Vanessa Raney

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I'm currently editing a book collection on Superheroes and Trauma. Confirmed contributors are:
Des O'Brien (Independent Scholar)
Gregory Bray (State University of New York New Paltz)
Joshua R. Pangborn (Fordham University)
Hassan El Menyawi (Davidson College)
Jeff Geers (Bowling Green State University)
Greg Wright (Kalamazoo College)
My major contribution will take up the second half of the book. I'm excited because we're going to be ready to rock by the end of summer 2008! :):):)

from "The Politics of Fat" (copyright 2007)
by Vanessa Raney

Okay, so I had my online comic, "The Politics of Fat," on Clare Pitkethly's Website, The Comics Discussion Board, but that died out when she ran out of money and energy to continue hosting the site (though she says she has everything backed up and will at some later point reload on a different server). I've thus begun my comic anew, but with another purpose than the interrogation of my fat body; I'm now exploring myself as a racially conscious Hispanic. So if you want to read it, go to this link:

For reviews of Comics outside of my research interests, go to my Tripod blog here:

For the official Website of The Dark Knight, go here:

To view the "teaser trailer" and the "theatrical trailer," go here:
For the new look of Joker:

For the anime preview that segues Batman Begins with The Dark Knight:

I here cite my comics-related publications:
Raney, Vanessa. Review Essay of Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Scott Fisher's Pyongyang -- The Monuments of Kimland, and Andrew Holloway's A Year in Pyongyang. Exhibition Review of Heroes & Villains: Australian Comics and Their Creators (with Clare Pitkethly). Website review of Bill Mauldin Beyond Willie and Joe: An Online Tribute Drawn from the Library of Congress. International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA) 9, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 551-560, 571-573, and 606-607.
Raney, Vanessa. "Where Ordinary Activities Lead to War: Street Politics in Seth Tobocman's War in the Neighborhood." M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture 9, no. 3 (July 2006). Online at
Raney, Vanessa. Review of Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq, by Steve Mumford (in French). Trans. by Bénédicte Costa. Le Sofa: Revue de réflexion et de création contemporaine, no. 2 (Sommaire 2006) Online at
Raney, Vanessa. Review of A Year in Japan, by Kate T. Williamson. gutter Geek: The Discontinuous Review of Graphic Narrative (Mar. 2006). Online at

Raney, Vanessa. "Review of 2005 International Comic-Con in San Diego: 2005 Comic-Con Shines a Light on Eisner: A Look at Two Documentaries and a Tribute." ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 2, no. 2 (Winter 2005). Online at

Raney, Vanessa. Review of Black Hole, by Charles Burns. ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies 2, no. 1 (Summer 2005). Online at:

This is an excerpt of what I posted to the Comics Discussion Board:
This is one of the unique things about comics or other art forms that make up a series of related concepts: the image/whatever associates with another image/whatever, thus offering to the viewer a multiple perspective for what may be a specific idea or context.

By focusing on one image/whatever concept in a series of image/whatever concepts without considering its relationship to the other image/whatever concepts is to (1) ignore the artist; (2) suggest meaning that the series as a whole may compromise (i.e., someone might read an image of a goat in a picturesque background as an indication that the artist means a positive pastoral connection when the theme actually concerns sacrifice which is why in a later image, the goat is shown dead and bloody in the same picturesque background; one would need to read all of the images to know what statement the artist is attempting to make); (3) limit the discourse. If we consider comics to be a series of image/text concepts, we have an obligation to look at both; what text gives us that images support is the formal context. Erasing the text leaves mostly impressions of the emotive context; this is why paintings (this is just an example; there are drawings, sculptures, photographs, etc. that would serve the same purpose) have the power to disgust or arouse us, etc. even when we don't know what's going on, which is the case unless you know something of the history of a particular painting, artist, etc.
I'm just raising some questions regarding the difference between a single image/whatever concept and a series of image/whatever concepts, the latter of which belongs to comics generally (even strips, which may be understood as a series of vignettes, thus requiring no connection except at least one recurring character throughout rather than in every instance; one-shot cartoons, of course, present exceptions, though often an editorial cartoonist returns to the same theme throughout his or her career).

For just in case I get censored on the Comics Discussion Board, I wished to repeat my thoughts here:
Yesterday, Aaron Kashtan, [current] moderator of the comix listserv, unsubscribed me for personal attacks. (The major thing that happened is I called out Peter M. Coogan - you know, my former co-editor who bailed - and that created a panic because, immediately after, Aaron Kashtan sent out an e-mail about personal attacks.) I believe that, had I been male, I'd still be on the listserv. Females apparently are held to a much higher standard; but let it be a man who did what I did, and he'd be simply chided - because that's the history concerning personal attacks on the listserv.

Seriously, unless you've been a member of the listserv for a while, you don't know the kinds of personal attacks that were taking place, even with members like Trina Robbins. The previous moderator, Philip Sandifer, did nothing concerning the word "nigger." The original member (a male) and others who took on the word are still members of the listserv. I say something that wasn't to that level (I mean, before the warning went out), and I'm threatened with removal. And then Philip Sandifer thinks it's cool to chime in backing up Aaron Kashtan; I refer again to my note regarding Philip Sandifer's previous inactions.

Then, of course, I cursed and so forth and was knocked out of the listserv. I also e-mailed several members with the Subject heading with deragatory terms against the sexes. As I said, though, I think Aaron Kashtan chose to remove me solely because I'm female, though my later actions didn't help me.

So I wish to ask a very important question: What role does sexism play in comics scholarship? As moderator of the Comics Discussion Board, Clare may choose to censor me. If not, I'd like to know what you think of my question. And don't worry: I won't think badly of you if you're male.


What Freedoms to Forgive

by: Vanessa Raney
All rights reserved.

Patriarchy got a hold of me.

Some like to call it sexism.

But women,
we're supposed to be prim,
hold ourselves higher.
If we speak like men,
we're removed from the scene:
because then we're a contagion.
I could infect you:
dare you to speak out
with equal disregard.
It matters that I'm female.
Men are allowed to misbehave.
One woman called me "unbalanced"
(because I acted out in anger):
"a lunatic" she said.
Is this not familiar,
the things we're called
when we get out of line?
But oh, to be a man,
what freedoms to forgive.
But a woman:
she'll always be trash.
If we spread our legs for men
we're either sluts or tokens;
and these aren't the worst
of what we're called by every eye -
male or female,
because the women want
to condemn us if we choose
equality before every sex.
Some women are smart
and men exist who treat us
with respect,
but more of you despise
any fact of woman
who speaks her self real.
Poem by: Vanessa Raney
All rights reserved.

Repeating my comment to the  listserv:

If the concern is that comics scholarship is often ignored by academia, the more important question is: Why? Well, the most likely reason is that comics scholarship generally doesn't position itself within an established discourse. In several of the books I've read (not all), again, the focus is on survey.

There's a lot in academic publishing that's survey and not necessarily written at a "high" level (that is, non-jargon specific), but it refers back to itself (aka the field). More importantly, it generally backs up what it's saying with evidence, regardless if the author's perspective is flawed.

If you're working on a Ph.D., even if you don't grasp concretely what contribution to the field means, your specializations (where you have to learn the field related to your specific interests, and then get tested on it through comprehensive exams or essay) are training for this. So academic scholars are trained to do this, and that is what their scholarship generally reflects.

This doesn't mean people in the mainstream aren't contributing to the field. There are public intellectuals, independent scholars, etc., but many of these completed some advanced training. (Is it Paulo Freire, who graduated with his Ph.D. from Yale, but because he was getting the jobs that his white counterparts weren't, dropped out of academia, and has since become a leading figure in the field of education?) The evaluative criteria, however, has nothing to do with the publisher being academic or mainstream.

Academic publishing was a response to the need of an academic community (aka faculty) to get published, which one is usually required to do to get tenured, because there were limited opportunities in the mainstream for research-oriented publications that were geared to people in the field; that is, there wasn't a market for the kind of work that comes out of academic publishing. That's why a lot of academic publishers print maybe 1000 copies, most of these sold to libraries.

The issue isn't about "scholarly," but the expectations associated with books in a field like comics. Many comics scholars are in academia, while others are outside of academia. There has been comics scholarship (books) that's academic, and these reflect the standards of academic publishing. Other comics scholarship isn't academic (that is, its primary audience isn't academia), and tends toward survey.

Survey's fine, but it's frustrating because you can't really use it except as reference. If one aim of comics scholarship is to establish comics as a viable field of academic study (that is, separate from literature or popular culture), then it needs to conform to the expectations of academic study. It must:

1) define itself: what is included or excluded from the term comics that is generally recognized, and what schools of thought come out of this? (It's moving in this direction, but sequential art is still too broad; it says anything with text and image that shapes some kind of definable action is a comic.)

2) establish a discourse: why is comics study important and what distinguishes it (The problem is that comics are text and image, which means you can't overemphasize either the text or the image (that is, you can't look only at the text or only at the image to talk about a comic, because then you're doing a disservice to the artist who created something using both; but there's an already established discourse on visual studies, which has, from what I've read, branched into things like visual anthropology. What makes comics different from this, and why should it be its own discipline?)

3) identify key scholars (first, the ones who started the field (not necessarily the creators, but those who began publishing about comics); second, those who challenged the first (ah, here we start talking about schools again; and, clearly, with the debates raging about literature, art, and sequential art, there's a minimum of three); third, those like Eisner, McCloud and Cohn, who have contributed to the grammatology of comics (you have to be inclusive, and this is so limited an area it's impossible to ignore Cohn, though he's younger and not as highly reknown - but that's only because he's at the beginning and not toward the end or middle); etc.)

4) define the canon (the same figures appear in almost every survey text, and there's been newer stuff that's in journals, etc.; with a canon, however, there are questions about its legitimacy, but it usually established people for whom a general consensus has been reached that they are examples of good whatever)

5) etc.

The standards of scholarship (i.e., the expectations) are different in academia and mainstream, and that in no way presents an argument that either is better than the other. It also doesn't suggest that scholars are only found in academic publishing.

However, the questions raised by several of us is what should comics scholarship be defined by? What criteria, going back to the original thread, do we want to establish for it? Surveys are fine, but there's also other scholarship that reads from literary analysis (is this wrong? Almost every discourse includes theory; I don't think it's presumptive to say that every Humanities discipline uses theory). Both contribute toward the field, but if one creates standards, that's the aim that comics scholarship as a discipline should aim for. The great thing about disciplines is that there can be great debates; the key is that there are arguments.

A shorter but also different view on comics that I wish to share:


The textual world assumes priority over other forms of literature. In this world, we privilege great works of literature defined by particular eras, and then chart them in bibliographic records. One can locate a title from centuries ago, others of which are similarly archived and, more recently, becoming accessible in digitized formats. We can also identify them by genre, character and/or theme. Comics, however, remain largely on the periphery.


What markedly defines a comic is the admixture of image and text to tell a story; in the case of wordless comics, what defines them as comics is the sequence of images to show a particular story (which is problematic when you consider that a traditional museum display is similarly represented since the group of art pieces shown are not randomly assigned and usually include captions, making them, very broadly defined, comics). Yet comics also define particular modes of storytelling and can likewise be found subdivided among classifications of fiction and nonfiction, superhero and non-superhero.


Graphic novels, which denote novella-length comic books (in which the storyline is more cohesive, fuller and longer than traditional comics), also equate with fictional stories. Nonfiction contributions by comics artists such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Embroideries), on the other hand, can now be found in the Biography section, though these are also graphic novels.


Part of the problem has been the increase in manga and related comics from Japan and outlying areas, which are more extensively fiction. In the United States, the market remains dominated by superhero comics, which are also fiction.


What is perhaps different today from even the late 1980s is that more traditional publishers like Pantheon Books are starting to get into lines of serious comics, that is, nonfiction. For that reason, comics published by Art Spiegelman (more known for Maus among mainstream consumers), Joe Sacco (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde), Joe Kubert (fax from sarajevo), and David B. (Epileptic) are finding spaces in traditional (non-comics) categories.

At the same time, it is not always easy to distinguish between fictional and nonfictional graphic novels unless these are explicitly expressed (i.e., by the publisher, comics artist). There are also comics artists whose works, though not entirely autobiographical, take their cues from the writers’ and/or artists’ (in the case of collaborations) experiences.

More important, one cannot always find earlier serious comics using traditional search engines. For example, I did not know about Madison Clell’s autobiographical Cuckoo, which is marked as Biography/Psychology (and not as a comic), until Maria at Last Gasp of San Francisco told me about it.

A Select List of My Comics

American Elf: the collected sketchbook diaries of James Kochalka: October 26, 1998 to December 31, 2003. Top Shelf Productions, 2004.

Arnoldi, Katherine. The Amazing "True Story" of a Teenage Single Mom. Hyperion, 1998.

Barry, Lynda. One! Hundred! Demons! Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2002.

Delisle, Guy. Journey to Pyongyang. Drawn & Quarterly, 2005.

Doherty, Catherine. Can of Worms. Fantagraphics Books, 2000.

Jason. Hey, Wait...Fantagraphics Books, 2004 (2001).

Myrick, Leland. Missouri Boy. First Second, 2006.

Ward, Lynd. Gods' Man: A Novel in Woodcuts. Dover Publications, 2004 (Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1929).

Here are some ideas (abbreviated) that I wanted to articulate at the 2005 Vernacular Colloquium Conference:
1. What is it about text and images that makes the comics format unique? If a synergism exists between the languages of reading and seeing (or visualization, which also has to be "read") that creates a particular experience between the writer/artist and reader, then what is the function of that relationship? More important, what goes into the process of coding what a stranger understands about the personal experiences of the autobiographical comic/graphic novel?
It is a problem, first, of making the image work with the text. What is left out of the image needs to be found in the text and vice versa; otherwise, the comic risks being overtly descriptive, taking on the form more of a picture book than a comic. If we understand a comic to be simply composed of pictures and words, then the overgeneralization allows for any combination of images and text to be defined as a comic.
2. Photojournalism is more closely a comic than anything else, especially when it features a montage of images designed around a specific story; however, a comic may also be comprised of a single panel, which makes its categorization more difficult. The fine line between photojournalism and comics is the rope game of the real versus the imaginary. Even so, you will sometimes find photos as part of the comics story (i.e., in Maus), which seems to challenge the construction of the real. That is, while a photograph may reveal more similitude between the actual and its reproduction (see Barthes), it, too, exposes a fictive product, one manipulable by the photographer and his or her equipment.
3. The autobiographical comic, which proposes to uncover some aspect of the writer/artist's past, too easily gets cast as a fiction. Despite studies in autobiography that challenge the truth of personal history, the comics format invites skepticism because, despite McCloud's claim that iconography allows the reader to assume the identity of the icon because its nonrepresentation intrudes a self-representation, the reader is unable to imagine him- or herself as the "I" in the autobiogaphical comic.
That is due in part to the position of comics as fiction in mainstream America. I think one reason Spiegelman's Maus gets so much academic attention is because it insists on being nonfiction; its association with the phrase graphic novel also glamourizes it as novel and different, despite the fact that a lot of comics, even when marketed as fiction (especially those of the underground), are autobiographically-based. Although Maus did not revolutionze comics, it entered the publishing world at around a time when American comics began to mature.
4. I do not mean to suggest that comics before Maus were immature, but that the sophistication of the form as a medium for nonfiction is what makes the autobiographical comic today undefined as a comic per say, which is why these can be found in bookstores under the term Biography than Graphic Novels. The first story in Eisner's A Contract with God, a collection of four short comics stories, is based partly on his experiences of losing his daughter to leukemia, but it is not nonfiction the way Maus is nonfiction. Spiegelman did not simply write a story about his father, Vladek's, experiences in the Nazi camps, but he corroborated that story with other survivor experiences, making Maus a larger nexus between biography and history.
5. Although the Vietnam War sparked a response in the underground comix movement, that movement was also set off by the 1954 Comics Code, which created a different environment for comics than the one that surfaced with the introduction of adult comics (see Sabin) in the 1980s. If the 1954 Comics Code (see especially Kiste Nyberg) interfered with the evolution of comics, it is possible that what is observable about contemporary comics today would have been true of comics in the 1960s - assuming the absence of the 1954 Comics Code. What I am suggesting is that autobiographical comics then would have meant that they were part of the canon now.
© Vanessa Raney 2005

I made these comments at different times to the comix listserv:
A book on the Staff Recommended shelf by Sonja Ahlers, titled Fatal Distraction (2004),  I have no idea what to make of it. It uses both image and text but I don't know if it's a collection of random sketches or autobiograhical in some way or entirely fiction, etc. However, it raises questions about what defines a comic - does a comic differ specifically because it has words and pictures? Because I know there are wordless comics, but these are sequenced. Does a combination of random pictures and words fit the definition of comics? If you look at the history of comics, the later prototypes (nineteenth century specifically, though McCloud (and I believe Eisner in his earlier work that precedes McCloud, though McCloud gets a lot of the credit for suggesting a specific language of comics) also makes the argument that hieroglyphics, too, could be construed as one of the earlier forms because of the way the pictures are sequenced - which almost makes you need to accept them if you affirm that wordless comics are indeed comics) in which captions were added to image are legitimate forms of comics, then is her work a comic? It makes me then wonder about picture books - couldn't these, too, be considered comics? Can anyone help with this - is a comic defined more by form or what? Because then, couldn't picture books, illustrations in the New Yorker and other periodicals, etc. be classified as comics?

The question of art or literature really reflects the ambiguous structure of the comic, which depends on two simultaneous languages (Neil Cohn focusing on visual language) that, when the form really works and solidifies, depends on both image AND text to tell the story. However, I've seen a lot of comics in which the images just show, not relate. However, that is also true of a lot of literature, of which some is character-driven and others plot-driven, where you have conventions in genre and literary writing, etc. The comic is no exception, but even then, it's confused. When the comic no longer gets defined as a comic (for example, when I asked about Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries at Bookstop, I was told it was Biography, not a Graphic Novel because for this store, graphic novels equated with fiction so what you saw in that section were superhero comics, manga and Neil Gaiman, who's doing story), then you have a more pressing need to examine why certain comics are being taken more seriously and appreciated as stories (as opposed to show and tell). I don't know where Eisner fits in this, since I think it's fair to say that he's known more among comics readers/scholars/etc. as a serious comics artist than among mainstream, though this may be changing.

Even so, the final product assumes a specific kind of definition that, when examined as an artifact that results from specific social interactions and societal impulses, demands a different kind of analysis. However, it is the final label that defines its processes more narrowly. What made comics more popular since Maus (and Dark Watchmen and the one before that I can never remember offhand) - many (such as Roger Sabin) argue that it was the media hype of the word graphic novel that commanded a different attitude, which I would argue is what's responsible for the current demand for graphic novels: essentially comics made into books (novellas, for the most part). So now you see a wide assortment of comics serials being republished as graphic novels, while works intended as graphic novels (long thematically-focused books) get jumbled in with this. It reflects both an economic demand and a social context; comics are more "in" (so one could argue, though I don't know how convincing this would actually be) because of the form. Even the superhero genre has found (maybe further than the 1980s) its way into graphic novel formats. Even newspaper comics are being thus recontexted.

It's okay to smile. :)