Teaching & Learning Guide for: The Philosophy of Comics
Article first published online: 2 MAY 2012
© 2012 The Author. Philosophy Compass © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Volume 7, Issue 5, pages 361–364, May 2012
How to Cite
Meskin, A. (2012), Teaching & Learning Guide for: The Philosophy of Comics. Philosophy Compass, 7: 361–364. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2012.00478.x
- Issue published online: 2 MAY 2012
- Article first published online: 2 MAY 2012
- Cited By
This guide accompanies the following article(s): Aaron Meskin, ‘The Philosophy of Comics’. Philosophy Compass 6/12 (2011): 854–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00450.x
Comics have been around since at least the middle of the 19th century, but they are just beginning to receive philosophical attention. Much of this recent philosophical work has focused on the definition of comics and their relation to other art forms (specifically film and literature), but recent work on such topics as narrative in comics, comics authorship, the relationship between words and pictures, and the interpretation of comics shows that there are a range of interesting issues to be explored. Although comics are not essentially a mass or popular art, the vast majority of them are examples of those categories. Hence, comics may be investigated in their own right or as paradigmatic examples of the mass or popular.
Carrier, David. The Aesthetics of Comics. University Park, PA: Penn State UP, 2000.
The first book-length discussion of comics by an analytic philosopher. Discusses the relation between comics and caricature, identifies three putatively necessary features of comics, addresses the interpretation of comics, and concludes by arguing that comics are a posthistorical art.
Carroll, Noël. A Philosophy of Mass Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.
An examination and defense of mass or popular art by a leading aesthetician.
Carroll, Noël. ‘The Paradox of Junk Fiction.’Beyond Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 335–47.
Offers an account of why we are interested in the largely predictable stories that are found in popular narrative fictions such as comics.
Eisner, Will. Comics & Sequential Art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse Press, 1985.
An illustrated introduction to comics by one of the masters of the field. (Eisner was a prolific author and illustrator of comics who produced the syndicated strip The Spirit as well as A Contract With God and numerous other graphic novels.)
Heer, Jeet and Kent Worcester, eds. Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 2004.
A useful collection of essays on comics by important twentieth century literary and art figures such as Umberto Eco, Clement Greenberg, C. L. R. James, Thomas Mann, Gilbert Seldes and Robert Warshow.
Levinson, Jerrold. ‘Hybrid Art Forms.’The Journal of Aesthetic Education 18.4 (1984): 5–13.
Offers an account of hybrid art forms – a category to which comics belong.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.
An outstanding introduction to comics in comic form by a well-respected comics artist.
Meskin, Aaron. ‘Defining Comics.’The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65.4 (2007): 369–79.
Argues that all extant attempts to define comics are flawed and that definition is not required for philosophical investigation of the form.
Meskin, Aaron and Roy T. Cook, eds. The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
An anthology of philosophical essays which address the aesthetic issues raised by comics including the nature of comics authorship, genre, the word-image relation, the ontology of comics, the relation between comics and other art forms, humour and comics, and the idea of a language of comics. Includes a lengthy introduction which addresses the history of comics as well as the history of philosophical theorizing about them.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. 2 vols. New York, Pantheon, 1986 and 1991.
Widely accepted as a masterpiece of the form and awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Hugely influential – both on comic-making and on theorizing about comics.
Note: Most weeks include both non-philosophical and philosophical readings as well as a suggested comic (or film).
Week I: Introduction to Comics and the Philosophy of Comics
Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art.
Meskin. ‘The Philosophy of Comics.’Philosophy Compass 6/12 (2011): 854–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00450.x.
Kivy, Peter. ‘Differences.’The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51.2 (1993): 123–32.
Suggested Comic: Brunetti, Ivan, ed. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
Week II: The Definition of Comics
McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapters 1 and 2).
Meskin, ‘Defining Comics?’.
Cook, Roy T. ‘Do Comics Require Pictures? Or Why Batman #663 Is a Comic.’Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69.3 (2011): 285–96.
Suggested Comic: Spiegelman, Art. Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@*!. New York: Pantheon, 2008.
Week III: Storytelling in Comics
McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapters 3 and 4).
Pratt, Henry John. ‘Narrative in Comics.’The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 67.1 (2009): 107–17.
Suggested Comic: Moore, Alan and David Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics, 1995.
Week IV: Pictures and Words
McCloud, Understanding Comics (chapter 6).
Carrier, The Aesthetics of Comics (chapter 4).
Wartenberg, Thomas E. ‘Wordy Pictures: Theorizing the Relationship between Word and Text in Comics.’ In Meskin and Cook 2012.
Suggested Comic: Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2004.
Week V: Comics and Literature
Chute, Hillary. ‘Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.’PMLA 123.2 (2008): 452–65.
Meskin, Aaron. ‘Comics as Literature?’British Journal of Aesthetics 49.3 (2009): 219–39.
Carrier, David. ‘Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: The Comics Version.’ In Meskin and Cook 2012.
Suggested Comic: Simmonds, Posy. Gemma Bovary. London: Jonathan Cape, 2001.
Week VI: Comics and Film
Moore, Alan. Writing for Comics: Vol. 1. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press, 2007 (chapter 1).
Pratt, Henry John. ‘Making Comics into Films.’ In Meskin and Cook 2012.
Cook, Roy T. ‘Why Comics Are Not Films: Metacomics and Medium-Specific Conventions.’ In Meskin and Cook 2012.
Suggested Film: Snyder, Zack (Director). Watchmen. United States, Warner Bros., 2009.
Week VII: Intentions and Interpretation in Comics
Seldes, Gilbert. ‘The Krazy Kat That Walks by Himself.’ In Heer and Worcester 2004.
Cummings, E. E. ‘A Foreword to Krazy.’ In Heer and Worcester 2004.
Warshow, Robert. ‘Woofed with Dreams.’ In Heer and Worcester 2004.
Carrier, The Aesthetics of Comics (chapters 5 and 6).
Gracyk, Theodore. ‘Allusion and Intention in Popular Art.’Philosophy and the Interpretation of Pop Culture. Eds. William Irwin and Jorge J. E. Gracia. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007.
Suggested Comic: Herriman, George. Krazy Kat. (Many strips are available online and in a variety of publications. See, for example, Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman by Patrick McDonnell, Karen O’Connell and Georgia Riley de Havenon. New York: Abradale Press, 1999.)
Week VIII: Criticizing and Evaluating Comics
Wolk, Douglas. ‘What’s Good about Bad Comics and What’s Bad About Good Comics.’Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2007.
Walton, Kendall. ‘Categories of Art.’Philosophical Review 79.3 (1970): 334–67.
Carroll, ‘The Paradox of Junk Fiction.’
Suggested Comic: Bechdel, Alison, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. London: Jonathan Cape, 2006.
- 1Can there be a distinctive philosophy of comics? What distinctive philosophical issues do comics raise?
- 2Can comics be successfully defined? How important is a definition of comics? Does good comics criticism require a definition? Does successful theorizing about comics require one?
- 3How do comics tell stories? Do comics tell stories differently from films and novels?
- 4Is there a distinctive way words and images are related in comics? Do the pictures in comics illustrate the words?
- 5How do comics relate to other art forms? Are some (or all) comics literature? Or are comics more akin to films than ordinary books?
- 6Does the interpretation of typical comics differ from the interpretation of ‘high’ art such as painting and serious literature? Do the intentions of authors and artists matter to the interpretation of comics?
- 7What makes a good comic? What makes a bad comic? Are these merely matters of opinion?