Comics as Literature (Part 1)

Dr. Z
Stanley Fish nuked the notion of literary canon in the ’80s (capitalizing on research from linguists).   But it is a fun literary exercise.  The creation of a canon reflects more about the compiler than “literature.” (In the same vein, I could never include Orwell or Golding in a list of anything other than a how to for Spark or Cliff notes.)

If you had to determine the canon for comics, what would be your list?  So many of the scholars are going for works like Maus, and Persepolis.

Robert W
I like cannons. The big shiny brass ones are my favorite.

Canon is virtually non-existent with mainstream super hero comics any more.

With every change of writer at Marvel and every crossover, the continuity is effectively rebooted for that series and all ancillary series. You could say they create a new reality about every two months and we keep leapfrogging from one to another.

With DC, it’s not quite the same, but almost as bad. Plus DC does semi regular hard reboots. I’d say they happen about every 10 years. Crisis, Zero Hour, There was another in the mid thoughts but I can’t remember what it was called, Flashpoint which let to nu52. Who knows what convergence is doing to the canon.

Canon comes into play more when we discuss tightly controlled continuities like Star Wars, Hellboy, Sherlock Holmes, possibly the current Valiant era, etc.

With Star Wars particularly, every film, every comic, every book, every video game, and every cartoon was either produced by Lucasfilm or authorized by them. They kept a tight hold on the reigns. George Lucas personally approved some that have been removed from canon. How much of that is going to get thrown out with the new films? Where does the 1980s Droids fit in continuity?

I think with the main super hero the canon is in the mind of the reader. It’s up to you what you want to accept. For me, Bruce Wayne has been Batman for 15 years. Dick Grayson’s parents were killed 12 years ago when he was 12 and he’d become Robin a year later. It doesn’t matter to me that in the current continuity Batman came into being 5-6 years ago and has produced a Robin a year ever since.

You’d have fun with this website ( What is canon within the World-Newton Universe? It’s a blend of your literary critic canon and my fan literary canon theories.

Dr. Z
It is interesting the question of canon for popular fiction—Star Wars, Batman, X-Men—has more to do with maintaining the narrative thread, the integrity of a narrative thread, than it does with identifying the role specific works play in shaping the genre or medium.

In some way, I think that suggests that the field is still in the process of forming, emerging. It has not been adequately defined and concretized for study. It would be akin to identifying the Arthurian canon prior to Malory, while troubadours were still running loose composing new versions of “Eric and Enede.”


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