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 seventeen peer-refereed books since 2005. 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 collaboration with Benjamin Woo, The Greatest Comic Book of All Time, 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 is the former Head of the Department of English at the University of Calgary, and, from 2014 to 2016, he was Academic Convenor of the Congress of the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences. His work in the latter position earned him the 2016 Calgary Champion Award from the City of Calgary. In 2016 he was named Killam Annual Professor by the University of Calgary.



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 who has quickly built a remarkable reputation in the field of comics studies. He is the co-author of The Greatest Comic Book of All Time, which describes the theoretical assumptions of What Were Comics?. In 2018, he published Getting A Life: The Social Worlds of Geek Culture, an examination of the everyday lives of participants in the social worlds of fans and enthusiasts based on extensive field work undertaken while he was a graduate student. Woo is the principal investigator of a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant titled Comic Cons: An Emerging Urban Media Industry.

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 which has been published as the book, Scene Thinking: Cultural Studies from the Scenes Perspective. His personal website offers additional information about his study of working conditions in the comics industry.


Nick Sousanis

Assistant Professor, Humanities and Liberal Studies
San Francisco State University

Nick Sousanis’s current research picks up threads from his ground-breaking dissertation in comics form, Unflattening. Unflattening (Harvard University Press, 2015) received the American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in Humanities and the Lynd Ward Prize for Best Graphic Novel. To date, it has been translated into French, Korean, Portuguese, and Serbian. 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. Sousanis has visual essays widely, including in Nature. A highly sought after lecturer, he has presented his work at such institutions as Duke, Stanford, UCLA, and Microsoft Research, and the National Gallery of Art, along with keynote addresses at conferences for the Visitors Studies Association’s and the International Visual Literacy Association. His personal website is SpinWeaveAndCut.