Author: Christina M. Knopf
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Publication Year: 2021
Topic: Comics and Politics, Elections, Politicians and Other Supervillains
WHAT IS IT?
Politics in the Gutters: American Politicians and Elections in Comic Book Media is a remarkable review of the way that comic books and politics have cross-pollinated in America over the last century. Christina Knopf has created a work that is both scholarly and whimsical, with exceptional research enlivened by an engaging and readable writing style.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Knopf starts out with the declaration that "US politics is not merely intertwined with popular culture, it is popular culture" and then sets out to show exactly how this is reflected in comics. In doing so, she provides a comprehensive rebuttal to claims that comics had ever been free of politics by showing that political content has been a constant presence in the medium since its earliest days.
Knopf’s connecting theme is the relationship between comic books and American national and state politics, and each of the book’s eleven chapters examines a different facet of this topic. Politics in the Gutter references comics from nearly every imaginable genre and publishing strategy, looking at examples from nearly the entire history of the medium in America. From Golden Age comics produced by Harry Truman’s campaign to recent issues of DCeased and Undiscovered Country, from Donald Trump to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Knopf covers it all.
The research and analysis on display in this volume is simply astonishing. The book concludes with over forty pages of works cited, and after reading it I have to say that feels appropriate. From the very first chapter, comic book references, historical events, and cultural connections pile up at astonishing speed. Even the most dedicated of comic fans will undoubtedly learn new and interesting things!
Knopf’s writing style is perfect. She has somehow achieved the literary equivalent of “business casual” by delivering deeply historical content and analysis in a way that is approachable and interesting. Part of this may be that chapters are divided into more digestible sections. Knopf has decided to keep chapters short and lean, propelling her arguments forward without belaboring points.
Chapters and sections have interesting and often whimsical titles to draw the reader in. For instance, there is a chapter entitled “The Very Stable Evil Genius of Luthor, Loki, Doom and Donald.” I am amazed and happy to live in a world where such titles are possible in an academic work.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Politics in the Gutters covers so much territory that it is occasionally at risk of losing focus and wandering, as when Knopf’s analysis of cynicism in comics leads her to spend the better part of a page retelling the tragic life and death of an elephant vacuum in Mark Russell’s The Flintstones. In the end, though, Knopf succeeds in tying this interesting and heartbreaking tangent and other diversions nicely back to the overarching topic of the book.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?
Politics In the Gutters is one of my favorite comic studies books of the year. You should read it because it is spectacularly researched and because it is filled with big ideas as well as interesting trivia. Christina M. Knopf has given us a book that is readable, entertaining and relevant. Highly recommended for both comics fans and comics scholars.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
For a closer look at recent Marvel run-ins with politics: Superhero Culture Wars: Politics, Marketing and Social Justice in Marvel Comics by Monica Flegel & Judith Leggatt
For more from Christina M. Knopf: The Comic Art of War: A Critical Study of Military Cartoons, 1805-2014, with a Guide to Artists
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina M. Knopf is an associate professor in the department of communication and media studies at the State University of New York at Cortland. Knopf is the author of several papers and anthology chapters about comics, as well as one previous book (from 2015) entitled The Comic Art of War: A Critical Study of Military Cartoons, 1805–2014, with a Guide to Artists. You can follow Knopf on Twitter @knopfcm.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
This book is ©2021 University Press of Mississippi. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED