Academic Spats

Kyoto’s Seika University now offers a PhD in manga, intended to train “researchers, professors, and manga artists.” Imagine them mumbling the last bit, because nobody in their right mind will spend seven years in tertiary education to become a pro artist, not when they can become one aged 17 if they win the right competition.

Perhaps that is what Scottish MP Tom Harris was reaching for when he recently attacked the new postgraduate course in Comics Studies at Dundee University, claiming that it was useless. Well, to him, maybe, but not everyone wants to be a politician. Harris’s comments were particularly baffling because he appeared to be setting standards that he had not attained himself. He carped that a degree from Oxford in Politics, Philosophy and Economics was a sure-fire means of success in government – an odd thing to hear from a man with an HND in Journalism from a former polytechnic.

Public rebuttals have confused several issues – including funding, credentialism, and the relative merits of subjects. If someone wants to cough up for an M.Litt in Comics Studies at Dundee, they are free to do so. It’s not like they are going to cost the taxpayer any more! It is unlikely to be much use in seeking a political career, but only an idiot would think otherwise. I wrote my Master’s thesis on manga and anime. It helped get me this job, telling you this. Or did it? NEO never asked to see my resumé; they only cared about what I wrote.

However, Dundee is not necessarily a magic portal to a career in comics, either. A Master’s degree is a “licence to practice”, but Dundee’s degree is in Comics Studies. Just as would-be filmmakers pick Film, and would-be film critics pick Film Studies, there is a difference in discipline. It won’t turn you into Neil Gaiman, more likely the guy who talks about Neil Gaiman at a conference. Like Kyoto’s new doctorate, it is liable to create researchers and professors, maybe even editors, but if you want to be a comics artist, study Art. And if you want to be a politician, apparently an HND in Journalism is what you need.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO 88, 2011.

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