Strategies of Rebellion in the Heroic Age of the American Comic Book

By Paul Lopes.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This article addresses Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of heroic ages in art and the American comic book. Bourdieu characterized the French literary field in the mid nineteenth century as a heroic age. During this age writers and critics generated criteria of judgment that were autonomous from market forces and elite patronage. I argue that in the 1970s a similar heroic age began in American comic books where principles of autonomy and independent criteria of judgment appeared. I present a number of basic strategies during the heroic age of comic books that articulated these emerging principles of autonomy; yet show how several of these strategies were distinctly different than those found during the heroic age of French literature. I show how this difference reflected a structure in the comic book field markedly different from the structure in the field of French literature in the nineteenth century. I conclude by arguing that the case of American comic books shows how popular art fields can express the same heroic rebellion attributed to only high art fields in the work of Bourdieu.

Keywords: Cultural Studies, Comic Books, Visual Culture, Media Studies, Art Worlds

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.127-134. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 692.796KB).

Prof. Paul Lopes

Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, USA

Paul Lopes is an Associate Professor at Colgate University. His areas of interest include art worlds, popular culture, mass media and cultural studies. Transforming culture from the margins best defines the major theme in his research and writings. His first book, The Rise of a Jazz Art World, for example, explores how a popular art form at the margins of cultural legitimacy in the first half of the twentieth century was radically transformed in meaning and practice by musicians, critics, producers and others to become a new hybrid form of art between the popular and the high. He is writing a book on a similar revolt against official culture in the world of comic books, Demanding Respect: Transforming the American Comic Book. This book explores the various strategies in the comic book art world to eliminate the stigma of this art form as a sub-literate, visually simple, low brow art. He explores how artists, publishers, critics, fans and others are transforming the comic book into a diverse, serious and respected art form.

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