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The myth of Eco: Cultural populism and comics studies

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For decades, Umberto Eco’s essay ‘The myth of Superman’ has been cited as the authoritative study of superhero comics. More recently, however, Eco’s work has been a site of argument as cultural and media studies scholars such as Angela Ndalianis and Henry Jenkins contend that the narrative logic of contemporary superhero comics has become more complex than Eco imagines. These scholars replace Eco’s ‘oneiric climate’ of suspended time with models of multiple and intertextual narratives that extend across diverse media. While Eco’s observations are more historically contingent than he acknowledges, his analysis remains more applicable than his critics allow. Some scholars have misread Eco’s arguments and overstated the radicalism of contemporary superhero narratives. This article argues that it is time to re-evaluate Eco’s work and move beyond the populist, predominantly celebratory tone of his critics.
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Keywords: Umberto Eco; comic books; continuity; cultural studies; oneiric climate; popular culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Howard University

Publication date: October 1, 2013

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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