The Damaged Books Room (Fantagraphics). Jonas Seaman
In fact, an exhibition has just opened at the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow:
EA and LG
Lucia Cedeira Serantes is an Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (Queens College, CUNY). She is currently working on expanding her thesis chapter on reading and materiality. Her next research projects will explore non-readers’ relationship to reading: trying to shed some light on the ways in which notions and practices around reading are communicated and perpetuated and why and in what ways youth modify or reject these ideas about “reading” as part of their identity development.
As many other PhD students before me, after a year into the program I felt the urge to move away from the very topic that brought me to the program. That move provoked a mixture of anxiety and excitement but I quickly found a new path, thanks to much reading and the patience and guidance of my supervisors. My interest in the reading experience, and comics readers in particular, grew from different projects I engaged in, with some ending up making it into the academic world (Cedeira Serantes, 2013) and others making up much of that invisible and laborious work that researchers do. So why comics and reading? Basically I thought that there were more to comics readers than what I was seeing represented in the Media Studies (with their focus on fans) and Education and Library and Information Science (LIS) literature (with their focus on reluctant and/or visual readers).
Historically comics have been a very popular reading material for youth in spite of the attacks and poor consideration received from adults and educational and cultural institutions. Most of the research efforts have focused on analyzing texts—especially lately in terms of regarding comics as good literature—along with a consideration of comics as a text and product in the fan experience. I wanted to move the focus from fan communities and comics as texts to readers. My research focus was comics readers and how they constructed and understood their reading experience of comics as a reading material and what this revealed about reader identities and social contexts of reading. This focus exposes my academic influences, who deserve a direct acknowledgement: Radway (1991) who sparked my interesting for neglected readers; Mackey (2011) and Ross, McKechnie & Rothbauer (2006) who solidified the project; and Gemma Lluch and Fuller & Rehberg Sedo (2013) who keep expanding my horizons.
In the spirit of full disclosure, my own personal history as a reader of comics made me rather open-minded and attentive to the possibility of a multiplicity of experiences. I am originally from Spain and as a child I read 13, Rue del Percebe by Francisco Ibañez, Astérix by Goscinny and Uderzo, and El Capitán Trueno by Mora and Ambrós. As a teenager my taste moved towards superheroes and the X-Men group became one of my favourites. In university, my engagement with comics faded away and the only contact I had was through the magazine El Vibora until my MLIS studies when Maus by Art Spiegelman rekindled my love for comics. My reading history mixes genres, nationalities, and formats and it was an (anecdotal) example of the differences that can potentially affect the development of comics readership.
To keep the readers’ voices at the center of my work, I adopted an approach informed by hermeneutical phenomenology that made immediate the richness and multifaceted nature of the reading experience (Cohen, Kahen and Steeves 2000; Kvale and Brinkmann 2009). I interviewed seventeen participants, from sixteen to twenty-five years of age, nine female and eight male, who also represented different reading experiences: beginning readers, occasional but committed readers, and expert readers. I recruited participants and collected data in three different sites: public libraries, comics stores and at a university with a large undergraduate population.
The ideas, processes, and conclusions that emerged from these interviews presented comics reading as a sophisticated practice with unique characteristics and this group of diverse readers as committed, conscientious, and reflexive. It also emphasized the situated nature of the reading experience that requires the researcher to explore both how the experience is shaped but also shapes the reader-self and how it is embedded in an influential social context. Allow me to elaborate. The richness of the data I worked with was such that I was constantly grappling with the temptation to simplify their shared experiences: to separate what my readers were experiencing as a whole into defined compartments that, as a researcher, would afford me an easier analysis and presentation. I managed to fight this temptation through a visual representation that, while not a model, brought together what I ended up naming the four dimensions of the reading experience: 1) the construction of the reader-self; 2) the significant role of the materiality of comics; 3) the institutional contexts of comics reading and; 4) the unique temporal aspects of comics reading in contemporary society.
I recognize that the visual representation is not an epitome of clarity and I often need to explain it, but as a tool, it helped me to keep the four dimensions together and keep in mind the experiential complexity that my readers were sharing. The first dimension (the reader-self) attempts to explore the identity of the reader, that is constructed both solitarily and socially, especially in connection with the comics community; gender and positive and negative reading experiences are other key factors in the evolution of the reader-self. The materiality question (the second dimension) was raised by my participants and they helped to investigate how the change of media/format can potentially alter our relationship to reading and to the reading material; they especially focused on the affordances of print comics in comparison (not against) digital comics. The third dimension revealed the importance that surrounding structures and institutions (the comics industry, libraries, and educational institutions) have in the comics reading experience and how they become sites where comics reading is introduced, encouraged, or denigrated, directly or indirectly. Finally, the fourth dimension refers to time and how these readers construct comics as complex narratives that smoothly adapt to the temporal requirements connected to a current state of time scarcity, acceleration, speed, and instantaneity; however, readers also appreciated the quality of comics to allow for moments of contemplation (Cedeira Serantes, forthcoming May 2016).
The knowledge emerging from these participants’ experiences and understandings significantly enhances and seriously challenges commonplace understandings of the reading practices of a historically neglected group of readers. Previous posts by Erin Spring or Carolina González clearly reflect the opportunity for reading research that looks at the meaning emerging from reading practices and experiences as well as “newly discovered” formats such comics. The thoughts and reflections that these YA readers shared advance and extend the knowledge about the complexities of YA reading practices and support the necessity and timeliness of introducing comics in libraries and other cultural and educational institutions.
Cedeira Serantes, L. 2013. Misfits, loners, immature students, reluctant readers: Librarianship participates in the construction of teen comics readers. In Transforming young adult services: A reader for our age, edited by Anthony Bernier, 115-135. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Cedeira Serantes, L. forthcoming May 2016. When comics set the pace: The experience of time and the reading of comics. In Plotting the Reading Experience: Theory, Practice, Politics, edited by Lynne Mckechnie, Paulette Rothbauer, Knut Oterholm, and Kjell Ivar Skjerdingstad. Waterloo, Ontario Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
Cohen, M. Z., David L. Kahn, and Richard H. Steeves. 2000. Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research: A Practical Guide for Nurse Researchers. Thousand Oaks, Calif.; London; New Delhi: Sage.
Fuller, D., and DeNel Rehberg Sedo. 2013. Reading beyond the Book: The Social Practices of Contemporary Literary Culture. New York: Routledge.
Kvale, S., and S. Brinkmann. 2009. InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Mackey, M. 2011. Narrative Pleasures in Young Adult Novels, Films, and Video Games. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Radway, J. A. 1991. Reading the Romance : Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Ross, C. S., McKechnie, L., and P. M. Rothbauer. 2006. Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited