Comic Books: How the Industry Works

By Örnebring, Henrik | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Comic Books: How the Industry Works


Örnebring, Henrik, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Comic Books: How the Industry Works. Shirrel Rhoades. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. 406 pp. $29.65 pbk.

After reading this book on the comic industry by veteran magazine and comics publishing executive Shirrel Rhoades, the main impression is confusion - who is this book intended for? Judging by the back cover blurb, it seems to be primarily aimed at people interested in breaking into the comic book industry, which is fine, of course, but a lot of the information provided in this book (e.g., comic industry basics in chapter 1, comic storytelling and the superhero genre in chapters 2 and 3) is so basic one would assume that someone interested in working in the industry would already know it. Furthermore, if this is indeed intended to be an industry guide-m-"breaking in"-book, then a lot of other information is simply irrelevant (e.g., the parts dealing with comic history, and the detailed discussions of particular comic book storylines).

This is clearly not an academic book, even though at times it appears or wants to appear to be. The book employs an academic reference system with endnotes, but virtually no references are to academic texts, and in some cases they provide only tenuous support for the author's argument. The text jumps from anecdote to anecdote, the writing frequently switches perspective mid-chapter, and it is often unclear exactly what point or argument the author is trying to make. For example, in chapter 4, "Archetypes." the author moves from Jungian theory to links between comics and folklore in what seems mostly as an attempt to justify the existence of superhero comics in the first place. The chapter is strangely disconnected from the rest of the book.

At other times Rhoades, a former newspaper journalist and then Marvel Comics executive, seems to want to write a textbook. All chapters are followed by a handful of "questions for further thought," and the author uses sidebars in comic book format (speech and thought bubbles) explaining key terms or just adding "fun facts" - these things indicate a textbook aim. However, the scattershot and anecdotal approach of the book will probably limit its usefulness to students. For example, chapter 10 ("Comics go to the movies - and turn on the TV") largely consists of unsystematic industry information and production anecdotes about the Hollywood superhero movies of the last decade (the Spider-man movies, the Fantastic Four movies, and so on) and will thus date very quickly.

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