Bart Beaty

Professor of English, University of Calgary
(Principal Investigator)

Over the course of the past decade Bart Beaty’s research has focused predominantly on comics as a specific field of cultural production. He has published fifteen peer-refereed books with three more slated to appear in 2016; sixteen of these are on comics. Five of his monographs address the historical development of the comics field, with a particular emphasis on the way that comics exist in relation to the larger spheres of what Pierre Bourdieu terms restricted and large-scale cultural production.

Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture examines the way that comics were taken up by the nascent field of American communication studies in the immediate postwar period. Unpopular Culture examines the transformation of Western European comic books in the 1990s, with particular emphasis on the role of artist-run comic book publishing cooperatives. David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence meditates on the comics-film relationship through a close reading of the acclaimed film and the graphic novel from which it was adapted.

Comics Versus Art asks how it was that comics were largely excluded from the history of art, and what are the implications, for comics and for art history, now that comics are increasingly being welcomed into the institutions that define contemporary art practice, including galleries, auction houses and museums.

Twelve-Cent Archie provides the theoretical bridge between Comics Versus Art and this current project. This book examines some of the most popular but least studied cultural artifacts of the twentieth- century, Archie Comics, in order to suggest scholarly approaches that are rooted neither in the humanistic tradition of greatness nor a simplistic reflection thesis common to certain forms of the social sciences. Twelve-Cent Archie opened the theoretical conception of the study of “typicality”, and “What Were Comics?” will develop this idea more fully while also providing its empirical framework. The theoretical groundwork for the project is further developed in his forthcoming collaboration with Benjamin Woo, Consecrating Comics, an examination of the specific processes of canon formation within the comics field.

In addition to these monographs, Beaty has been deeply implicated in the expansion of the theory of comics form. He has translated key volumes of comics theory from French to English, including co-editing and co- translating The French Comics Theory Reader, a project that has made him intimately aware of the current state of comics theory.

He currently serves as the Academic Convenor for the 2016 Congress of the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences, which will be held at the University of Calgary as part of its fiftieth anniversary celebrations.



Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Carleton University

Benjamin Woo’s current research examines the working conditions and experiences of comics creators. This project focuses on institutional dynamics of production in the contemporary comics industry and complements the historical focus of What Were Comics?, using a combination of survey and interview methods.

Woo is an emerging scholar, but he has already established himself as a leading voice for social-scientific approaches within comics studies. His 2008 essay, “An Age-Old Problem,” is widely cited as a deconstruction of the dominant historiographical schema in comics studies (the “ages” of comics) and called for precisely the kind of alternative, inductive approach to periodization that What Were Comics? seeks to generate.

He has previously written on subculture theory, comics and graphic novels, and geek media cultures. With Stuart R. Poyntz and Jamie Rennie, he recently guest edited a special issue of the journal Cultural Studies. His personal website offers additional information about his study of working conditions in the comics industry.


Nick Sousanis

Eyes High Post-Doctoral Fellow
Department of English, University of Calgary

Nick Sousanis’s current research picks up threads from his ground-breaking dissertation in comics form, Unflattening. His work explores the interplay between drawing, perception, and thinking, and the ways in which their intersection makes comics a fertile idea-space for creative and critical practice. This theorizing on the form in the form will further demonstrate the utility of comics as a powerful tool for communication in the scholarly sphere. While still a doctoral candidate, responses to his then in-progress dissertation and other works on the importance of comics and visual thinking in teaching and learning, including The Shape of Our Thoughts and Comics as a Tool for Inquiry, have led to him being invited to present on his work at such institutions as Stanford, UCLA, and Microsoft Research, along with keynote addresses at conferences for the Visitors Studies Association’s and the International Visual Literacy Association. His personal website is SpinWeaveAndCut.