Comic book aficionado A. David Lewis (GRD ’88) discussed the definition, history and business of comic books and graphic novels Monday evening in a lecture attended by approximately 30 comic book enthusiasts.

Lewis, coordinator of graduate admission and outreach at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, has published articles on contemporary and historical developments in the comic book industry in journals of popular culture. He is also a contributing and assistant editor for the comic series, Committed, which is published by Action Comics.

“I’d like to think we have one thing in common, and that is Spiderman,” Lewis said. “Superheroes are a part of comics, and all of us share superheroes like Spiderman as a part of popular culture.”

Lewis discussed contemporary movements within the comic book industry, which include increased independent publications such as Road to Perdition, the inspiration for the 2002 motion picture, and the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, Maus, which depicts various aspects of the Holocaust.

“Comic books can be entertaining, constructing or even arousing,” he said. “They are a type of media that can appeal to any specific group – kids, a nation or a race.”

Lewis engaged the audience in attempting to define comic books, first suggesting “a total blending of narration and image,” but later amending this definition, which included too many other genres in addition to comic books.

Borrowing definitions from comic book scholars, Lewis defined comic books as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequences which are intended to convey information and/or to produce a response in the viewer,” adding that the best comic books could be determined by the extent to which the words depended upon the pictures and vice versa.

Lewis explained the development of comic books in the United States. “The first comic in was Superman in June 1938, published by Action Comics, beginning the superhero golden age,” Lewis said. “After World War II, after the bad guys went away, other genres, such as the Western and Romance gained popularity, forcing comic books into decline.”

He said that after 20 years of popularity, a fear emerged that comic books were linked to juvenile delinquency and a Senate subcommittee set standards for comic books to meet, beginning the silver age of comics.

“Comic book publishers went under because other genres were simply more popular than comics and they didn’t have to meet the same guidelines as comic books did,” Lewis said.

The Bronze Age began with the 1971 release of The Amazing Spiderman, #96, Lewis said, as the series published by Marvel Comics broke away from the standards set 15 years earlier. He said that scholars have yet to reach the consensus on the current era.

Lewis also discussed contemporary comic books, which have emerged from a turbulent decade. Sales for the early 1990s resembled the World War II era, with lots of comic book shops thriving and high speculation of comic books. The inability of the industry to attract new comic book buffs, however, led to a decline in sales for mainstream publishers.

“While several of the more successful publishers from the early ’90s declined, the comic book continued expanding in independent comics which kept money coming in,” Lewis said. “With more growing acceptance of the self-publishing industry, more people are trying their hand at it.”

Lewis discussed methods for comic book devotees to begin writing, drawing, editing, printing or publishing a new series. He also offered an overview of the production of comic books, from penciling, to inking, to lettering and the distribution the finished product, which can be done through hired distributors, at trade show conventions and through academic journals and scholarly reviews.

“First you have to decide what you want to do and what you’re skilled in – are you a writer or an artist?” he said. “Then you have to decide if you’re going to go alone or collaborate. If you collaborate, will the series be artist-led, writing-led or a hybrid? You have to choose which is the cart and which is the horse.”

Georgetown University Lecture Fund sponsored the speech.

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