Digging Into Graphic Narrative

Late in 2015, the journal South Central Review published a special issue on “Graphic Narrative.” The issue featured seven essays and two book reviews on the growing field of scholarship focused on this area of publishing. Nicole Stamant, assistant professor of English at Agnes Scott College, served as guest editor and joined us for a Q&A to take a deeper look at the issue.

How did this issue come together?

scr.32.3_frontNS: In 2013, the Editor of South Central Review, Joe Golsan, was visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. That year, there was a special, interactive exhibit that featured graphic narratives and it got him thinking about how the journal could engage these kinds of stories. The journal is devoted to the intersection of culture and academia, and this special issue is a great manifestation of such dedication. After this experience at the Victoria and Albert, Joe spoke to Nicholas Lawrence, the journal’s Managing Editor, who got in touch with me. Much of my research and teaching revolve around graphic narrative, and when Nick indicated that there was a desire for South Central Review to assemble a special issue on graphic narrative, I thought it was a fantastic idea.

No specific direction or subgenre was indicated for the special issue, which I thought was exciting, too. As I write in the introduction, while we have seen a real increase in overall scholarship about graphic narrative, it’s a particular thrill to have as storied a journal as South Central Review take an interest in it. Frankly, such an interest is a testament to the journal itself—they’re committed to being on the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship. Although my own research focuses on life writing and graphic memoir, I quite liked the idea of an open discussion about graphic narrative and was optimistic that we would get a real variety of analyses. We put out a general call for articles about graphic narrative and received some great submissions. I organized the issue from there, based on trends featured in the essays: an investment both in the unique potential and power of graphic narrative and in how graphic narratives foreground negotiations of representation, of structure and form, of visibility, of the archive, and of publishing itself.

In the intro, you mention that this issue takes for granted that graphic narrative scholarship is needed. How important is it that this kind of analysis is more accepted now?

NS: To be honest, it’s enormously important. We are lucky to be in a literary moment of true proliferation, in a moment in which stories are being told by people who may have had a much more difficult—or impossible—time sharing their stories at other points, and in all kinds of ways. Graphic narrative is one such form, and the fact that we are taking this form seriously, in all of its variability, allows us as readers and thinkers new ways to understand being in this world. We live in a moment saturated with the confluence of text and image, and it makes sense that our storytelling strategies would reflect such intersections. So, paying attention to graphic narrative matters generally; in scholarship, it is perhaps even more crucial to consider issues of representation and diversity of storytelling. Graphic narrative is fundamentally cross-disciplinary, negotiating text and image, and graphic narrative scholarship has the potential to help articulate what it is that makes graphic narrative so special. In addition, scholarship can influence pedagogy, and one of the hopes for this special issue is that these articles allow those who may not be steeped in Comics Studies the opportunity to learn a bit more about what is happening in contemporary graphic narrative and how these kinds of texts can be incorporated into classrooms and shared with students.

What new ground is broken by the articles in this issue?

NS: Importantly, this issue includes articles about outstanding texts that do not yet have a large scholarly presence: Sinéad Moynihan’s analysis of Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro and Jim Coby’s discussion of Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge do a lot of work in the service of these books and these stories. These articles substantively provide nuanced negotiations of history, experience, technology (as with Neufeld’s hyperlinked text), and literary tradition, and it is a real privilege to have had the chance to put them into print. For the contributions about texts that are more well known, the articles add complexity to the conversations: this is particularly true with Robert Hutton’s consideration of the publishing industry—he uses Art Spiegelman’s Maus as a test case for its significance in our understanding of graphic narratives—and Frederik Byrn Kohlert’s negotiation of trauma studies in Phoebe Gloeckner’s work. There are also articles that posit new theoretical foundations about graphic narrative; Nancy Pedri’s work on ocularity and focalization and K.W. Eveleth’s presentation of labyrinthine aesthetics are incredibly interesting and useful. They all work together to, I hope, present readers with a microcosm of the discussions happening elsewhere in scholarship and in classrooms, and they’ve already changed the way I understand and teach these texts.

What does the future hold for serious examination of graphic narratives?

NS: It is such a fantastic time to be reading, creating, and writing about graphic narratives! There are so many important works that academia hasn’t quite discovered, yet, or works that we haven’t given the real attention they deserve. Contemporary graphic narrative allows for untold new ways of considering experience, and continuing studies of comics and graphic narrative should demand close attention to issues of (re)presentation more generally. I hope that we will continue to recover comics and graphic narratives that are buried in the archives; that the myriad forms and modes of graphic narratives challenge our assumptions about lived realities and imagined worlds; and that there continues to be the kind of rigorous, careful consideration about graphic narrative that we’ve seen in the last decade.

Leave a comment

Filed under Popular Culture, Journals, Cultural Studies, Literature

Thomas Edison: Measuring the days of an extraordinary life

Guest post by Louis Carlat

“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day,” said American essayist Alexander Woollcott. Anything might happen. But of course, some days turn out to be more important than others. With the publication of its eighth volume, the Thomas Edison papers project has gone through the record of nearly 15,000 of the famous inventor’s days on Earth, some 50,000 documents. Having covered close to half the man’s life, we’ve published 3,127 of those records and crossed the halfway point in the planned series of volumes of his papers. What have we learned?

Edison 8 frontispiece

Plaster bust of Thomas Edison, made in Italy by American-born sculptor Longworth Powers in 1886.  Edison was born on February 11, 1847.

Anyone who’s followed the paper trail—letters, photos, clippings—of a parent or grandparent has mused on the connections between the stuff in hand and the breathing life that created it all. In the case of Edison, the amount of stuff accumulated over his eighty-four years is enormous. His life was exceptional not only for its ambitions and accomplishments but also for the detail in which he (and others) recorded it. There are shelves full of letters, telegrams, and notebooks, of course, but also grocery lists, receipts, contracts, architectural drawings, and the odd party invitation; in short, nearly anything you can imagine putting on paper. We’ve seen the drafts written in blinding haste, furious crossouts, meandering doodles, snatches of Shakespearean verse, and the phonetic spelling of a highly literate man who sometimes wrote the words as he heard them pulsing through his head.

The documents open a window onto American life. As unusual and privileged as Edison’s life was, they reveal him not simply as a lionized (or reviled) inventor but as a man fitting as best he could into the world of his day. He was a node in the networks of countless less famous people whose paths he crossed, whose lives we can glimpse through his. There are the skilled immigrant craftsmen in his shops, the Irish servant girls in his home, the doctors who delivered his children and tended his first wife, the undertaker who buried her, and the florist who delivered flowers to her grave (until he remarried). Not to mention hundreds of aspiring inventors, advice-seekers, and would-be hangers-on wanting to ride Edison’s coattails. All named and described, as best we can, through painstaking research.

Not the isolated genius of storybooks, Edison had an ecology of relationships that defined his work and life. Long before anyone used the term emotional intelligence, he had the ability to form strong connections with men who could help him as assistants, colleagues, or mentors. A beguiling storyteller, he had warmth and something we would now call charisma—a quality that drew men to him with intense loyalty. He also had persistence and an infectious confidence that, by mid-life, were souring into obstinance and arrogance that drove some of them away. His legendary devotion to work came with a disregard for his family’s emotional needs that seems reckless, even by the standards of his day.

No one better embodied the American enthusiasm for inventiveness and entrepreneurship than Edison. The iconic incandescent light bulb is still a staple of children’s books and social studies curricula, even as that hot globe of glass becomes a museum piece. The phonograph was the first device for recording and playing back sound. Coming like the proverbial bolt from the blue, it launched Edison into worldwide fame as the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” It promised a form of immortality to anyone able to impress his or her voice onto a small cylinder for the ages. The phonograph drew to his laboratory flocks of reporters whom Edison would welcome back to write up for insatiable readers his latest work in electric lighting or whatever he happened to be doing. Edison designed the things but depended on wide networks to elevate them to the status of “inventions.” He had model makers, draftsmen, and lawyers to get them through the Patent Office; financiers, agents, friendly reporters, more lawyers, and at least one notorious political fixer to bring them to buyers. He personified America beyond its shores, as he cultivated close business ties in Great Britain and continental Europe, especially, but also Asia and through the Americas.

The act of inventing is a close cousin to other forms of intellectual or artistic creativity, and it was a stream of ideas, more than anything else, that defined Edison’s restless days and filled his pages. He thought with his fingers in the act of drawing and writing. He had “innumerable machines in my mind,” as he put it, and he poured them onto paper. Browsing his notebooks now, a reader can imagine the mechanisms in motion, clattering in the head of the increasingly deaf inventor. Sometimes the stream became a torrent: dozens of ways to attain the same motion or effect, and long lists of materials to experiment with. There were lists even on the honeymoon with his second wife: experiments and things to make, from the practical (lamp filaments) to the fanciful (a “Larynaxial piano”). His mind was fecund, in the ornate language of his day; in the more clinical view of our time, he can seem manic.

As editors, we get to see it all with sometimes spine-tingling intimacy. But despite the sheer volume of information and our best research efforts, we have questions. Like where did all those ideas come from? Sometimes we can name a source, like the conversation that sparked Edison’s interest in electric lighting. Or a passage in Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches, which he re-read repeatedly. Oftentimes it’s not clear. Edison read widely and took dozens of technical and scientific journals. He had networks of business and scientific contacts, men (always men) willing to share information; one rival claimed that the Patent Office had “leaks” that flowed in his direction.

Even 50,000 documents can’t capture 15,000 days full of life. Sometimes we don’t even know what city Edison was in, much less what an assistant or rival might have told him, or the tone he used with his wife. In Edison’s days, as in our own, we expect the unexpected. No day is unimportant, and anything can happen.

edisonpapers#8Louis Carlat is an associate editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University.  Along with Paul B. Israel, director and general editor; Theresa M. Collins, associate editor; Alexandra R. Rimer and Daniel J. Weeks, assistant editors; he is part of the editorial team that recently completed volume 8 of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison: New Beginnings, January 1885–December 1887.


Leave a comment

Filed under American History, American Studies, Biography, History of technology

Four Journals Join JHUP Collection

The Johns Hopkins University Press will add a quartet of journals to its list. The diverse additions – ASAP/Journal, Dante Studies, Journal of Jewish Identities and Lutheran Quarterly – now bring the JHUP journals list to 83.

“The addition of these titles continues our growth in the Journals Division,” said Journals Publisher Bill Breichner. “We are happy to provide an outlet for outstanding interdisciplinary scholarship in a variety of important disciplines.”

ASAP/Journal is a new publication which will serve as the official journal of The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present. Edited by Jonathan P. Eburne (Penn State University) and Amy J. Elias (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), the journal will explore new developments in post-1960s visual, media, literary and performance arts. ASAP/Journal will publish three issues per year.

Dante Studies publishes annually in November and will join JHUP for Volume 134 in 2016. Justin Steinberg (University of Chicago) serves as editor for the journal, which is the official journal of the Dante Society of America (DSA) and the premier journal devoted to Dante in the English-speaking world.

Journal of Jewish Identities is edited by Helene Sinnreich at Youngstown State University. The interdisciplinary journal serves as a forum for contesting ideas and debates concerning the formations of and transformations in, Jewish identities in their various aspects, layers and manifestations. Published twice a year, the journal will publish Volume 9 in 2016 with JHUP.

Volume 30 of Lutheran Quarterly will introduce the quarterly journal to JHUP in 2016. Edited by Paul Rorem at the Princeton Theological Seminary, the journal serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church everywhere as a forum for discussion of Christian faith and life on the basis of the Lutheran confession.

Leave a comment

Filed under Journals

Pro-Nuclear Environmentalism

In the final issue for 2015, the journal Technology and Culture included an essay from Danish-based researchers Rens van Munster and Casper Sylvest called “Pro-Nuclear Environmentalism: Should We Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Energy?” Sylvest, an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Southern Denmark, and van Munster, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, used the essay to examine the ideological commitments and assumptions of pro-nuclear environmentalism by performing a critical, historical analysis of the nuclear-environment nexus through the prism of documentary film. The authors now share some of their thoughts behind the topic in a Q&A.

How important is it for a journal like Technology and Culture to provide an audience for this essay?

tech.56.4_frontIt is immensely important. The list of inspiring essays and articles that have been published in T&C is a long one, and since we are interested in bringing the study of politics and the historical study of technology closer together, it is really an ideal outlet; it also brings our work to the attention of a new audience and we hope this piece can be part of an increased dialogue on questions of technology and global politics.

We are also extremely pleased to be publishing in T&C for an additional, perhaps somewhat more personal, reason. More than 50 years ago T&C published a piece that has been particularly important for the development of our own work; namely Lewis Mumford ‘Authoritarian and Democratic Technics’ (1964). Over the past 4-5 years we have run a research project on “Globality and Planetary Security” (GAPS), sponsored by the Danish Research Council, and the bulk of this project has been devoted to unearthing a new history of nuclear political thought, if you will. Mumford is among a group of thinkers that we designate nuclear realists, and who in response to the thermonuclear revolution of the 1950s formulated a global form of political thought that was as insightful in its analysis of nuclear weapons as it was resolute in its opposition to these weapons.

Writing about these nuclear realists has opened new ways of understanding the convulsions that atomic and thermonuclear weapons produced and it has allowed us to explore links between nuclear technology and the environment or between nuclear technology and understandings of the future. Most of our findings are included in the book Nuclear Realism: Global Political Thought during the Thermonuclear Revolution, which will be published by Routledge in April 2016.

How did you come to use documentaries such as Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise as the prism for your essay?

We have for some time been interested in visual representations of various forms of global politics, from war and law to migration and economics. We soon discovered that one of the most prominent forms in which such questions are mediated is the contemporary documentary. And yet, outside film studies few attempts have been made to understand the attractions and power of this genre and art form. So back in 2012-2013 we collected a group of international relations specialists and asked them to write on one or more recent documentaries of relevance to their field. We subsequently published these essays in an edited volume entitled Documenting World Politics (Routledge, 2015).

During this process we came to reflect on the politics of the documentary, its history, its strategies and its attractions to political actors. It also involved watching a lot of films, of course. And among them were the productions of Robert Stone, most notably Radio Bikini and Earth Days. Given the subject and openly political agenda of Pandora’s Promise, it invited deeper analysis.

What is the greatest difficulty in separating the vision of nuclear weapons from the promise of nuclear energy?

The short answer here is: history! Since the dawn of the atomic age – in fact, since way before 1945 when the potential of atomic energy was undeniably demonstrated to the world – it is a source of energy that has been shrouded in ambiguity. For every dystopian nightmare of atomic warfare there has been a series of utopian, redemptive visions of peace and prosperity.

In fact, the very distinction between military and civilian nuclear energy is the central point of contestation in nuclear politics. As the current debates about the Iran deal illustrate, the distinction is also fundamentally unstable and throughout the history of the nuclear age we can see how people have struggled to uphold, transgress or break down this distinction. Our conceptions of technology are at the very heart of this instability. Given the risks associated with technological failure and the inherent dual-use capacity of large parts of nuclear technology, the central question becomes whether humans indeed master human-made technologies, or whether anthropogenic technologies may change our values, aspirations and climate, either subliminally or more directly. This tension is exactly what is at stake in pro-nuclear environmentalism.

Where do you hope the conversation goes from here concerning pro-nuclear environmentalism?

Well, first of all, as we argue in the essay – we hope that those advancing the cause of nuclear energy will adopt a more reflexive and humble posture in the years to come. The nuclear age is filled with examples of technological utopianism and hubris. Climate change is the contemporary challenge, and it is also true that nuclear energy is part of the contemporary energy mix and likely to remain so for some time. But before we promote or adopt a strategy to fundamentally nuclearize global energy provision, we should think carefully about our history with this technology, with the risks and dangers it involves and about the political values such a strategy would serve. We don’t think pro-nuclear environmentalists have provided convincing responses to these fundamental questions. Perhaps this really is the time to imagine our future – including the future of energy – anew?

Leave a comment

Filed under Journals

Podcast with Paul R. Josephson

New Books in Science, Technology, and Society featured Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans: The Politics of Everyday Technologies in an article and podcast interview with author Paul R. Josephson.  Read the article and listen to the podcast here.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy.

Leave a comment

Filed under American History, Business History, Cultural Studies, History of technology, Popular Culture

Birds are going extinct: Entire species are hanging on by their wingtips

“Deforestation and the pet trade have ravaged avian populations, and the consequences for mankind could prove dire.”

That’s how Salon introduced an excerpt recently posted from The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals by Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich. The excerpt originally appeared on Earth Island Journal, and you can read it on Salon here.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy of this important book.



Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Birds, Conservation, Nature

Spring books preview: politics and policy

We’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this spring—and we’re pleased to start off the new year with a series of posts that highlight our forthcoming titles. Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Spring 2016 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on all pre-publication orders. Today we feature spring books on policy and politics; click on the title to read more about the book or to place an order:

taylorJust and Lasting Change
When Communities Own Their Futures
second edition
Daniel C. Taylor and Carl E. Taylor

diamondAuthoritarianism Goes Global
The Challenge to Democracy
edited by Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Christopher Walker

rojeckiAmerica and the Politics of Insecurity
Andrew Rojecki

sovacoolFact and Fiction in Global Energy Policy
Fifteen Contentious Questions
Benjamin K. Sovacool, Marilyn A. Brown, and Scott V. Valentine

whiteheadIlliberal Practices
Territorial Variance within Large Federal Democracies
edited by Jacqueline Behrend and Laurence Whitehead

Use discount code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount on pre-publication orders for JHUP’s spring 2016 titles.
To order, click on the book titles above or call 800-537-5487.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Affairs, Politics, Public Health, Publishing News