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Genre Analysis

Page history last edited by Poe Johnson 11 years, 10 months ago

Coming from the French, genre, meaning “kind” or “genus” are groupings that allow for better dissemination for both academic, fan, and market, to discuss, evaluate and produce works for specific purposes. Thus, Genre Analysis is the study of how a group of texts are found to have commonality in character, grammar, theme, plot structures etc. . Or, as Coogan states: “Genre Analysis is often a matter of defining and explaining how one or more of these relationships operates in a specific text.”  It is also, he states, uses two questions about society as it relates to Comics: “What is the comic book saying about society” and “What is it saying about the genre?” Yet it is not simply a matter of viewing these concepts as concrete structures, but how the genre is shown to evolve over time.  




Coogan says that there are two assumptions made when studying genres:

The first assumption is that “genre is a relationship—between genres and other genres, individual texts and the genre as a whole, creators and audiences, and the reader and texts—both the individual text being read and the corpus of the genre, as well as other genres and other texts.”


The second assumption is of the “purposefulness” of genre.


The first purpose is that genres are used as a means for the market to create and sell its product that reduces risk to the producer. Along with that purpose is that genre creates a standard by which consumers can measure expectations and innovations. Coogan says that consumers want familiarity; they want the adherence to tropes, but they also want those tropes to be subverted.


The second purpose is the social function of genre. This purpose, Coogan suggests, is represented in two view points from critics and scholars. The first one is that genres reinforce cultural standards for morality and decency vis-à-vis “industrial capitalism” and the industries that foster it. The second is that genres act as a “ritualized collective cultural expression.” Genres convalesce our cultural ids by illustrating the failures of extremes, both positive and negative.




According to Coogan, “Genres evolve through an evolutionary cycle, starting with a pre-genre stage before the genre formally comes into being…” Coogan breaks down this scale, first utilized by Schaltz, into six stages, and incorporates them into the eras of comic history.


  •           Pre-Genre Stage (Antediluvian Age 1818-1938) -- Establishes motif, icons and themes
  •           Experimental Stage (Golden Age 1938-1956)— Conventions are isolated and established
  •           Classic Stage (Silver Age1956-1970)—Conventions are found to be understood by artists and consumers
  •           Refinement Stage (Bronze Age 1970-1980)—Formal and stylistic details “embellish” the form
  •           Baroque Stage(Iron Age 1980-2000)—Also called “mannerist” or “self-reflexive,” where the “form and its embellishments are accented to the point where they themselves become the “substance” or “content” of the work”
  •           Reconstructive Stage (Renaissance Age 1995-Presnt)— The various parts of the genre are reconsitituted within the genre in such a way that it’s understood that the genre has completed the cycle




One of the major tenets of Genre Analysis is an evaluation of the conventions, or grammar, that make up each genre. According to Duncan and Smith, there are a collection of specific pieces that will inhabit a genre.


  •          Character Types—The type of character that might be shown to populate a genre
  •          Narrative Patterns – The structural makeup of the storytelling.
  •          A recurring message that can be found embedded within the stories of a genre
  •          Other conventions might be setting, technology, modes of transportation etc.




As stated by Duncan and Smith,  there are a handful of genres of comics that have maintained a relatively steady level of popularity over the last near-century.  Each of them have their own particular genre conventions and tropes that have been overused and subverted as they have evolved.


Superhero – The most enduring, and popular, genre in comics. Some of its characteristics include: Sidekicks, Hero/Villain binary,  themes of superheroes not killing, and the origin story. Notables: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman


Teen Humor – The only genre, other than superhero, which has been continuously published since the early 30s, Teen Humor are ripe with slapstick and generally realistic depictions of characters. Typically this genre is in a high school setting with plenty of slapstick. The real gold standard has been Archie, which has spawned numerous spinoffs and knockoffs.


Romance – Unlike its relative Teen Humor, Romance was intended mostly for more mature readers, and was often read by women (a demographic often ignored in comic books). Often written in an anthology format, which Smith and Duncan suggest may have hurt its appeal, the Romance genre has seen a recent revival with Manga, after years of lying somewhat dormant. Notables: Falling in Love, Young Romance and Heart Throbs.


Funny Animals – A retread from  fables and myths that used anthropomorphism (animals endowed with human characteristics) Funny Animal stories have had a presence in the medium since the early 1900s. Generally targeted toward children, the Funny Animal genre is filled with adaptations and morality tales.  However, the genre has also been used to illustrate the human condition in a surprising way. Notables: Bone, Howard the Duck, and Cerebus.


Horror – Stemming from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the first ongoing horror comic series was Adventures into the Unknown. Common conventions within the genre are “insertion of the supernatural into the commonplace,” suspense, and reliance upon the hero. Notables: Tales from the Crypt, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing and Sandman


Memoir – The only genre to not take hold in the initial formation of the industry, memoirs are said to “characteristic of their quest for authenticity.” Notables: American Splendor, Blankets, Maus and Fun Home.




Duncan, Randy, and Matthew J. Smith. The Power Of Comics, History, Form, And Culture. New York: Continuum Intl Pub Group, 2009. eBook.


Smith, Matthew J., and Randy Duncan. Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods.  New York: Routledge, 2011. 203-220. Print.


Further Reading




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