Redrawing the New York–Comics Relationship

Authors: Martin Lund*,
Topics: United States, Cultural Geography, Communication
Keywords: comics, New York City, popular culture, representation, urban cultural studies
Session Type: Interactive Short Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

That New York City is a comics staple is as undeniable as it is unsurprising. Many comics creators have lived and worked there; NYC’s cityscape provides dramatic fodder for graphic storytelling; and the city’s special place in the American and international imaginary makes it a recognizable setting for a mass readership. Because of this, fans and academics often claim that New York has a special relationship with comics.

This supposed New York–comics relationship, however, appears axiomatic, a cultural myth that obscures more than it enlightens. But, as Barthes noted: in myth, “things lose the memory that they once were made,” and, through an erasure of dialectic, complexity, contradiction, and depth, come to “appear to mean something by themselves.” NYC is certainly not without complexity or contradiction, nor are comics free from dialectic or depth.

Produced for general consumption, comics often address current events and articulate what is perceived as the essence of the attitudes of their time and place. Anchored in their immediate context, they often mirror or criticize contemporary society, constituting cultural artifacts in which a rich but largely neglected historical record is embedded. This presentation builds on an ongoing research project in which representations of NYC in American comics are studied through an interdisciplinary comics studies and urban cultural studies methodology. Using findings from the project, it illustrates how the image of NYC in comics is never merely mimetic of material space, but always a selective and ideologically informed symbolic montage or composite.

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