The Invisible Medium: Comics Studies in Australia

Posted by on November 13th, 2010 at 6:38 PM

Australian comics scholar, historian and curator Kevin Patrick writes about comics studies and the phenomenon of the graphic novel for the University of Melbourne’s entertainment journal Refractory:

[The graphic novel…] trend has only recently become evident in Australia, where, ever since Shaun Tan’s wordless fable, The Arrival (2006), was selected as Book of the Year for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in 2007, graphic novels have enjoyed heightened media attention.  Tan’s high-profile publication was swiftly followed by Nicki Greenberg’s comic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (2007), Mandy Ord’s meditation on Melbourne’s cityscape, Rooftops (2007), and the first volume of Bruce Mutard’s projected World War II trilogy, The Sacrifice (2008). The near simultaneous appearance of these works, all of which received positive reviews,[2] suggested that Australia’s mainstream book publishers were ‘catching up’ with international trends.

Such concentrated media coverage created the false impression that the Australian graphic novel was an entirely new phenomenon, thereby ignoring earlier Australian examples of the graphic novel[3] and bypassing any mention of Australia’s post-war comic book industry, the scale and diversity of which easily eclipsed the modest output of present-day graphic novel publishing activity.

Yet just as Australian publishers, readers and journalists have lagged behind their overseas counterparts in their critical reappraisal of comics and graphic novels, it would appear that Australian academe has been equally tardy in giving this medium serious consideration. David Walker’s introduction to the landmark 1979 study, Australian Popular Culture, conceded that, despite the breadth of topics covered therein, ‘there remains a wealth of magazine stories, serials, comics [and] cartoons … which also merit analysis’ (1979: 13). Nearly a quarter of a century later, it appeared that few Australian scholars had taken up Walker’s suggestion; as Adam Possamai observes, of the dozen major surveys of Australian popular culture published during 1987-2001, none of them made any reference to comic books or graphic novels (2003: 110). Comics, it seems, remain an invisible medium.

Read the full article.

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