Dan Gearino

Watch this: Diana Schutz on comics and comics studies

Here are 74 minutes that make me hope Diana Schutz writes a memoir. She was one of the keynote speakers last weekend at the Michigan State University Comics Forum. In this video of her talk, she tells how she got into comics retail and then comics publishing, and how that led her to the academic study of comics.

“I am not a scholar,” she says. “I’m really just a comics fan. At best, a dilettante scholar.”

But she is a scholar.

She got into comics as a college student in 1976 in Vancouver. She was studying philosophy, and was one of the only female customers at her local comic shop, called The Comicshop.

“Hours of sharpening my brain during the week on Kant and Bertrand Russell sent me screaming to Howard the Duck on the weekend, which, you know, was itself philosophical, but a lot funnier,” she says.

She moved from Vancouver to the Bay Area where she worked at Comics & Comix, the influential chain of shops, and soon was editing The Telegraph Wire, a newsletter/magazine that was distributed for free at all of the chain’s locations. And that experience led her to work for comics publishers, first very briefly for Marvel, then Comico, and then a long stint at Dark Horse where she became the top editor.

Today, she is a freelance editor and translator, and teaches about comics at Portland State University.

The latter part of her talk is about comics studies and what she sees as reasons for concern that the field is growing too quickly, drawing a parallel with the black-and-white comics boom and bust of the 1980s.

She argues passionately for a comics studies that is rigorous while still being comprehensible, and hints that much of today’s scholarship is slapdash.

One scholar who gets a warm endorsement is Charles Hatfield and his book, Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature.

Michigan State has a legendary comics library and a vibrant program for studying comics. I wish I could have been there for this event.