The production of any scholarly journal is an arduous and often thankless task: each issue represents hours, days, and months of labor expended by its editorial staff. If ImageTexT has enjoyed particular success for more than a decade, then, this is in large part due to the voluntary efforts of graduate students at the University of Florida who have nimbly balanced their editorial duties with coursework, research, and teaching obligations. Thus, in 2017, at the suggestion of Professor Marsha Bryant, I instituted an ImageTexT seminar which would offer graduate students formal university credit for their participation in the journal’s production.
The inaugural ImageTexT seminar involved two major objectives. First, it introduced students to major works in the discipline of comics studies – for example, those produced by such scholars as Bart Beaty, Hilary Chute, Ramzi Fawaz, Thierry Groensteen, Charles Hatfield, Barbara Postema, and Nick Sousanis – in a way that invited them to map out the terrain of the present field and consider the critical placement of ImageTexT within it. Second, in the newly-formed tradition of the “professional seminar,” it not only provided students with practical training in the production of the journal, but also familiarized them with different forms of academic writing. For instance, in addition to offering weekly responses to assigned theoretical texts, participants analyzed the organizational rhetoric of competing journals and edited collections in the field; completed assignments in copy-editing, proof-reading, and formatting; and composed conference papers that might be developed into full-length article submissions.
Each of the book reviews anthologized in this issue originated within this inaugural ImageTexT seminar. As such, they demonstrate its ultimate purpose of bringing together theory and praxis. To be sure, each review is shaped by the theoretical concepts we discussed and debated over the course of the semester. Moreover, and perhaps more crucially, each review demonstrates its author’s effort to engage in critical dialogue with a scholarly text in ways that place into relief their individual styles and theoretical investments –and in ways that invite further disciplinary inquiry.
For instance, Jacquelin Elliot’s scrupulous reading of Jess Nevins’ The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4000 Year History of the Superhero permits her to reflect on generic distinctions and periodization. Drawing on a similar historical approach, Megan Fowler praises the nuanced readings anthologized in Trischa Goodnow’s and James J. Kimble’s edited collection, The Ten Cent War: Comic Books, Propaganda, and World War II, but nevertheless calls for greater scholarly attention to the contributions of individual producers and creative collectives. Christopher Smith’s review of Jean Braithwaite’s Chris Ware: Conversations offers a similar critique of the field. Although Smith argues that this anthology of interviews (and the series in which it was published) provides readers with an opportunity to “understand the artist through their works,” he questions its role in a largely cis-male-oriented canonical project. In his elegantly written response to Eric Reinder’s The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki, Kevin Cooley examines the rhetoric and methodology employed by “moral” readings of comics and animation in an effort to distinguish between immanent analyses of morality and authorial performances of moralizing. Finally, Chase Machado’s review of Tom Smart’s Palookaville: Seth and the Art of Graphic Autobiography calls attention to a significant topic in comics scholarship: the “fine line” between fiction and autobiography.
If, in the past decade or so, the field of comics studies has played an increasingly important role in scholarly inquiry, this is because pioneering journals such as ImageTexT initially legitimized it. In turn, if ImageTexT has played a significant part in establishing, critiquing, and widening this emerging discipline, this is in great part due to the intellectual and professional labor of its graduate editorial collective. No doubt, the authors of the book reviews anthologized below will soon publish monographs of their own, subject to the critical attention of an upcoming generation of comics scholars.