Tag Archives: comics studies

Comics are Magic 3: The Conscious Multiverse

For the next two posts I will be considering how the ideas of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison can be used in conjunction with the concept of comic book continuity to reach some strange, exciting conclusions about the nature of the printed comic book universe and our own, more fictional, reality.  These are big, unwieldy concepts so it’s split into two posts. First of all it’s worth clarifying our terms. What do we mean by continuity?

Each single issue of Spider-man or Superman is but a small element in one of two gigantic narratives known as the Marvel and DC Universes. Ros Kaveney suggests that these two seventy year old continuities are, “the largest narrative constructions in human culture…and that learning to navigate them was a skill-set all of its own” (2008:25). Jason Todd Craft calls such constructions ‘large scale fiction networks’ and notes that these universe are ‘emergent structures’ (as does Kaveney) : “the initial parameters…-parallel and ongoing serial adventures, produced by a variety of writers and artists for hire-resulted, over time, in unpredicted behaviours, specifically intertextual connectivity and a slowly encroaching sense of narrative history” (2004:105). Each ‘universe’ must be understood as a, “retroactive story structure, which imposes a continuity upon all the episodic comic books published before as well as after the universe’s advent” (ibid: 105-106).As Richard Reynolds describes it, while narrative continuity may seem a familiar idea to anyone who has ever watched a soap opera, continuity as practiced by Marvel and DC, “is of an order of complexity beyond anything to which the television audience has become accustomed” (1992:3).

Continuity is a product of ‘crossover’. The first use of crossover took place two years after Superman debuted; All-Star Comics#3 introduced the Justice Society of America, demonstrating that superheroes with their own serials could exist together. Continue reading


Sina and the Man-Gods of the Homoverse

Hello humans. One of the benefits of going to comics studies conferences is that you get to see, hear and meet lots of interesting people, both scholars and artists, and sometimes both at once.

One such human is the artist previously known as Sina Evil . I’ll let Sina’s  Flickr bio do the work:

I am over 21 years of age.  I am a queer cartoonist and graphic artist. In the early 1990s I self-published various queer comix zines including the seminal queer teen zine Concerned Muthers and the highly acclaimed, intensely personal autobiographical mini-comic BoyCrazyBoy, and contributed to queer zines such as Boy Trouble, Holy Titclamps and Hormone Frenzy.  My strips have appeared in The Book of Boy Trouble and The Book of Boy Trouble Vol. 2, both edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly and published by Green Candy Press.  I am also currently working on my PhD, a history of queer alternative cartoonists. 

You can check out Sina’s art over at Flickr and his blog boycrazyboy. Lots of good stuff there but most interesting for me are his superhero pictures in the collection Man-Gods of the Homoverse . These illustrations have a curious primal force to them. They also make explicit what was already implicit in superhero comics. Not as subtext exactly, but as potential. That all those muscles rippling beneath skin-tight spandex were always, on some level, about sex. As Scott Bukatman noted, “superhero bodies have always been naked bodies”. As such they have always been troubling for some commentators. Continue reading

Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 3: RAW and the comix underground

Page from John Thompson's Book of Raziel (1969)

Portrait of RAW from Cosmic Trigger Artist: John Thompson

As I wrote in part 2 (part 1 here) Robert Anton Wilson’s brand of ‘scientific-shamanism’ is linked to a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, a postuman form not uncommon in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes  in the 60s/70s  constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Having briefly considered what seems to be a largely implicit influence of RAW on the work of Moore and Morrison, it occurred to me that Wilson’s cultural milieu might align him with the comix underground in some way. As I said in Part 2 underground comix are not my speciality but curiosity led me to investigate te idea a bit further. So what follows is a brief investigation into the topic by someone who is not an expert. Still, I think I’ve unearthed some interesting tit-bits and hope that if anyone has any further information they get in touch. Continue reading

Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 2: Ontological Anarchy

So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.

Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.

What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course. Continue reading

Superheroes, psychedelics, counterculture, magic and posthumanism: Best post ever?

Hello humans.

My paper “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman” is now available HERE on Nth Mind or HERE if you’d prefer a printable version with illustrations (and who could blame you?).

I’m very happy with this one. But then, of all the types of posthuman body discussed in my thesis the Cosmic Body is the one closest to my heart and the vision of posthumanity that is most capable of ensuring the greatest happiness for all. Posthuman bodies require posthuman minds!

Valuable context is available in the first paper, “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives” (click the tile to read that), which lays out my idea that the discourse of the posthuman is a matter of bodies -discourse being not just representations (talk, language), but also material practices. So for example, ‘genetic engineering’ is not just a matter of science-fiction but also a real-world techno-scientific practice. Not to mix my academic work with parlance of hip-hop but this shit is real, baby.

This posthuman discourse consists of three overlapping discursive domains-speculative Trans/humanism (also including ‘real-world’ tecno-science); critical-philsophical Post/Humanism (in which include people like Foucault, Haraway) and of course Superhumanism (the realm of science fiction, but also comic books). Superhero comics offer a delicuos smorgasboard of posthuman bodies. Considering these bodies lets us also consider how they are found in the other two discursive realms.

Without going into too much detail (you can read the paper for yourselves after all), this paper takes a rhizomatic journey through the Cosmic Body, following the hidden underground root systems that link superheroes with the psychedelic counterculture of the sixties with Transhumanism’s forebear the Human Potential Movement with eastern mysticism with Nietzsche’s critique of Humanism with shamanism with Western occultism and the scientist-shaman with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol with One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest with, well, you get the idea.

(The paper isn’t written in this style I should add. I’m a professional, I just blog as an excitable child with a precocious interest in esoteric ideas and countercultural philosophies)

At any rate, this paper is a point where it feels my academic, philosophical, personal and creative interest came together as one. A point where, as I say in the paper, critical theory and cultural criticism can become productive and transformative practices rather than simply nihilistic and deconstructive (not that that doesn’t have its own appeal).

Make your own minds up, of course ( and anyway, in a couple of months I might think it’s rubbish) but I would love to hear any comments, criticisms and suggestions. Anyway, once again, because I wrote more there than I meant too, here is “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman“.

Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives

As promised/threatened I have finally written up my presentation “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives”, a paper I gave at the 2011 British Sociological Asscoiation Annual Conference and in a longer form as a departmental presentation earlier that year. It gives an overview of some of the main concepts I’m working with in my thesis and serves as a pretty thorough introduction to it.

I’ve posted it on NthMind here:


but there is also a version with the illustrations used in the presentation that can be downloaded and printed of here.

Look forward to any comments, thoughts, ideas, etc.