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Writing

Writing

  image by Katie Sehl

image by Katie Sehl

Published

"The History of Digital Comics"

Darren Wershler, Kalervo A. Sinervo, and Shannon Tien. Comic Studies: A Guidebook. Ed. Bart Beaty. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018.

It's far from clear what “digital comics” actually references, because comics are at once a medium, a series of different “formations” which combine a system of production and circulation, a cultural and ideological component, and physical format, and a set of genres. Digitization involves shifts in all of these levels, affecting how comics are produced, circulated and consumed. This chapter considers three separate digital comics formations: digital print production, removable media, and networked digital media. These overlap in interesting ways, and none have become completely obsolete. With the rise of smartphones, tablets and the accompanying drive toward cloud computing and leasing rather than retail business models, digital comics on removable media might prove to be the most fragile of these systems, because they are a transitory form.

This book isn't out yet, but when it is, you can find it here.

 

"Pirates and Publishers: comics scanning and the audience function"

Kalervo A. Sinervo. The Comics World: Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and Their Publics. Ed. Ben Woo. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2018.

This chapter is derived in part from a larger project that seeks to frame the historical period in which comics scanning was an organized, internally structured practice. Who were the pirates? What ideologies motivated them, and what methodologies did they employ for both the work of scanning and the organization of their efforts? The project focuses on two of the most active English-language comics scanning groups (or crews) of the 2000’s: Digital Comics Preservation (DCP) and Minutemen. Coalescing in 2005 and reaching peak productivity in 2010, DCP and Minutemen have since unofficially dissolved, living on only as case studies for a specific moment in the histories of both comics and the Internet. The comics scanning project collected torrent packet metadata from BitTorrent tracker sites to trace the productivity of these two groups from 2005 through their decline in activity in 2012. This chapter draws on that corpus of data and examines several scanned comics to argue that comics scanners constitute a significant public within comics culture. It also argues that the perspective decoded from their work meaningfully challenges notions of authorship in comics, offering a new take on the infrastructural work of digitization and digital editing as creative contribution.

Framed in terms of author-functions (Foucault 1969), audience functions (Johnson 2013), fandom and labor (Scott 2013), and encoding and decoding (Hall 1980), comics scanners alter the authorial signifiers of the comics they digitize and form a node of participatory culture in the comics world. By outlining their practices and examining the objects they produce, we can override the discourse of piracy and recontextualize scanners as users employing complex practice-sets, rather than as criminals trading in a shadow economy, or as free-speech/open-access evangelists.

This book isn't out yet, but when it is, you can find it here.

 

This chapter concerns the history of one major formation in Marvel’s digital repertoire: the motion comic. Over the last two decades, Marvel has rolled out a new iteration of the motion comic on a surprising number of occasions, making claims each time for its innovative status, only to scrap it entirely and begin again within the space of a few years, claiming once more that what they have produced is unprecedented. What is it about the form of motion comics that produces this constant churn, and how do we begin to trace it? What sort of audience does Marvel imagine for motion comics? Does it resemble the traditional comics audience, or even support the things that readers have always valued about print comics? And what contributions, if any, has the motion comic form made to the celebrated content of the Marvel Universe?                                                 

The larger point that emerges from a study of Marvel’s various adventures in digital publishing is that in a networked digital culture, circulation outstrips continuity and preservation. In the name of increasing circulation, Marvel has produced a discontinuous series of mutually incompatible forms of digital comics. Digital technologies have also altered the physical form of print comics and, as a result of the new business models that accompany digital content, they have transformed the histories and continuities of the characters on which their brands are based. Digital media excels at cheaply and shamelessly promulgating information across the globe. When it is used for storage, archiving and preservation, it works against its grain, and often produces uneven results.

Find the book here.

"Marvel and the Form of Motion Comics"

Darren Wershler and Kalervo Sinervo. Make Ours Marvel: Media Convergence and a Comics Universe." Ed. Matt Yockey. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2017.

 

 

This paper considers the part played by modders in shaping Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls series of roleplaying games. It argues that Bethesda’s stewardship of the franchise over the course of its twenty year history has been characterised less by an unwavering creative vision than a willingness to make use of the resources to hand - not least the inventiveness of modding communities. Charting how Bethesda employees and the games’ modders have performed and discussed their respective roles, we track shifts in the tools, vocabularies, aims and approaches of both parties. We find that while the practices and priorities of modders and developers have, in many respects, converged over this period, crucial legal and conceptual distinctions continue to separate professionals from amateurs. Valve’s abortive attempt to introduce paid mods to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim threw this division into stark relief, emphasising the need for studies of modding which address the performativity of intellectual property, showing how conceptions of authorship and ownership develop over time within specific studios, cultures and publics.

Read the article here.

"Who Wrote the Elder Scrolls? Modders, Developers, and the Mythology of Bethesda Softworks"

Carolyn Jong, Rob gallagher, and Kalervo A. Sinervo.  Loading... 10.16 (2017).

 

Contemporary franchised media production is marked by polished, coordinated instalments that harness and synergize multiple media concurrently in order to more effectively saturate markets with manifold iterations of singular intellectual properties. But how do the unwieldy protocols of transmedia impact upon the narratives of our pop culture icons, their identities and the fictional worlds that they inhabit? In the context of 21st Century licensing, where extended universes and (proposed) narrative coherence across various properties abound across media, it is useful to look back upon the history of how multiple iterations and continuity were handled in pre-networked production, and how the transition to franchised transmedia has worked on what we think of as narrative cohesion. Though such an undertaking may appear daunting in its magnitude, by focusing on specific aspects of transmedia production—such as worldbuilding—we can begin to make headway.

This paper takes as its object of study Gotham City, longtime home of globally-recognized pop culture superhero icon Batman. Using an interdisciplinary approach to issues of both aesthetics and circulation, the article charts traditional representations of Gotham across media and focuses particularly on how the city has been realized in videogames, where audiences become officially participating players as not only the Dark Knight himself, but as circulators in Gotham’s sprawling urban environment as well. By looking at how the map of Gotham has mutated through the Batman: Arkhamgame series and how the player is encouraged to navigate that environment, the paper exposes that protocols of transmedia mapping at work and theorizes the ways in which place play a role in popular fictions.

Read the article here.

"Gotham on the Ground: transmedia meets topography in the environments of the Arkham  videogame series"

Kalervo A. Sinervo. Wide Screen 6.1 (2016).


Business models relying on Transmedia—those whose approaches tie films to graphic novels and to games—have driven increased consistency in the layouts of fictional urban spaces (like Batman’s hometown, Gotham City), in the pursuit of a canon that allows audiences to cut across media without losing their sense of place. Gotham City has traditionally defied notions of consistent geography and design sense, and the 2013 video game Arkham Origins illustrates a new sensibility for the geography of the Batman mythology and how player circulation through that fictional space is achieved. Not only does the Gotham City of Arkham Origins operate as a palimpsest of the aesthetic modes and architectural spaces of Gotham that have come before it, but it also creates a virtual geography by incorporating real-world graffiti from the city of Montréal, leading to what we might think of as a “real virtuality” as opposed to a virtual reality.

Read the article here.

"Mapping Gotham: Layering and Transmedia in Batman's Fictional City"

Kalervo A. Sinervo. First Person Scholar. 2015.

 

This chapter uses theories of circulation, subculture, and materiality to discuss the activities of unauthorized comic book scanners or “pirates,” and the mechanisms by which they structure their community. The discussion is drawn from a body of quantitative data collected by observing the circulation of unauthorized comic scans through several BitTorrent Websites between 2005 and 2012. The authors also examine the public discourse of scanners themselves—showcased through various anonymous interviews—as part of an investigation into the scanners’ identification with a system of ethics that validates their dissemination of unauthorized content in the name of preservation or “digital archiving.” Lastly, the authors propose a methodology for the study of digital media as “space-biased” and circulatory rather than archival. Though comic book scanners may identify themselves as digital archivists, they are somewhat unreliable for actual preservation. However, the ongoing existence of their community, despite the illegal, anonymous, and ephemeral nature of their work, invites one to consider the merits of a knowledge propagation model based on dissemination over preservation.

Find the book here.

"Unauthorized Comic Book Scanners"

Darren Wershler, Kalervo Sinervo, and Shannon Tien. Educational, Psychological, and Behavioral Considerations in Niche Online Communities. Eds. Vivek Venkatesh, Jason Wallin, Juan Carlos Castro, and Jason Lewis. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014.

 

This paper presents the initial findings from a study of the production, transmission and consumption of unauthorized comic book scans (“scans” for short). In the process, it demonstrates a research method with practical, ethical and theoretical implications for the emerging sub-discipline of network archaeology. It also presents a reminder that we can and should think about digital popular culture in relation to fields other than literature or music. And it argues that the practices of comic book scanners – frequently described as “pirates” by online journalists, if rarely by the scanners themselves – are worth studying not just because of their specificity, but in part because they offer insights into the functioning of digital cultures of circulation in general. If the circulatory practices of comic book scanners (“scanners”) were once obscure and arcane, something very similar to them has now become commonplace, and perhaps even characteristic of contemporary digital culture.

Read the article here

“A Network Archaeology of Unauthorized Comic Book Scans”

Darren Wershler, Kalervo Sinervo, and Shannon Tien.  Amodern 2: Network Archaeology. Eds. Nicole Starosielski, Braxton Soderman, cris cheek. 2013.

 

The Critical Survey of Graphic Novel series focuses on all aspects of the graphic novels genre, aiming to establish it as an important academic discipline and research topic in libraries. Designed for academic institutions, high schools, and public libraries, the series provides unique insight into the stories and themes expressed in historic and current landscape of the graphic novel medium. 

This article summarizes and analyzes cartoonist Paul Pope's early work The Ballad of Doctor Richardson, articulating and analyzing its story, publication history, thematics, and artistic techniques.

Find the book here.

"The Ballad of Doctor Richardson"

Kalervo A Sinervo. Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independent and Underground Classics. Eds. Bart Beaty and Stephen Weiner. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012.


Papers

This section is papers I never got around to publishing, but I continue to find the subjects fascinating. If you're interested in discussing any of this work or lighting a fire under me to get it published, please get in touch.

This paper, constituting my MA major research project, elaborates a concept of differential media as a remedy to gaps left by adaptation theory, and uses an ANT methodology to interrogate the narrative assemblage that makes up the media and materials surrounding Watchmen

Media scholarship must necessarily shift and mutate as rapidly as communications technology itself, as in the present cultural climate time is measured in hours, not days or months. In a network teeming with swirling, inchoate narratives that are cast aside as quickly as they are fabricated, where few properties ever have the opportunity to coalesce, the challenge for the critic is to attempt to track and solidify the bonds between divergent elements, in the hopes that pathways can be established to explain why a story told one way in one medium must necessarily signify differently in another. To that end, this paper looks at the various editions of Watchmen that exist in print as well as animation, film, and games. In so doing, I build on a theoretical practice of differential media developed by Marjorie Perloff and Darren Wershler the impacts a medium’s coding needs and interface sensibilities can have on narrative, aesthetic, and interpretation.

View the paper here.

"After the Countdown:  Watchmen and the Narrative Assemblage"

Major Research Project for English MA

2012

 

Issues of authorship have long been discussed as they pertain to cultural properties. While seminal pieces like Roland Barthe’s 1967 essay “Death of the Author” and Michel Foucault’s 1969 lecture “What is an Author?” rendered the author’s nature as a construct visible, they do not address the particularities of new media and cannot account for how the vagaries of massively collaborative creative contribution, DMCA intellectual property attitudes, or work-for-hire political economies affect the production and reception of authorship in digital games. Furthermore, the matter of authorship has not been thoroughly or explicitly developed theoretically in the realm of games studies itself. This paper seeks to address some of these gaps by offering a survey of how authorship has thus far been conceptualized, enacted, and critiqued in terms of digital game creation, extrapolating those writings relatable to the question and synthesizing them with the views that do exist categorically in games scholarship.

View the paper here.

Non-Functional: Interrogating the Absent Author in Game Studies

Communication Studies Comprehensive Exam for HUMA PhD Program

2015

 

My project in this paper is to offer an expansion on work into digital worlds, and particularly the virtual, fictional, and transmedia city. Taking a particular methodological approach or framing an exploration of our always-already-new homeland through a specific theoretical lens will only reveal to us a partial overview of the digital world, and in particular the digital city. Instead, I propose to add to this body of work by employing a methodology developed as a strategy of tactics and by using a vocabulary developed from multiples sources on the nature of cities and circulation, both real and fictional. This paper will proceed to break down the stakes of these issues as I see them and the approaches to exploring and analyzing the city that I’ve discovered through eight decades from which we can develop applications of practices and viewpoints to the digital, fictional, and transmedia environment as well. An overview of seminal writings on urban environments and a look at some of the current work on digital worlds will allow me to reveal both the gaps in these fields of scholarship and to propose areas where I may be able to intervene and further articulate and expand upon these bodies of work. The end result will not only constitute a literature review, but a host of methodological vantage points as well—vantage points perfect for surveying the land of these new environments that we’ve been inhabiting and learning to inhabit for years.

View the paper here.

Issues of Space and Place in 3D Game Environments

Media Theory Comprehensive Exam for HUMA PhD Program

2016

 

Social games are clearly a large industry with tens of millions of users and tens of thousands of paying customers. Now that the collective star of games like FarmVille is seemingly on the decline, the time may be ripe for new investigation of how social games function and what systems they promote. This paper takes a look at a cross-section of environmental management simulation games on Facebook and how they present multiple types of currency that each translate into different types of abilities or privileges. Through their use of such currencies and by further managing gameplay through engagement wheels, these types of games serve as an Ideological State Apparatus (after Althusser) of what theorist Toby Miller might call the perpetually incomplete individual. In such a state, incompleteness is managed by an engagement system in which the ultimate legal tender is time.

View the paper here.

The Isolated Man About Town: Social Games and the Engagement Wheel

Term paper for Digital Games Theory and Research Course

2011

 

This paper merges questions of interface with an Althusserian take on ideological state apparatuses and a framework of ethical incompleteness informed by Toby Miller to address the protocols and values at work for Facebook users as they navigate their profiles and newsfeeds. Using a close analysis of the platform's casual affordances and implicit directives for use, I argue that the ideology guiding the social network is one of perpetual incompleteness, where users are encourage to expand their identities ad infinitum. (NB: this paper was written in 2010, so findings reflect the nature and affordances of Facebook at that time.)

View the paper here.

"A Never-Ending Exercise: Facebook as an Apparatus of the Incomplete Self"

Term paper for Media Poetics course

2010

 

The Eustace Diamonds is a novel full of inadvertent deceptions where facts are built by committee, true intentions stand behind façades of friendship, and things are never as they seem.  Trollope weaves an intricate and convoluted plot with a unique style, and in so doing offers the reader a narrative powered by deceit, a story that hangs heavy on the grapevine.  The real truth is that gossip is the lifeblood of The Eustace Diamonds, the common theme that runs through its many chapters and always sits in the background: it serves as a key element in building the identities of the major characters, who create and are created by one another through discursive relationships; it is embedded in the twists and turns of the narrative itself, leaving the title commodity and central character’s fates decidedly open-ended; and perhaps most importantly, it exists at play in Trollope’s writing style, most clearly apparent in his narrator’s voice—perhaps the most manipulative speaker in the entire book. This paper focuses on the role that gossip and "idle talk" plays in the novel, from forming its social commentary to guiding its plotline.

View the paper here.

Rumor Has It: Gossip and Hearsay in Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds

Term paper for Gender and the 19th Century British Novel course

2012

 

This 2011 paper examines structurations of desire through two key complementary thinkers: Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. First looking at how the objet petit a is expressed by viewers of Disney animated films using participatory culture gestures such as fan art erotica, and then turning to how animation itself functions as a desiring machine, the piece argues that using the lineage of Disney animated features as a reference point allows us to uncover many points of connection and overlap between Lacan and Deleuze. Warning: some NSFW content.

View the paper here.

Animating Desire: Lacan, Deleuze, and Disney Erotica

Term paper for Deleuze and Lacan course

2011