The Making of “The Blue Age of Comic Books”

The Making of “The Blue Age of Comic Books”

Two years ago, I was presenting original research at the first annual Comics Studies Society conference. A week after that, I wrote my first WWAC article, in which I wrote about the paper I gave, “The Blue Age of Comic Books,” linking to an early version still (and for the foreseeable future) available online. A

Two years ago, I was presenting original research at the first annual Comics Studies Society conference. A week after that, I wrote my first WWAC article, in which I wrote about the paper I gave, “The Blue Age of Comic Books,” linking to an early version still (and for the foreseeable future) available online. A few weeks before writing this, I updated that first piece with a link to the peer-reviewed journal article that “Blue Age” became.

“Blue Age” is a theoretical framework that I started working on almost a year before that conference, three years ago this fall, during my first semester in my Ph.D. program. It draws on my experience as an Arab American woman who started reading superhero comics digitally just months before she graduated from college and makes the argument that we are in a new age of those comic books: the Blue Age. “It’s blue because blue is the color of social media (think Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter).” These sites, for better and for worse, allow comics creators and readers to communicate with each other.

I opened my Twitter account in October of 2017, around the same time I started really thinking about my final project for a media studies seminar taught by Professor Elizabeth Losh. In addition to the theory assigned in my coursework, some of which is apparent in “Blue Age,” I was reading scholarly works on superhero comics. Chris Gavaler’s Superhero Comics got me thinking about the different Ages (Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern) and how scholars (and readers) understand them. I understand them as more or less 20-year periods. So the Ages are as follows: Golden (1930s-1950s), Silver (1950s-1970s), Bronze (1970s-1990s), Modern (1990s-2010s), and Blue (2010-present).

Often, the period we are in now is called a second Golden Age, but it would be more accurate, with regard to superhero comics, to call it a second Silver Age: the Silver Age, after all, began with the 1956 introduction of Barry Allen’s Flash in Showcase #4. Allen replaced Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick. While some heroes (like Superman and Batman) remained the same, others (like the Flash and Green Lantern) changed. For anyone to suggest that the changes we have seen take place over the last decade, in which characters have been reimagined as something different from what they once were, are something wholly new ignores not only narrative continuity (or lack thereof as a consequence of reboots) but also the historicity of comics. The difference is that contemporary, Blue Age characters like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales more accurately represent the real and potential audiences of these comics. The real audience has never just been made up of white men (Carolyn Cocca’s Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation covers this), despite the disproportionate representation they still receive, and the potential audience is exponentially larger (and, consequently, more diverse) today because of the internet. The Blue Age, then, is neither a second Golden nor Silver Age (and most definitely not a new Bronze or post-Modern Age), but something different.

And comics, now, are different too. They’re not (despite Marvel’s marketing) all-different — mainstream comics have not changed anywhere near as much as they could have in the last several decades — but they are different. In “Blue Age,” I argue (drawing on Lev Manovich’s work in The Language of New Media) that all Blue Age comics are digital, whether or not they are published/distributed/read digitally, because they are mediated by new media technologies.

As I worked on that earliest version of “Blue Age,” the Scalar (Scalar is a platform for digital scholarship and the “Blue Age” Scalar is a kind of digital book), I thought about the history of the superhero genre and the ways in which digitization made comics new media. A few weeks after turning that in as a final project in December of 2017, I sent an abstract for the paper to two conferences. It was rejected by the first and accepted by the second. I kept working on it through that spring. That summer, I presented “Blue Age” at the inaugural conference of the Comics Studies Society, hosted, in 2018, by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I presented on the first afternoon of the three-day conference. In the two days after, people would approach me knowing my name and “Blue Age.” Immediately after the panel, I was asked about publication. “Blue Age” was already online (although its contents, even then, were different from the paper I presented), but I hadn’t yet submitted it to a journal and wouldn’t until the month after the conference. In the weeks in between, I was privileged to receive feedback on the paper from then CSS Vice President (later President and now Past President) Candida Rifkind, who had moderated my panel. During that same period of time, I started writing for WWAC. At the beginning of my last semester of coursework, I submitted “Blue Age” to INKS: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society and shortly after began to read for my qualifying exams. That spring and summer, I was reading for my exams and revising “Blue Age” while also getting ready for the second annual CSS conference at Ryerson University in Toronto. There, just short of a year after first giving “Blue Age,” I got to tell people that it was getting published.

Between July and October of 2019, I presented at two conferences, gave a guest lecture, taught in a program for international students studying abroad in the United States, started my third full semester teaching assistantship, and studied for and passed my qualifying exams. I don’t remember a whole lot of the day-to-day during that time, but I do remember meeting Amie Wright in person at Ryerson. Amie is a comics historian and librarian and fierce advocate of the medium on top of being an early adopter of “Blue Age.” She had, earlier that summer, used “Blue Age” in a talk at San Diego Comic-Con. After CSS, she sent me a message to which I responded, incredibly professionally, “WHAT.” Amie was interviewing Sana Amanat at New York Comic Con. That October, two years after I started working on “Blue Age,” thanks to Amie’s invitation, I went to NYCC to see “The New ‘Blue Age’ of Comics: In Conversation with Sana Amanat.” It’s difficult to express just how much that meant to me because it’s difficult to express just how much Amanat’s work means to me, not only because so much of it is the foundation for the “Blue Age” but also because I wouldn’t be reading and writing about comics if not for Ms. Marvel.

For some people, “The Blue Age of Comic Books” will be the first thing I’ve written that they will read, despite its availability (and the availability of my comics criticism and other public facing scholarship) online. It is now, as it has been for the better part of three years, weird and scary and exciting for other people to even be thinking about it let alone reading, citing, and teaching any version of it. And it’s been read, cited, and taught. I get to teach it for the first time this coming academic year, which is its own kinds of weird and scary and exciting, but mostly exciting.

I’m excited to see how my own students react to it and excited to hear about how other people’s students react to it. I’m excited to read the works in which I already know it’s being cited and excited to see the work that spins directly out of it because it is, after all, a framework. Part of what makes it scary to have “The Blue Age of Comic Books” published is that the measure of success isn’t just publication, it’s also whether or not other people put not just the term, Blue Age, but also the theoretical framework for which the article argues to use. And publication means that I am, for the moment, done working on it. It’s not a chapter of my dissertation. It’s its own thing. But I’m not sure I’ll ever really be done with the Blue Age, and that’s weird and scary and exciting too.

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