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Breaking the Frames

Breaking the Frames
Populism and Prestige in Comics Studies

Challenging common critical practices and offering new interpretations of canonical texts by Marjane Satrapi, Alan Moore, Kyle Baker, Chris Ware, and others, this volume offers the first major critique of the field of comics studies.

Series: World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction Series

January 2019
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312 pages | 6 x 9 | 9 color and 21 b&w photos |

Comics studies has reached a crossroads. Graphic novels have never received more attention and legitimation from scholars, but new canons and new critical discourses have created tensions within a field built on the populist rhetoric of cultural studies. As a result, comics studies has begun to cleave into distinct camps—based primarily in cultural or literary studies—that attempt to dictate the boundaries of the discipline or else resist disciplinarity itself. The consequence is a growing disconnect in the ways that comics scholars talk to each other—or, more frequently, do not talk to each other or even acknowledge each other’s work.

Breaking the Frames: Populism and Prestige in Comics Studies surveys the current state of comics scholarship, interrogating its dominant schools, questioning their mutual estrangement, and challenging their propensity to champion the comics they study. Marc Singer advocates for greater disciplinary diversity and methodological rigor in comics studies, making the case for a field that can embrace more critical and oppositional perspectives. Working through extended readings of some of the most acclaimed comics creators—including Marjane Satrapi, Alan Moore, Kyle Baker, and Chris Ware—Singer demonstrates how comics studies can break out of the celebratory frameworks and restrictive canons that currently define the field to produce new scholarship that expands our understanding of comics and their critics.


Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Shortlist for Best Academic/Scholarly Work

2019 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Pow! Zap! Comics Aren’t Just for Cultural Studies Professors Anymore
  • 1.The Myth of Eco: Comics, Continuity, and Cultural Populism
  • 2.The Abuses of History: Postmodernism and Contemporary Superhero Comics
  • 3.Properties of the Imagination: Copyright and Empire in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • 4.The Limits of Realism: Alternative Comics and the Workshop Aesthetic
  • 5.Comics Studies in Miniature: The Canonization of Persepolis
  • 6.Shadows of the Past: Fictions of History in Nat Turner
  • Afterword: Never Apologize, Never Defend
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Washington, DC

Singer is an associate professor of English at Howard University. He is the author of Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics and the coeditor of Detective Fiction in a Postcolonial and Transnational World.


“For anyone who has ever been frustrated by the insularity, boosterism, and self-congratulatory enthusiasm of comics and comics studies, Marc Singer's new book is a relief and a joy.”
The Comics Journal

“I have greatly enjoyed grappling with Marc's rigorous and unrelenting work...I both thoroughly enjoyed reading and enjoyed discussing [Breaking the Frames] with others.”
The Middle Spaces

“A well-researched, no-holds-barred, groundbreaking critique of the trends and problems of comics scholarship, Breaking the Frames, if taken seriously, will elevate study of the field to a higher perch.”

“In Breaking the Frames, Marc Singer delineates with aplomb a war of cultures and approaches within comics scholarship that will inspire any comics scholar to rededicate themselves to a new type of engagement and scholarship.”
Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society

Breaking the Frames boldly enters the critical conversation about comics scholarship as the author advocates for more rigorous critical methods without renouncing to the rich and diverse critical methodologies that compose this multidisciplinary field…Breaking the Frames makes an interesting contribution to the field by problematizing some methodological procedures.”
Journal of American Studies in Italy

“Throughout the book, Singer’s fastidious attention to textual, historical, and material detail opens up new avenues of meaning and criticism for the texts, authors, periods, and trends he analyzes...Breaking the Frames is an important contribution to Comics Studies. Singer is unafraid to confront previous practices and scholarship and find them wanting. It is only through such clear-eyed and meticulous criticism that we can all take the necessary steps to do better.”

“Singer is concerned with the humanity, the human-ness, of both the populist and academic patrons of comic books. And his warning, that the mutual exclusion that often happens is something akin to mutually assured destruction, could just as easily describe English, History, Film, and Philosophy departments across the country. Polarity is a broad problem. Singer’s work is an excellent step towards repairing the divide.”
Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics

“Singer is clearly someone who has done the work of reading widely in comics and in comics studies. This book is one of the best informed works in the field. The type of meta-analysis on offer here has not been widely produced in comics studies. There is certainly no other book like it at present.”
Bart Beaty, University of Calgary, author of Comics Versus Art


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca