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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts


The recent rise in scholarly interest regarding graphic narratives has been precipitous and remarkable. This intellectual ferment is evidenced both by the strength, volume, and range of the comics produced, as well as an attendant enthusiasm and productivity in comics criticism and theory. Graphic narratives' ability to reinvigorate literary theoretical questions of temporality, narrative, and periodization, among others, points toward the catalytic effect that studies of comics are beginning to provide for conventional literary scholarship (for examples, see Chute and DeKoven 2006; Chute 2008; Baetens and Blatt 2008).
In this essay I will concentrate in particular on periodization and explore the ways comics complicate most conventional notions of modernism and postmodernism in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature. Namely, the development of comics can be seen as an inverted history of an admittedly caricatural, but nonetheless widely held trajectory of twentieth-century literary history, one that moves from the formal experimentation and putative disdain for mass culture in modernist texts to the playful self-referentiality and celebration of consumption in postmodern fiction. Using the recent work of Chris Ware as a paradigm, I argue that contemporary graphic narratives' characteristic ambivalence about their status as popular cultural productions repeats modernist anxieties about literary value that reemerge precisely at the moment graphic narratives are bidding for literary respectability.


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