Some Essays of Note

Sometime last year, my pal Amy Sisson passed along a note from Salem Press, seeking writers about comics. I thought I might be able to do that and contacted them for details and wound up writing six essays for their Critical Survey of Graphic Novels, a sprawling, multi-volume scholarly look at the field.

I see now that the first set, Heroes & Superheroes, will be coming out this Spring with the other sets following over the next year.

In the first two volume set, they boast “130 essays covering graphic novels and core comics series that form today’s canon for academic coursework and library collections, with a focus on the hero/superhero genre”. Their goal, according to the press release:

A “first” in the field, this brand new Critical Survey series focuses on all aspects of the graphic novels format, aiming to establish it as an important academic discipline and research topic in libraries. Designed for academic institutions, high schools, and public libraries, the series provides unique insight into the stories and themes expressed in historic and current landscape of the graphic novel medium.

For this first set, I wrote about Walt Simonson’s Thor and Gil Kane’s groundbreaking Blackmark. In May, they’re offering up Independent and Underground Classics where I wrote about Jon Sable and Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. In August will be Manga where I contributed an essay on Mai the Psychic Girl and finally next March History, Theme, and Technique will have my piece on comic book ages.

A fairly eclectic collection I must say but they offered extensive lists and asked the contributors to volunteer for the ones we’re interested in using a priority list. I was then assigned whatever they decided and given very strict guidelines. In one essay, I came up 100 words short in one area and had it sent back by the editor for more words.

Nothing like this has been tried for the field and while expensive – the first set is $295 – it is certainly worth asking your libraries to see about acquiring them. I personally look forward to having this resource and the companion online database.


  • stephen

    I was wondering on your take on the lack of images to the original work. As a non expert in the field — I thought the work would have been enhanced in seeing some of the pages from the works or even a collage of pages over time span of the work for relevant subjects (i.e. batman, superman, etc.) I imagine the decision rests with the difficulty in obtaining rights to the images, I personally feel this would fall under fair use, but some publishers are more cautious than others. It could also have to do with size, but the database could have been used for this.

    Also — In the same vein — how open do you think the artists (the ones still active) would have been to using drafts or pre-production drawings which would have gotten around the copyright issues (unless the creators were paid on a work for hire basis where the rights would have been transferred to the employer). Is it like a photographer who doesn’t want to show anything but his best work or do you think they would have been open to inclusion.

    I still think its a good work– don’t get me wrong…but when I read the entries I then long to see the artwork…

    Thanks — Stephen

    • Hi Stephen, I never spoke with Salem Press about the graphics, presuming they would illustrate under the Fair Use guidelines. Having not seen a copy (mine is on order), I can’t speak to the overall presentation of the material. The rights have nothing to do with the stage of drawing, a pencil sketch of Wolverine is still a trademark of Marvel Comics so permissions have to come into play. Sounds like I too would long for illustrations, but scholarly works don’t always have such luxuries.

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