Henry Jenkins


On his book Comics and Stuff

Cover Interview of May 06, 2020


In terms of “comics,” I want to expand the conversation around graphic novels, broadening the range of works that comics scholars discuss, but also changing the ways we write about them. The early emphasis on comics as “sequential arts” has understandably focused a lot of attention on framing, juxtaposition, and decoupage—on how we break down a sequence of images across the page in order to shape the reader’s perceptions. This is perhaps what distinguishes comics from other kinds of graphic storytelling.

I also want to focus attention on mise-en-scène, on the expressive anatomy and material details that are juxtaposed within the same panel, and the invitation comics offer us to scan and flip as we explore their images in search of meaning. Shifting the focus to mise-en-scène offers parallels with a range of other minor arts—such as scrapbooking or cabinets of curiosity or collage—which depend on juxtapositions between elements of material culture.

In terms of “stuff,” I want to encourage reflection on how we narrate our relationships with the things we choose to surround ourselves with. Comics are only one contemporary mode of expression which helps us make sense of our stuff. We might point to the broad array of television programs—such as Tidying Up with Maria Kondo, Hoarders, or Antiques Roadshow—or YouTube’s unboxing videos which address our societal fascination with everyday things.

And I draw analogy to a number of artists and literary figures—Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, Henry Darger’s scavenger art, Jonathan Franzen’s list-making in The Corrections, and Kare Walker’s reclaiming of racist iconography. All of this suggests that the social and cultural questions surrounding collecting, accumulation, inheritance, possession, and culling have implications far beyond the specific comics I discuss here.