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Neal Curtis - 'The Real Mainstream': Undoing the mainstream vs Alternative Divide

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posted on 29.06.2020, 15:41 by Neal Curtis
The practice of comics from creation, to commissioning, to promotion, to criticism is dominated by a division between mainstream comics, which most often refers to the ‘commercial’ world of superheroes, and alternative comics, which has come to supplant the older underground comics but also refers to the independent world of small presses, graphic novels, mini comics and their aesthetic and narrative innovations. Developing an insight by Stephen Holland, owner of the comic shop Page 45 in Nottingham, this paper pursues his proposal that, given their subject matter, which is often based in memoir or the type of fictional storytelling more often found in best selling prose books, it is the supposedly alternative comics that are the ‘new mainstream’. To do this involves interrogating and dismissing cultural hierarchies such as the distinction between high and low culture; overturning the aesthetic and literary prejudices that continue to plague comics (and which this division maintains); demonstrate the mutual creative influence between the two areas of comics endeavour; and reconstruct the history of ‘commercial’ comics as one of conceptual and aesthetic experimentation.

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Neal Curtis is Associate Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Auckland. He is the author of a number of books including Sovereignty and Superheroes (Manchester University Press, 2016). His new book Hate in Precarious Times will be published by I. B. Tauris in 2021.

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