From pulp comics to Maus, the story of the growth of comics in American culture
The Evolution of the American Comic Book
Search the full text of this book
How is it that comic booksthe once-reviled form of lowbrow popular cultureare now the rage for Hollywood blockbusters, the basis for bestselling video games, and the inspiration for literary graphic novels? In Demanding Respect, Paul Lopes immerses himself in the discourse and practices of this art and subculture to provide a social history of the American comic book over the last 75 years.
Lopes analyzes the cultural production, reception, and consumption of American comic books throughout history. He charts the rise of superheroes, the proliferation of serials, and the emergence of graphic novels. Demanding Respect explores how comic books born in the 1930s were perceived as a "menace" in the 1950s, only to later become collectors’ items and eventually "hip" fiction in the 1980s through today.
Using a theoretical framework to examine the construction of comic book culturethe artists, publishers, readers and fans Lopes explains how and why comic books have captured the public's imagination and gained a fanatic cult following.
"[Lopes] provides a persuasive, accessible framework for understanding the path that American comics have taken from early derision to the level of respectability that they enjoy today."
"Mr. Lopes approaches this study [of comic books] as something worthy of a sociological effort.... Lopes is at his best when he tries to tap into what kept this lowly form chugging along.... 'Demanding Respect' is an enjoyable, not too scholarly read."
"The author's significant contribution is his analysis of the less-studied era from the 1980s onward.... Lopes demonstrates the significance of the shift from mass-market comics of the 1930s-80s to the fanboy subculture that dominates today, as consumers started to clamor for more-complex storylines, follow creators rather than title characters, and demand ‘respect’ for the comics genre—as the book's title indicates.... [T]his is a useful contribution to the field. Summing Up: Recommended"
"An idiosyncratic, though clearly written, overview of the American comic book industry that will be familiar to many fans of the form, partnered with a novel analytic framework."
"[W]hat sets this book apart is the author’s investigation of the evolution of comic book culture as opposed to simply the history of the comic book industry. In other words, Lopes expands our understanding of the cultural context that shaped and was shaped by comic books during the mid- to late-twentieth century.... Lopes’ sensitivity to the differences between comic book genres has allowed him to make some important observations about the industry’s development. Refusing to view comic books as a homogenous mass of cheap pulp, Lopes has sifted through the various genres to create a balanced, nuanced portrait of what has been, until recently, a largely ignored segment of American cultural produce."
"A concise history of the American comic book industry from the 1930s to the present....this is a solid piece of work."
"[A] useful new interpretation of the history of comic books in America.... [A] well-written book with clear explanations of complex ideas and events. Demanding Respect will be valuable for comics scholars looking for new interpretations of familiar stories as well as students and historians in search of a clear, concise yet rigorous introduction to the medium’s history."
"Lopes redefines the history of comics...drawing attention to a crucial shift in the history of comics from the rule of mass production to the championing of artistic integrity so familiar to their current, broader fan base.... Also intriguing is Lopes’s comprehensive lens for studying the complex history of comics in the United States.... Particularly fascinating is the ongoing discussion of material production....Lopes’s most useful analysis asks not whether comics will gain ‘respect,’ but whether they will be able to maintain the mainstream artistic integrity of the 'heroic’ age.... Lopes’s exhaustive research has provided a respectable foundation for future analysis."
Paul Lopes is Associate Professor of Sociology at Colgate University. He is the author of The Rise of a Jazz Art World.