Book Cover

Petrochemical Fantasies

The Art and Energy of American Comics

Daniel Worden

212 pp. 6 x 9
25 color illustrations
25 b&w illustrations
EXPECTED Pub Date: August, 2024

Subjects: Comics Studies
American Studies
Film & Media

Series: Studies in Comics and Cartoons

Preorder Hardcover $99.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1570-8
Preorder Paperback $34.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5918-4

“Convincing and compelling, Petrochemical Fantasies is certain to have an impact on academic conversations about energy sources and popular culture. Worden illuminates in rich detail how US comics articulate the hopes and anxieties bound up in fossil fuels.” —Paul Williams, author of The US Graphic Novel

“Combining insights from two of the most rapidly expanding areas of humanities inquiry—energy humanities and comics studies—Petrochemical Fantasies is highly relevant and the first major work in its area. Scholars in both fields will find new and valuable material.” —Bart Beaty, author of Unpopular Culture: Transforming the European Comic Book in the 1990s

In Petrochemical Fantasies, Daniel Worden reveals the entwined history of comics and fossil fuels in the United States. From the 1840s to the present, comics have depicted the power, pollution, and rapid expansion of energy systems—especially the explosive growth of coal and oil. In the 1930s, some of the first comic books were the gas station giveaways Gulf Funny Weekly and Standard Oil Comics. And in recent years, comics have become one of the major sites for visualizing life after oil, a striking reversal of the medium’s early boosterism. 

Surveying the work of acclaimed artists such as Nell Brinkley, George Herriman, Jack Kirby, Winsor McCay, and R. F. Outcault and recovering little-known works, Worden advances a new history of American comics in the Anthropocene. From late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century editorial cartoons and superhero comics that visualize our modern energy culture to contemporary comics grappling with climate crises, Petrochemical Fantasies places comics, environmental humanities, and energy studies in conversation with each other to unearth the crucial but overlooked history of comics’ place in US energy culture.

Author Photo

Daniel Worden is Associate Professor of Art at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he teaches and writes about comics, print, and visual cultures. He is the author of Neoliberal Nonfictions: The Documentary Aesthetic from Joan Didion to Jay-Z, the editor of The Comics of Joe Sacco: Journalism in a Visual World and The Comics of R. Crumb: Underground in the Art Museum, and the coeditor of New Directions in Print Culture Studies: Archives, Materiality, and Modern American Culture

Author photo credit: Elizaeth Lamark


List of Illustrations

Introduction    The Energy of Comics
Chapter 1        Caricatures and Corporations
Chapter 2        Cars in Cartoons
Chapter 3        The Petrochemical Origins of the Comic Book
Chapter 4        Plastic Man and Other Petrochemical Fantasies
Chapter 5        The Climate of Comics
Conclusion      “This Is NOT Fine!!”

Works Cited

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