Many reasons for the rise of comics to a medium of cultural prominence have been put forward in recent years. Paul Douglas Lopes in Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Comic Book (2009) emphasizes one: “While comic books originally were based on short stories in serial format, now comic books present long-arced narratives with complex storylines. Now the fastest growing market for comic books, graphic novels, presents this art in book-length format, again allowing for complex and compelling storytelling” (2009, xvi). Lopes then goes on to discuss how sophisticated storytelling in comics moves beyond genre boundaries and attracts the widespread attention of “cultural gatekeepers,” like journalists and professional reviewers, prize committees and librarians. Lopes embarks on a social history of comics in his book. What I am interested in, however, is precisely the “complex and compelling storytelling” that Lopes does not explore much further. How do comics tell their stories? How do they achieve complexity, playing with genre frames, immersing readers in fictional worlds, and helping them to construct the fictional minds of characters? Contemporary Comics Storytelling suggests a cognitive approach for analyzing comics in all their richness and complexity. As my case studies will show, contemporary comics use their complexity to engage with the legacy of postmodernism,1 its subversion, self-reflexivity, and moral contingency, by positing their own alternatives.
This book is an investigation into how the storytelling of comics stands at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It has a narratological and a literary agenda. Dubbing comics “narratives” is hardly contested; dubbing comics “literature” certainly is (see Meskin 2009 for an overview of this discussion). Let me explain what I mean by that. Literature can be defined through different features: formal complexity, multiple meaning potentials, an imaginative reconsideration of the familiar, an intervention in a cultural debate, the institutionalization of a