What Is “Comic Book Studies?”

Comic studies is an area of research focused on comics and sequential art. Since studying comic books may draw on scholarship from a range of different disciplines, such as semiotics, sociology, cultural studies, and linguistics, comics studies is a very diverse field. While there were a few attempts at constructed a general system of comics semiotics throughout the 20th Century, it wasn’t until the 1990s that comic studies began to gain a reputation as an actual area of study. Since the 90s a large amount of scholarly work has been done in the field. This has generally been done through other existing disciplines, including the examples provided earlier.

A number of scholarly publications and academic conferences have been created for the study of comics in the past 20 years. Additionally, college studies courses are becoming more common at academic institutions. West Liberty University now offers an undergraduate literature degree in comic studies and the University of Dundee in Scotland has created the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies (SCCS).

The types of studies done in this field can usually be placed into one of two groups, with some overlap; compositional studies and comics historiography. Compositional studies theorists look at comics in the same way that literary scholars study literature or the way that film scholars study cinema. Comics historiography focuses on revealing and understanding the history of comics and sequential art. Throughout both areas of study, comic scholars struggle with constructing a single definition for comics that includes all existing writing and art styles. This has become an important and ongoing conversation within the comic studies community.