Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-First-Century Storytelling

Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-First-Century Storytelling

Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-First-Century Storytelling

Projections: Comics and the History of Twenty-First-Century Storytelling


When Art Spiegelman's Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, it marked a new era for comics. Comics are now taken seriously by the same academic and cultural institutions that long dismissed the form. And the visibility of comics continues to increase, with alternative cartoonists now published by major presses and more comics-based films arriving on the screen each year.

Projections argues that the seemingly sudden visibility of comics is no accident. Beginning with the parallel development of narrative comics at the turn of the 20th century, comics have long been a form that invites- indeed requires- readers to help shape the stories being told. Today, with the rise of interactive media, the creative techniques and the reading practices comics have been experimenting with for a century are now in universal demand. Recounting the history of comics from the nineteenth-century rise of sequential comics to the newspaper strip, through comic books and underground comix, to the graphic novel and webcomics, Gardner shows why they offer the best models for rethinking storytelling in the twenty-first century. In the process, he reminds us of some beloved characters from our past and present, including Happy Hooligan, Krazy Kat, Crypt Keeper, and Mr. Natural.


The subject of this book—comics—is named on a false assumption: that comics themselves are necessarily comical or funny (thus, “the funnies”). And as a form, comics has been plagued by a series of critical misconceptions and misunderstandings that have only served to compound the error of the name: that they are directed primarily at juvenile audiences; that they are easy or transparent reading; that they are, if not beneath contempt, certainly not worth notice from those whose job it is to determine what is, indeed, worthy of notice.

The effects of these misapprehensions of the comics form are clear. Until extremely recently, there were few serious attempts to study comics, either formally or historically. There have been periods when some comics creators experienced fame and even riches for their work (the 1920s and 1930s, for example), and there have been times (the first decade of the twentieth century, the late 1940s) when hysterical responses to comics prevailed. But for the most part, the art of sequential comics remained a culturally, critically, and commercially undervalued form throughout the first century of its existence. And while there have been periods when comics readers have been taken seriously (Hollywood’s recent engagement with comics fans is the most obvious example), those who have found unique readerly pleasures and communities around the comics form (in all its forms) have been largely treated with suspicion or derision by those who have accepted the premises that there is nothing worth looking at in comics.

To be fair, there have been benefits to the cultural and scholarly neglect of comics. By only sporadically being profitable and almost never being respectable, comics has been left to develop its own language and its own unique relationship with readers, often for long periods, with few or no attempts to make the form respectable—to do for comics what Hollywood sought to do in the 1920s: “to kill the slum tradition in the movies” in order to create an “art” that would “meet the ideals of cultivated audiences.” As Gilbert Hernandez . . .

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