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This article was downloaded by: []On: 27 March 2012, At: 02:48Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics
Publication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcom20
Producing comics culture: a sociologicalapproach to the study of comics
Casey Brienza
Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, UKAvailable online: 15 Dec 2010
To cite this article:
Casey Brienza (2010): Producing comics culture: a sociological approach to thestudy of comics,Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 1:2, 105-119
To link to this article:
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
 Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics
Vol. 1, No. 2, December 2010, 105–119
Producing comics culture: a sociological approach to the studyof comics
Casey Brienza*
 Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge, UK 
 Received 20 May 2010; final version received 11 September 2010
)This paper introduces a sociological approach to the study of art and literature and demonstrates its value as a methodological intervention in the field of comics studies.Known as the ‘production of culture’ perspective, this approach argues that all artisticwork – including comics – is the product of collective, often routinized, human activity.Therefore, it is not sufficient merely to study the text and 
or the artist to whom thework is directly attributed. Rather, to fully understand any artistic work, one must alsostudy the larger social and organizational context of its production and dissemination.In the first part of the paper, I will provide an overview of the production of cultureapproach, discussing some of its foundational theorists and their respective intellectualcontributions. Sociologists covered will include Howard Becker, Pierre Bourdieu, and Richard A. Peterson. In the second part of the paper, I will present an example of howthis approach may be applied in scholarly practice. Using the transnational comics pub-lishing industry in Japan and the United States as a case study, I will show how theconditions and mode of production help to determine the particular sorts of texts thatare actually created. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion of the limitations of the production of culture approach and possible directions for future research.
cultural production; methodology; manga; trasnationalism; Japan–US rela-tions; Pierre Bourdieu; Richard A. Peterson
‘Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga!’ proclaims – and promises – the title of the popular satirical how-to guide by veteran Japanese comic book artists Koji Aihara and KentaroTakekuma (2002).
The guide purports to teach its readers a super-simple series of tech-niques for taking the art world by storm. But what do these two men actually mean? Arenot creative works of art such as manga, after all, a uniquely human craft which requires aconsiderable and concerted investment of time and effort in order to master it? How could they dare even to suggest that drawing manga is so easy even a monkey can do it?Manga, which literally means ‘irresponsible pictures’, is the Japanese word for themedium of the comic strip, and in the English language has come to refer both to Japaneseand Japanese-influenced comic books.
Contemporary titles famous worldwide include
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
, and 
Fruits Basket 
. The manga publishing industryin Japan dates back to the beginnings of Japanese modernity and is now mature, large, and lucrative, accounting for approximately 25% of all book sales and 20% of all magazinesales in 2006 according to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO 2006 cited in
*Email: cb607@cm.ac.uk 
ISSN 2150-4857 print/ISSN 2150-4865 online© 2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/21504857.2010.528638http://www.informaworld.com
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C. Brienza
Lee 2009). Manga is also becoming an increasingly important category in North American publishing, with the research firm ICv2 estimating that US manga sales grew an unprece-dented 350% from 2002 to 2007 (Brienza 2009b). Annual sales in the United States nowstand at approximately $150 million, with well over 1000 new volumes released each year.Given numbers like these, it comes as no surprise that the publication of how-to-draw-manga guides has itself become a booming global business as well in recent years, withdozens currently in print on both sides of the Pacific. Combining step-by-step instructionsfor drawing basic stock figures and sage advice from established ‘manga masters’, theseguides typically emphasize the individualistic development of raw artistic talent into reli-able technique. Enough time alone in one’s room practicing putting pencil to paper and following the instructions given, these guides promise, and you too can surely become amanga artist.Aihara and Takekuma, however, take a very different tack in their contribution to thehow-togenre:Becoming a‘great’mangaartistdoesnotrequirehoningonesdraftsmanshipskills to a razor-sharp edge. One does not need to live up to the legend of Osamu Tezuka,the so-called ‘God of Manga’, though perhaps imitating his signature eyeglasses and beretmight not hurt. It simply means learning and conforming to the expected standards and  practicesofthemanga publishingindustry.Onedoesnot,theyargue,needsomeill-defined,mystical talent or creative inspiration to make manga. One does not, in fact, need to be abletodrawwell atall,and they donot provide any artlessons.Instead,theduo devotes chaptersto subjects like choosing the right pen name, comparing different magazines’ editorial policies, and working effectively around Japan’s arcane censorship laws. What you need to become a great manga artist is to learn how to fit in to wear the beret with confidence,in short – and anyone, even the hapless wannabe cursed with the artistic sensibilities of amonkey, ought to be able to do that.Obviously,
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
is satirical, deliberately humorous inthe overstatement of its case. Nevertheless, beneath its silliness lies a fundamental truthabout all artistic work, including comics – they are products of collective, often routinized,human activity. Therefore, I argue in this paper, it is not sufficient merely to study the textand 
or the artist to whom the work is directly attributed; to fully understand any artisticwork, one must also study the larger social and organizational context of its production and dissemination.In the following sections, I will provide an overview of the production of cultureapproach, discussing some of its foundational theorists and their respective intellectualcontributions. Then I will present a sample case study of how this approach may be applied in scholarly practice, using the transnational manga publishing industry in Japan and theUnited States. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion of the limitations of the produc-tion of culture approach and suggest that, even with its limitations, it remains an importantmethodological intervention opening up new avenues of inquiry that ought to be morewidely deployed by comics researchers.
The production of culture perspective
There are, broadly speaking, three methodological approaches to the study of any cul-tural object: (1) the study of its production and transmission, or diffusion, (2) the studyof the construction of its message, and (3) the study of its reception and appropriation.Thompson (1990, p. 303) calls this the ‘Tripartite Approach’, arguing that each of thethree are discrete areas of inquiry. Indeed, in practice these three methodologies tend to
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