Jan Baetens is professor of cultural studies at KU Leuven (Belgium). Some of his recent books are: Novelization. From Film to Novel (OSU Press, 2018; translated from the French), The Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel, eds. Jan Baetens, Hugo Frey, Stephen E. Tabachnick (Cambridge UP, 2018), The Film Photonovel, A Cultural History of Forgotten Adaptations (Texas UP, 2019) and a monograph on Schuiten and Peeters’s “Obscure Cities” series: Rebuilding Storyworlds (Rutgers UP, 2020).
Comics exist in time, not only as historical objects, but also through their reading, and it is the combination of these two aspects that this article addresses. I will start by analyzing a temporal paradox: reading comics seems to be timeless (fast, instantaneous, superficial: hardly “reading” in the noble sense of the word), yet at the same time it never stops (neither at an individual nor at a collective level). This paradox is something that can be framed in “cultural” terms, having to do with the fundamental problem (both a threat and an opportunity) of cultural memory and the possible conflict between transgenerational reading, transmission techniques, and shifting aesthetic categories.