So Routledge is starting an academic journal about graphic novels and comics. My inner lit nerd is torn between squeeing for this (and wistfully considering submitting a paper for it) and lapsing into a "hmm" state of mind.
Let's start with the squeeing, shall we? While I have spent a lot of time here making fun of comics--mainly in the guise of Alan Your Tears Are Like Wine To Me Moore and Aquaman I Live in a Cardboard Box Under the Sea)--I have championed graphic novels as literature in their own right. The most obvious examples of this would be Watchmen and basically anything Alan Moore has written and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
As for the more monthly titles, while it would be hard to argue that some of them (coughTarotcough) construe literature, they are undeniably markers of popular culture, and you can certainly track social/political trends through them. Hell, just look at the evolution of Lois Lane's character, paying particular attention to her 1950s incarnation compared to her contemporary characterization.
The description of the journal as "covering all aspects of the graphic novel, comic strip and comic book, with the emphasis on comics in their cultural, institutional and creative contexts" makes me cautiously optimistic. Since comics have become so twined with American popular culture to the point where even non-comic readers recognize the shorthand used to portray certain personality types, like "man of steel, Wonder Woman" and so on, it's very important to examine comics in an academical and cultural context.
It has only been relatively recently that comics have been viewed in an academic light, since comics have historically been marked as "for children" and by "children" I mean boys. It has only been in the past twenty or so years that papers and books have been published (off the top of my head I think of Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes by Lillian Robinson--if you are at interested in Wonder Woman and female superheroes you need to read this book like yesterday-- and Comic Book Nation by Bradford Wright). There has been studies on horror comics and the war comics of the 40s, but overall comics books have been dismissed as cheap genre escapism for boys (girls, as both Didio and Quesada are quick to assure you, don't read comics).
The journal also wants to include articles about comic book fandom and international comics. I'm happy that they are trying for a wider scope than just the US and maybe Britain. I, for one, would love to see if there's a comic book fandom/culture in, say, Iraq or South America or anywhere that's not predominately white and English speaking.
I really would like to read a journal that explores gender, race, sexual orientation, just among a few topics, in comics. I would love to read about Russian comic book fans, or writers and artists in Mexico creating their own superheroes, and god knows I would kill for a study of Internet based fandom and how much it's dominated by heterosexual Caucasian male fans, and the ramifications of that and the backlashes of criticisms posed by women and fans of color.
So there's the squee, and now we get to my "hmm" part of my reaction.
I'm going to be honest and say this part of my reaction is a bit harder to pin down, and some of you will probably disagree with my reasons, which in that case you need to debate me in the comments, because like I've said many, many times before I love a good argument.
First of all, I'm not entirely certain how successful this journal will be. I know that I'll be buying it, but others? Especially since a majority of average comic books fans aren't exactly inclined to do in depth analysis beyond debating who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman? This journal may very well put out one issue and then fold completely.
Second of all, I'm afraid that this journal, like in most areas of academia, the field will be dominated by, again, heterosexual white males, and that would probably, but not definitely, limit the topics explored (like gender and race and even sexual orientation).
Thirdly, how exactly to you tackle some of the monthly titles? It's one thing to write about Sandman or Watchmen, but what the hell do you do with, for example, Tarot (as godawful as it is) or Spiderman or Batman and his eight spin-off titles or the eight bajillion continuities in DC and Marvel? I'm not saying that no one could analyze this, but how do you handle that in a way that non-comic reading people will understand?
Fourthly, the fanboys. Oh god, the fanboys. Can you just imagine all the wank that will come out of this? Granted, most of them will probably never read the journal, but that's unlikely to stop them probably from complaining about how unfair everyone is to them and their comics and how, seriously, it's just not women objectified and there's, like, non-white heroes, dude.
Lastly, I'm afraid that in the end this will be less a serious studying of comics as culturally and literately important and more regulating comics to the ghettoized genre, which is still viewed as being for children and therefore has no literary or cultural value.
That all said, I am cautiously optimistic for this journal and will definitely be picking up the first volume. I am, first and foremost, a geek at heart.