Malte Heckelen

Digital Humanities |

Computational Social Science

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Character Networks in Superhero Comics

Transmedial Character Networks and Professional Networks in Superhero Comics

In my PhD thesis, I show how Marvel and DC build their transmedial storyworlds. To do this, I merged data of the Marvel and DC Fandom wikis as well as (ranging from the 1960s to 2018; data on comics, movies, tv series and others). The resulting dataset allows me to describe and model the evolution of character networks (based on co-occurence in stories) as well as the network of professional collaborations.

I am especially interested in notions of narrative momentum. Transmedial stories, and serial content in general, lives on, expands and stays interesting for consumers through the narratives implied by the world already established: if Superman and Batman are together in a team, this generates fan questions, and therefore potential stories. For instance on how such unequal characters manage to make decisions - or simply on who has coffee duty in the JLA Watchtower.

To research how this kind of worldbuilding is achieved (perhaps differently) for Marvel and DCs heavily interconnected and long-lived storyworlds, I look at how characters move towards one another in the dynamic co-occurence network - how their storyworlds overlap more or less over time and thus imply new connections.

Which characters and their storyworlds have more momentum over time and how much and when does the overall narrative universe concentrate on these characters? Does this differ for some of their traits (e.g. gender)? And does this produce unwanted incongruities that influence brand recognition negatively (storyworlds differing heavily between, e.g., movies and comics)?

As the creative process in U.S.-American comics is heavily collaborative, I am also interested in the social connections established through previous collaborations. Is professional closeness between creatives a predictor of character choice? Or are classic network dynamics like preferential attachment or triadic closure better at predicting future relations between characters?