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‘Comics on the Main Street of Culture’: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell (1999), Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah (2011) and the politics of gentrification

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Through a comparative discussion of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell (serialized 1989−96, collected 1999), which is now widely marketed as a ‘graphic novel’, and Laura Oldfield Ford’s more self-consciously subcultural zine, Savage Messiah (serialized 2005 to 2009, collected 2011), this article explores the correlation between the gentrification of the comics form and the urban gentrification of city space − especially that of East London, which is depicted in both of these sequential art forms. The article emphasizes that both these urban and cultural landscapes are being dramatically reshaped by the commodification and subsequent marketization of their subcultural or marginalized spaces, before exploring the extent to which this process neutralizes their subversive qualities and limits democratic access to them. In conclusion, however, the article demonstrates that comics artists tend to collect their ephemeral comics and publish them as marketable graphic novels not to commodify them, nor to maximize their profits. Rather, they do so in order to reach a wider readership and thereby to mobilize their subversive, anti-gentrification political content more effectively, constituting radical urban subcultures that resist the reshaping of London into a segregated and discriminatory cityscape.
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Keywords: DIY culture; London; comics; gentrification; the graphic novel; zines

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oxford

Publication date: 01 September 2017

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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