Comic Books and Convergence

January 29, 2003 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm

200 College Hall

Comic Books and Convergence

Why the Digital Revolution Won't Overthrow the Superhero

Henry Jenkins

Director, Comparative Media Studies
Professor of Literature
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Print culture has always been fluid and undergoing transformation. MIT's media studies expert Henry Jenkins considers the contemporary state of the comic book as a way into rethinking contemporary debates about the place of the book in the digital age.

Longtime DC editor Denis O'Neil has noted that comic books function as the research and development division of the new media industry. The low costs of production, the relatively modest reading public, and the quick turnaround time make comic books a space for experimentation and exploration of new themes, new formats, new systems of distribution, and new relationships between readers and writers. The content of comics—the superhero story—still draws large crowds when transfered into other media, wher-as comics themselves attract a small but stable readership.

Comics would seem to be particularly useful for thinking about the relationship between text-based and visual literacies, for example, as well as for understanding why the material object of the book—or in this case, the comic—retains worth even if the text itself gets digitized.

Did you know that MIT is the birthplace of the videogame? If you do, then you've probably heard of comparative media pioneer Henry Jenkins. When it comes to understanding the impact of the media—new and conventional—on popular culture, Henry Jenkins is there where the air is rare. Not only does he seem to have a thing for koala bears (take a guess why, and we'll give you a front row seat to his talk), but he's also spent his career studying media and the way people incorporate it into their lives. He has published extensively on topics ranging from computer games to the horror genre to children's literature to sci fi to blogging to wrestling to the comic book. He's testified before the U.S. Senate during hearings on media violence that followed the Littleton, Colorado shootings, and has served as cochair of Pop!Tech, the 1999 Camden Technology Conference. Jenkins holds a PhD in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a master's in communication studies from the University of Iowa.