novelists, is intended primarily for aspiring comic book artists. However, it is also relevant to scholars because it offers a clear and accessible introduction to the semiotics of comics.

  • Baetens, Jan, and Hugo Frey. The Graphic Novel: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139177849

    Of the various formats in which comics are published, the graphic novel is the most culturally privileged and the most commonly taught. This introductory volume discusses the history, formal structure, and thematic concerns of this category of comics.

  • Beaty, Bart, ed. Special Issue: In Focus: Comics Studies Fifty Years after Film Studies. Cinema Journal 50.3 (Spring 2011).

    This special issue of Cinema Journal puts the fields of comics studies and film studies in dialogue, discussing the various disciplinary orientations from which comics can be studied and the various lessons that the two fields can learn from each other. This issue provides important insights into both the challenges and the opportunities of approaching comics from a film or media studies background.

  • Duncan, Randy, Matt Smith, and Paul Levitz. The Power of Comics: History, Form, and Culture. 2d ed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

    This textbook is intended for introductory comics studies courses, but it is also useful for scholars new to the medium. It is divided into three units, covering historical, formal, and cultural aspects of comics.

  • Heer, Jeet, and Kent Worcester, eds. A Comics Studies Reader. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

    An anthology of thirty important essays on various aspects of comics, dating from the 1920s to the 2000s. Specific thematic clusters explore comics history, comics form, comics culture, and strategies for analyzing and evaluating comics.

  • Kukkonen, Karin. Studying Comics and Graphic Novels. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

    This book is primarily intended for students in comics studies courses, but it is also potentially useful to advanced scholars new to the field. Kukkonen provides a guide to the close reading of comics, outlines various theoretical approaches to comics studies, and offers in-depth discussions of topics such as autobiographical comics and comics narratology.

  • Newgarden, Mark, and Paul Karasik. How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2014.

    Frequently used as an introductory text in comics studies classes, this essay serves as both a practical guide to comics analysis and a demonstration of the hidden layers of meaning present in even the most seemingly simplistic comics. Newgarden and Karasik examine Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy, a comic strip famous for its apparent simplicity and banality, and show the layers of meaning it contains.

  • Smith, Matthew J., and Randy Duncan, eds. Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    As an introductory anthology of essays on comics, this book complements Heer and Worcester 2008. Each of its chapters explains and demonstrates a specific theoretical perspective on comics, such as political economy, auteur criticism, or intertextuality.

  • Tabachnick, Stephen E., ed. Teaching the Graphic Novel. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009.

    An entry in the MLA’s Options for Teaching series, this anthology explores options for using comics in a wide range of university courses. Clusters of essays explore theoretical and social approaches to comics pedagogy, approaches to teaching specific works, and strategies for teaching comics in specific disciplinary contexts.

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