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Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2040-3232
  • E-ISSN: 2040-3240



In this article, I aim to cast doubt on the commonly told history of the development of North American comics ‘art’ as an emancipation from predatory ‘business’. To accentuate the point, I begin with a brief parody of this history designed to show its ironic formulaic quality and to highlight the centrality assigned to the metaphor of the ‘assembly line’ to describe the labour process in the ‘mainstream’ industry. I suggest that the image of the assembly line is a folk category, employed by members of the comics community to accentuate a contrast with a notion of art as single creative visions, a view supported by examples from the writings of Gary Groth and Dave Sim, leading figures during the 1980s in developing a critique of industry production practices. Their critique sharply contrasted ‘art’ and ‘business’ to help provide a legitimizing framework for independent and self-publishing, and for creator rights. However, I use a further example from Sim to show that the contrast was open to more flexible characterization, thus highlighting its rhetorical form. I conclude from this that the categories ‘art’ and ‘business’ have attached to them a set of commonly recognized attributes that may be mobilized to advance contrastive characterizations, but which are open to inventive modification in accord with specific argumentative purposes. It follows that inferences drawn about the artistic merit of the products of the mainstream industry based on its contractual relations and labour process rely upon this rhetorical contrast rather than features inherent in those industrial practices. Therefore, the adoption by comics scholars of a description of these practices through the image of the ‘assembly line’ uncritically adopts the same rhetoric presenting at best only a partial and selective account of the mainstream industry and the aesthetics of its products; a folk tale that comics scholarship needs to advance beyond.


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