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Podcast: Shawna Kidman, “The Infrastructure of the U.S. Comic Book Industry and the Long History of Superheroes in Hollywood”

Shawna Kidman
Shawna Kidman, Assistant Professor, University of California San Diego

“The best way to understand the immense influence of this relatively small business is through a political economic analysis.”

This talk discusses the history of the American comic book industry during the 20th century. This medium has dominated the film and television landscape in recent years, and has come to define contemporary corporate transmedia production. But before moving to the center of mainstream popular culture, comic books spent half a century wielding their influence from the margins and in-between spaces of the entertainment business. Dr. Kidman argues that the best way to understand the immense influence of this relatively small business is through a political economic analysis. Specifically, she discusses industrial infrastructure—the aspects of our media environment that often lack public visibility, including distribution, copyright and contract law, and financing. These systems channeled the industry’s growth and ultimately gave the medium its shape. Accordingly, a closer look at the everyday intricacies of the business yields a very different kind of narrative about what comic books are and how they came to be. It also helps explain why comic books and comic book strategies became so central to media production in the 21st century, and why these trends are likely to persist well into the future.

Shawna Kidman is an Assistant Professor of Communication at UC San Diego where she teaches courses in media studies. Her research on the media industries has been published in Velvet Light Trap, the International Journal of Learning and Media, and the International Journal of Communication. She is the author of Comic Books Incorporated: How the Business of Comics Became the Business of Hollywood (UC Press, 2019), a history of the U.S. comic book industry’s convergence with the film and television business. Before earning her PhD in Critical Media Studies at USC, Shawna worked in the media business, including as a creative executive at DC Comics.

Elizabeth Borneman
Written by
Elizabeth Borneman

Elizabeth is a designer, writer, and researcher interested in how art, computation, and communication can combine to strengthen community structures, and enhance learning across learner backgrounds. A Florida native, Elizabeth earned her Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology from Georgetown University. There she led a research team in the Culture and Emotions Lab investigating the campus climate for patterns in students’ belonging and social engagement across university locations and situational contexts. She also spent a semester in Cape Town, South Africa as a field researcher studying plant systems and animals’ optimal foraging, ideal free distribution, and territorial defense behaviors.

She most recently worked as a designer and programmer artist in Xaq Pitkow’s Computational Neuroscience lab, where she designed and prototyped interactive graphics and games for teaching and communicating concepts in computational neuroscience and in color vision grounded in visual perception. She’s excited about the power of info-visualization. At MIT, Elizabeth works in the Teaching Systems Lab designing multi-media practice spaces and curriculum for equitable teaching in Computer Science and STEM. Outside of study, Elizabeth likes to go dancing, spend time on the water, and explore outdoors.

Elizabeth Borneman Written by Elizabeth Borneman