Episode 91: Dissertation Proposal (old version)

Academic writing may just be the most tiring thing in the world if you have been out of the loop for a while. On Monday I decided to sit myself down and rewrite my dissertation proposal. It took me about six hours to write one paragraph, but damn that was the most finely crafted piece of academia centered writing I had done in over a year. I am still working on the new version, just need to properly outline what each of the four chapters will focus on. In the meantime, I figure I can treat my single digit readership to my previous draft so you can judge for yourselves how different both versions are.

To make it more interesting, I am adding in brackets the comments I made to myself after reading it after a couple of months since I sent the most recent iteration of that proposal to my committee. They have not given me much feedback on it but I can tell that knew something was missing. Hopefully, I’ve captured that in new version. But for now, here is the old version after I gutted the chapter overviews that would have dealt with film and television. While fun, they would have added unnecessarily complex dimensions to the whole thing that would have added an extra hundred pages or more on something in which I am far more fan than expert. Be gentle

Authorial Functions and Performances: Exploring Notions of Authorship in Contemporary Serial Fiction across Print and Digital Media.

The notion of an author is one that immediately brings to mind debates not just of persons but of entities[too soon]. The importance of this role over an authoritative voice, over the work, or even to its creation is one that scholars and academics have engaged in defining from its onset. Critical theorists like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault have further advanced this debate for contemporary academia so much so that they are often the cornerstones by which any analysis on authorship can take place. Still, there is no clear answer when it comes to who or what is the author and what relevance should he/she have to the reader. These questions are often focused around the traditional printed text and rarely do they revolve around a diachronically published work. This dissertation explores the concept of authorship through a contemporary readership in the context of serialized literature published through the scope of print and digital media. [distinction of graphic narratives might need to be put around here]

I base my analysis of different kinds of authorial output through the lens of editorial theory and textual criticism. I utilize Peter Shillingsburg’s definitions of different types of texts and of textual performances, which include the creative performance where the literary work is first invented, the production performance where it is ready to be transmitted or published, and the reception performance where the reader interprets the text to help classify and distinguish the various facets of a literary work [Direct quote or at least an actual point for a works cited entry.]. Shillingsburg’s terminology provides a separation of authorial responsibilities and performances that in some circumstances are solely accomplished, clearly outlined and subdivided, or in some cases are the results of a communal undertaking. In addition, I modify John Bryant’s concept of textual fluidity (originally used to show the different stages a text will go through from idea, throughout editing, and finally to the finished product at the hands of the reader) [official quote here too] in order to apply it to the various parts of publication of each individual installment within a piece of serialized literature. I argue that the serialization process allows for a recursive cycle of feedback between each of Shillingsburg’s performances that continuously affect authorial output throughout a narrative’s production and publication. This process allows for the work to remain in narrative flux until the final installment is published but also makes it so that the author is a dynamic entity during that temporal window [process?].

To properly contextualize each part of narrative production through their medium of publication I use Media Specific Analysis [consider changing to comparative media studies, also a term by Hayles]. By using some of the parameters developed by N. Katherine Hayles, I wish to show how the author contends with the various options and limitations of their selected medium and how this ultimately helps shape their narrative output. Each of the following chapters are devoted to the analysis of a different medium, rather than by genre or specific authors, in order to better analyze the scope of each performance in the authorial cycle. While I outline these media in a chronological order [why was this a thing. consider removing.] as to when they first became a staple of serialized storytelling, this is not a historical analysis of each medium because I focus on contemporary works of serial fiction (spanning the last 45 years) [trying to find an elegant way of having Barthes’s “Death of the Author” date of publication as the cut off point of earliness; maybe by stating that this is when thinking about different notions of authorship hit the mainstream] in order to limit the scope of my study to a feasible fraction of literary works. Each chapter begins with an overview of how each medium contains its own challenges and limitations alongside close readings of different works to illustrate these points. [First chapter should be here. Introduction plus review of literature/lit theories.]

Chapter 2: From Cover to Cover and What Is Bound in between. Analyzing Print

Many of the intricacies revolving authorship in print media have not changed dramatically over the last thirty years or so [why did I put this time limit? if anything it’s closer to the last couple of centuries of not really changing. Post Steamboat Willy definitely]. Editors, publishing houses, literary agents, and various other figures still have varying but very important influences over the author. Perhaps the biggest difference between today’s works of serial literature and the classic Victorian era works is the format of the published text. Literary magazines [Regular books existed at the time too, not to mention pulps. This is the crib for serials but not the root of all literature.] in the 19th century like “Master Humphrey’s Clock” and “Household Words” contained various serials running simultaneously through each of its installments in additions to short stories, poems, advertisements, reports on current events, and various other materials. Modern authors do not have to worry about sharing literary space within the same covers, as literary magazines are the exception rather than the rule. Each author now has his/her own full length book [magazines still exist, mofo] and the freedom to determine how much content and what kind of publishing schedule would be used.

Contemporary print authors have a certain degree of freedom over other media in that there are no preset limits to the amount of content or word/page count. However, the length of any particular installment tends to be directly proportional to the amount of time until it becomes available, i.e. the longer the book the more you have to wait until it comes out. Although, the actual publication of a printed book is not mandated by any industry standard, so it is ultimately up to the author and the publishing house when to make the work available to the general public. Also, print is not restricted only to the traditional written word as illustrations, sheet music, and even modifications to spacing and orientation can provide a unique reading experience.

Consider the case of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series [Don’t put as an example of how it works but rather the example you are using to prove that it works.]. She exercised complete creative control over her work ever since the first installment. As her work gained popularity, Harry Potter began to be distributed through various editions and languages at different moments. These variations in publishing schedules were eliminated through the use of worldwide release dates starting from its fifth installment. The freedom to determine quantity of pages is also apparent through the very visible increasing thickness of each installment. In addition, each book has its own cover art and illustrations for each chapter but these are done by different illustrators for each of the different national/language editions, thus providing a unique regional authorship in this dimension alongside Rowling’s place as author of the story itself.

Chapter 3: Navigating through Panels and Gutters: Comic books/strips

Comics as a medium are very regimented in their final product. While they do not have to share space with simultaneous narratives, comics share many of the strict outlines of early literary magazines. You have a set number of pages on a tightly knit schedule with content often being interrupted with advertisements. Installments are relatively short but due to minimal downtime between them there is very little temporal space during narrative production to incorporate feedback from readers. Long running serials also have the problem of changing writers and/or artists but the characters are already so well established that creativity is limited to the tradition of what the character was and making sure that the next potential author still has recognizable aspects of the narrative. [Too much is happening in this paragraph and we are only scratching the surface on each of them. Edit and alter]

Authorship within a graphic narrative is fairly difficult to establish due to the various components in its creation. In the case of one person operations, like Scott McCloud’s Zot!, one can see the person solely responsible for the literary output [Try to include some nice McCLoud and Eisner quotes here. See if other comics studies people might fit.]. However, most comics utilize a collaborative authorship through defined roles (writer, artist, penciller, inker, etc) with the writer often taking precedence of importance when determining the author (as evident through various formats for citations like MLA and APA [also add direct quote here] that indicate that the writer’s name be placed first).

What makes comics very interesting as a serial, especially in the cases of superhero comics, is that their publication can extend indefinitely should readers continue to find it interesting. Even with the exclusion of various adaptations, a particular character can be active for decades and appear in multiple publications, some even simultaneously, as is the case with Superman who appeared in six different comics at the same time during the 60s [find history of comics quote that is awesome and put here]. Under such an example, would the authors still be original co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the individual writers and artists for each publication and installment, or would they all be funneled under the parent company of DC Comics? Sub divisions of authorship seem like a logical classification for particular runs of different writers/artists but these do not necessarily coincide with the narrative progression of a particular story arc. Consider the case of “The Death of Superman”, a crossover event that spanned eleven installments of four different publications whose compilation mentions twelve authors all together [Example is shallow, deliberately state that this is how communal/corporate authorship is unique here.].

Neil Gaiman’s attempt at a new story for DC provides an example of having limited narrative wiggle room because he wanted to use already established characters but his superiors would not let him place them into Gaiman’s plot or kill them off [example comes out of nowhere. Segue that bitch]. However, they did encourage him to make original characters and gave him the freedom to come up with the iconic Watchmen 12 part miniseries that was later republished as one of the most important graphic novels of all time.

Chapter 4: Bits and Pixels on the Digital Canvas: Webcomics

    Webcomics offer a platform where one person can realistically create, produce, and deliver a story with a regular publishing schedule that can reach a vast readership. Webcomic cartoonists are free to share their authorial duties with others (such as art or website hosting) but many of them are solely run by a lone author. He/she has the ability to provide new installments at his/her own pace, though most are encouraged to maintain a regular schedule whenever possible. Because webcomics are relatively small operations, the figurative distance between author and reader is incredibly shortened. The immediate [explain immediacy as both speed and lack of mediation] nature of the Web allows readers to provide feedback almost instantly to the author via forums, email, or other forms of social media after any new installment becomes available. From an editorial perspective, such quick communication allows for rapid changes to the digital product should someone find a typo or some other minor mistake. The author can also communicate directly with his/her readership through broadcast messages, like forum posts, blog entries, or mass emails that all readers can access, or microcasting through direct one on one exchanges via email, Twitter, Skype, or any other form of cyber communication. [sentence ran a marathon, divide appropriately]

Because the relationship between readership and author is more direct, there is a certain level of accessibility that is unique to this digital landscape. Authors are no longer distant entities or amalgamations of personnel but a real person. Beyond the narrative output of an ongoing story, readers obtain additional information from the author, mostly on a personal level. The rapport now becomes one akin to friendship. Consider the case of Rich Burlew, author of Order of the Stick who recently got his thumb injured in an accident and could not produce a new installment of his webcomic for months. Readers were rightfully frustrated that their serial narrative was now at an unexpected halt but were more genuinely concerned over Burlew’s well-being and focused on wishing him a proper recovery, rather than a speedy one. This type of outreach is not just emotional but financial as well. Webcomic cartoonist Tarol Hunt of Goblins established a donation drive solely so that he could buy his house and readers responded with monetary support. Because of this generosity, Hunt has extended an invitation to any and all readers in the area to come and stay at his home for a few days.

Rather than taking the risk of making new financial ventures, many webcomic cartoonists have taken to websites like Kickstarter [explain before hand what crowd sourcing/funding is. New form of authorial function/performance?] as a type of massive pre-order for endeavors ranging from creating new merchandise, to updating the website, or for the purchase of better computers and other technological needs. The Kickstarter system is one where readers pledge money during a 30 day period in order to achieve a financial goal. Money is not collected/charged until the end of the 30 days and only if the goal is met. If not, then the project is scrapped and no money is collected. Should the project be funded, pledgers obtain something in accordance to their financial donation which are clear during the Kickstarter campaign. These rewards serve as a pre-order, normally without a clear date of delivery of goods until they become available. While many of these items are simple pieces of merchandise, personal one of a kind drawings are available for the upper echelons of donations. One interesting example of such a pledge can be found in Rob Balder’s and Xin Ye’s Erfworld webcomic where Balder placed that for the price of $5,000 (five backers maximum for this reward, none were taken through the campaign) with the title of “Dance For Me, Author-Boy!” In it, Balder would personally fly to your hometown and hang out with you for a day and deliver merchandise and other surprises. This type of promise shows that webcomic authors have a personal rapport with their readership but also that they are available to make that connection with the reader even at a one-on-one basis [why is this important? spell it out every time].

[A little something extra that I couldn’t add nicely to here. Will exist properly in updated version]

Proof that no one can own plot:  “In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” (section 102 of US Copyright Law 1976. page 8)



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