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.