When I say “welcome to The Claremont Run,” I’m tempted to add “hope you survive the experience”
as a variation on one of Claremont’s most iconic lines in X-men comics. As a very fancy academic person,
I probably shouldn’t do that, though it might actually be appropriate to the mandate of this project.
You see, for today’s audiences (scholars and readers alike), approaching Claremont’s work is a deadly
challenge. OK, probably not deadly, but hear me out.
From 1975-1991, Chris Claremont wrote X-men, forming the longest stint of any mainstream superhero writer on a single title. During his tenure, X-men went from a B-list title on the verge of cancellation, to the best-selling comic book in the world, and Claremont holds the Guinness World Record to this day for the bestselling single issue comic of all-time.
In spite of the Claremont Run’s unparalleled scope, the majority of academic discussions on Claremont tend to focus on his earlier years on X-men (Sabin, Maslon & Counter, Wolk), with notable attention going to The Dark Phoenix Saga and God Loves, Man Kills. At the same time, Claremont is frequently acknowledged for establishing or advancing (or establishing AND advancing) long continuity in comics. In that sense, it’s a little unusual to focus on the earlier material which had less continuity to draw from.
The problem, however, is intuitively forgivable, though no less tragic. How can you discuss, debate, describe and study a comics story that was 16 years in the making? How can you reconstruct that much context across so many stories, titles, and issues? As Jason Powell notes, “No one has duplicated that length of time on a mainstream superhero comic. Factor in all the X-related spin-off series, and the total sum begins to approach somewhere around 380 comics” (274). To put that number into context, if the average length of an X-men comic book is 22 pages, we’re describing a story that is 8,360 pages long.
Claremont’s work is too culturally important to lose touch with. A generation of writers, filmmakers, and artists were all but weaned on the stories he told, and Claremont’s fingerprints are all over the media landscape that we have today – structures and strategies and dynamics. But exposing a new generation of readers and scholars to the Claremont run (in all its scope) is challenging to say the least.
And that’s where our humble website comes in. By building an expansive data set on the Claremont run, this project hopes to open new doors of exploration and consideration for the next generation of comics scholars. In this sense, this project is looking both to the past (in order to deconstruct and chronicle the landmark contribution of a comics artist to the field of popular culture as a whole) and to the future (in order to facilitate yet-to-come discussions of the author’s work, enabling and empowering future breakthroughs).
In order to accomplish this data-mining, my team and I have been conducting content analysis on Chris Claremont’s first run of X-men comics, building up a rather massive data set for future scholars to study (myself included). The process entails page-by-page, panel-by-panel analysis of Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-men issues #97-279, gathering quantitative information on things like structure, characterization, and representation.
When perceived as the enormous whole that it is, the Claremont run is deeply invested in the character developments, plots, and symbolism established throughout the many years spent building it. This is a dynamic, cumulative story, and when we read it with an eye to the past, we see a significantly more complex, unique and engaging narrative, worthy of the kind of attention afforded to Claremont’s more-discussed earlier arcs. Beyond that, the unique nature of the run (in its longevity and in the creative control that Claremont was able to wrestle from Marvel) makes it a singularly unique object of study in the history of North American comics. Thus, studying the Claremont run is studying comics in general in a way that the usually ephemeral nature of creative team delegation does not normally allow.
As Claremont’s work is now being rediscovered by a new generation, due in large part to transmediation through film adaptations, an archival project at Columbia University, and through the wildly popular Jay and Miles Xplain the X-men podcast, it is pivotal to establish the full extent of the cultural value of Claremont’s work and to create the tools necessary to understand that value both right now, and into the future.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth undertaking… and I hope you survive the experience.
J. Andrew Deman, MA, PhD
March 12, 2019