The purpose of the Encapsulations series is to produce a series of short monographs of 35,000 to 50,000 words each. Each volume in the series will offer close readings of small, clearly delineated and framed bodies of comics work—whether a single series or a section thereof, a graphic novel, or the corpus of a given writer/artist—with an emphasis on expanding the critical range and depth of academic comics studies.
The ideal Encapsulations book (1) expands our critical knowledge of the global comics archive by looking at texts/artists/publishers that are either understudied or have not already been studied and (2) makes a significant contribution to the field of comics studies by addressing key and emerging conceptual, formal, and theoretical problems, in the process showcasing comics studies’s potential for contributing to the interdisciplinary work of the humanities and social sciences in the twenty-first century.
The aim of the series, then, is to facilitate a move in comics studies away from the same “big” and oft-studied texts and instead to curate a body of work that uses more diverse case studies to develop new and existing theories in tune with an interdisciplinary and global approach to comics studies.
One of the main strengths of comics studies is that it is and always has been an interdisciplinary area of scholarship. It has ample room not only for the most expected fields—English, cultural studies, media and communications, for example—but also for the unexpected: urban studies, history of religions, ethnography, or health and medicine studies, to name a few that are gaining traction. And on any given comics scholar’s shelf you’ll likely find a number of theoretical approaches resting comfortably next to each other, from narrative history and sociological investigations to feminist, queer, and disability theory.
Despite this exuberant interdisciplinarity, fairly little work has been done that allows scholars to study comics qua comics, as a medium that has its own peculiarities. What comics-specific tools that have been developed primarily focus on formal analysis, while any work that looks at comics as cultural artifacts relies heavily on borrowed tools (particularly from film studies and literary criticism). There is, as yet, no middle ground, though the work of scholars like Nick Sousanis, Thierry Groensteen, Barbara Postema, and Frederick Luis Aldama chart a course in this direction. Among the chief contributions Encapsulations is therefore its focus on advancing the theoretical grounding of comics studies, while also giving attention to the contingent material and political dimensions of comics narratives, communities, and production practices. As the series grows, so too will the range of tools available for medium-specific or at least more medium-sensitive critical analysis.
In moving forward with a pitch or proposal, please keep in mind the following:
Framing: We are interested with Encapsulations in critical studies that look closely at a coherent body of work, for example, work of one particular author, publisher, etc, or work closely tied together by time, genre, style, etc. We are not interested in books based around comics texts that have been selected to fit a particular argument—e.g. an argument about how gutters work—but, rather, books in our series will begin with a small and well-defined body of comics work that is then examined closely to create a critical argument. Think of the argument as arising organically from the text rather than the argument choosing the text.
Selection: Try to look beyond the beaten path. We do not need a recognizable name or title to see the critical worth of a text. Again, the text should be a guiding light for the argument, not the other way around. The most obvious hack-work can say far more on certain topics than award-winning “graphic novels” ever could, if only the right questions are asked. We approach this series from the standpoint that all comics are worth studying and have something to teach. We want text selections to expand the horizons of comics scholarship as it has taken shape in the Anglophone world, but are at the same time uninterested in arguments that seek to canonize new texts.
“Quality”: A basic understanding of and approach to comics and their critical study underlying Encapsulations is that “quality” is not a valid analytical category but rather an ideological and sociocultural one that should itself be subject to analytical rigor. “Quality” and “goodness” are interesting only as an object of meta-discourse about aesthetics and value in and around comics, fandom, and comics studies. That is, for the purposes of this series, calling a creator a “master” or “genius” or a comic “good” adds nothing of critical value; asking why someone would apply these labels and for what purposes does.