The Origin of Professor Bart Beaty: Comic Book Scholar

Presented by the UCalgary Comics Group
Rich Farr

It’s a rare and enviable career that’s built on a childhood obsession — race-car driver, ballet dancer, astronaut. No matter how into Spider-Man they are, however, it’s unlikely to occur to most kids that an acceptable adult life could be spent immersed in comic books. Dr. Bart Beaty, PhD — a professor in the Department of English and author of several books about art, history and the significance of comics — is proof that what intrigues us as children can be not only an acceptable but an important lens through which to learn, teach, research and otherwise shape and meaningfully engage with the world. 

A globally respected expert in his field, Beaty’s love of, first, Archie (the focus of his recent scholarly study, Twelve Cent Archie), then Spider-Man, Wolverine, Maus and dozens of European titles, started when he was eight with nothing to do but dig into a neighbour’s box of comic books. His trajectory from there has led him through adventure and academia and put more than one of his undergraduate courses on the list of classes that fill up faster than Jughead can eat a dozen burgers. 

Beaty was both fascinated and dismayed by the impact of COVID-19 on the comic-book industry — a quaint world in which, until the spring of 2020, fans (despite various digital offerings) still gathered in retail shops every Wednesday all over North America to grab and gab about the newest releases on New Comic Book Day. The fracture took place after shops closed and Diamond Distributors — who have had a monopoly on distributing DC, Marvel and other publishers for nearly 40 years — completely shut down, putting the industry on hold for weeks.  When the machine started up again, things were — for better or for worse — different.

It’s a tenuous time and, certainly, Beaty isn’t alone in wondering with hope, curiosity and perhaps a touch of nostalgia: what’s next?