Tamara Ansing is a Master Student in Art History at the University of Groningen. She studied graphic design and comic design before shifting her focus to academics. Her research interests lie in the history and aesthetics of comics.
Problems in the Categorization and Terminology of Comic Art Styles.
Since the 1990’s, the reputation of comics has improved dramatically. A mere forty years ago comics were considered to be mindless entertainment at best. At worst, they were considered to be the cause of violent and deviant behaviour in teenagers. Now, comics are often considered to be a legitimate art form. Certain titles, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, have become important objects of study for the fields of literary analysis and media studies. Yet comics have rarely been studied from the perspective of art history. Perhaps the reason for this, is that comics are difficult to place in the canon of art history. Another reason might be that the subject still has some stigma left, and is still considered a ‘lower’ art form in some circles. A final reason may lie in the art form’s inherently narrative nature, which makes it difficult to discuss comics from the predominantly visual perspective of art history.
This paper focuses on a fundamental methodological problem that arises when discussing comics as a visual art form: the lack of a proper terminology and categorization of styles. When a the style of a comic is described, it is usually referred to by either its place of origin or the genre to which it belongs. Yet using these terms can lead to confusion when a style originated from one country but is used by an artist living in another country, or when an artist creates a comic in one genre, but uses the stylistic properties of another. This paper aims to provide an overview of existing approaches to the problem of comic art style categorization and highlight some of their inherent issues. Drawing on a variety of examples from comics art, it demonstrates some of the confusions that arise from existing classifications with the aim of sparking some fresh ideas on the subject.