Post-modernism in comics – All hail the lower gods

Post-modernism is a term we throw around a lot in both the intellectual and artistic community. While countless scholars and art theorists like Jean Baudrillard, John Watkins Chapman, and Walter Truett Anderson have coined and re-coined the term post-modernism there is a striking consistency in the milieu of self-awareness, reflexivity, the breaking of high and low art, and an affinity to create fractured and intertwined narratives that cross medium and genre. Comics are a classic example of post-modern media. This post argues that comics are a seminal example of post-modern work not just in their visual construction but also on a deeper level largely due to their origins.

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On the most basic level the post-modernity of comics can be seen in characters like She-hulk and Deadpool create this self-awareness through their character abilities to directly address the reader and comment on the fact that they are aware they exist in a comic book. This technique of extradiegetic behavior comes from a Shakespearian tradition and exists as a primitive version of post-modern art.

Leviathan

On a deeper level comics have also been accepted by society to borrow, remix, sample and re-tell popular stories, ideas and themes of cultural work while, for the most part, evading the criticism of plagiarism or unoriginality. A contemporary example of this borrowing and mutating of cultural icons, also know as pastiche and bricolage, would be Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s comic series The Unwritten. The plot and construction of the comic tells the analogous story of Tommy Taylor, the son of a famous writer of fantasy novels that are nods to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling. While the story doesn’t directly mention either of those works directly, the plot weaves hundreds of literary famous characters from classic authors. In the story Herman Melville’s Moby Dick appears not only as an antagonist, but is apparently also the same protective sea monster depicted in Thomas Hobbes Leviathan. Creating this fractured by all inclusive narrative, directly quoting and stealing characters and ideas a center of the plot, and yet the comic receives almost ubiquitous critical acclaim – How can this be?

As we’ve mentioned in the history of comics in class, comic books as a form of low art is something that has and still plagues the comic book community. Rather then looking at this as a roadblock, I’d argue that this low ranking position on the hiercharchy of “art” actually lends to comics benefit and allowed for stories that other mediums couldn’t tell.

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Music genres like hip-hop have had countless lawsuits for their use of samples ­– Beastie Boys being a good example. Movies, such as Avatar, have been labeled as blatant rip offs of other films like Pocahontas, but comics are treated differently because they are traditionally a form of low art. In a post-modern context these walls of low and high art break down and comics take all the benefits of both being legitimized as art and havine access to an infinite pallet of creativity.

Evangelos Lambrinoudis II

References:

Perryman, N. (2009). Doctor Who and the convergence of media: A case study in ‘transmedia storytelling’ In J. Storey & J. Storey (Authors), Cultural theory and popular culture: A reader (pp. 472-488). Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

Storey, J., & Storey, J. (2009). The precession of simularca. In Cultural theory and popular culture: A reader (pp. 409-415). Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

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