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It’s the Little Things: How Microstories Affect Continuity in Superhero Comics

Joe McVeigh (University of Jyväskylä)
Presentation type: 

Scholars are right to claim that comic book stories are difficult to classify because of complicated continuity surrounding the characters. Although early superhero comics seemed to not take continuity into account, even ACTION COMICS #1 ended on a cliffhanger. Recent superhero comics tell stories that span multiple issues and titles. Nevertheless, the writers of superhero comics have always played fast and loose with time. Breaks in the continuity of superhero comics are often signaled as reboots, such as DC Comics’ recent Rebirth story. There are also soft reboots, which are breaks in the continuity of a character or title that occur when the writers or editors change. While there is clear character development in comics, there are usually issues which come between soft reboots as one writer leaves and another takes over or as one narrative is completed and another one is started. This presents problems for both the continuity of the story and for scholars attempting to analyze comic book characters and stories. The main issue is deciding where these microstories fit into continuity. Do they belong with the previous issues, the following issues, or are they separate entities? In an analysis of comic book characters and stories, it is tempting to set aside microstories as narratives that happened sometime and somewhere in continuity. But detailed studies of storytelling or characterization in comics need to account for these microstories, even if they are sometimes only one issue. This study looks at the microstories which occur between reboots and offers a way for scholars to incorporate them in their studies. The analysis suggests that studies which include metatextual information offer a more complete picture of the way storytelling and character development works in comic books.

Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 3, 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm

About the presenter

Joe McVeigh

I am a corpus linguist and full-time university teacher at the University of Jyväskylä and a postgrad at the University of Helsinki. I teach linguistics and English literature courses. My research interests are corpus linguistics and marketing, as well as storytelling and character descriptions in comic books. I also serve as the web editor for Varieng’s eSeries, Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change.

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