Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Library & Information Science


Dr. Lynne McKechnie

2nd Supervisor

Dr. Paulette Rothbauer

Joint Supervisor


The purpose of this study was to explore and understand the role of comics as reading material for young people, emphasizing the experience of the readers themselves. The central research problem is concerned with how comics readers construct and understand their reading experience of comics as a reading material and what this says about reader identities and social contexts of reading comics. The focus on readers shifts the perspective from previous research that looked mainly at comics fans and comics as cultural products. Working in the tradition of qualitative inquiry, I adopted an approach informed by hermeneutical phenomenology because it supported the exploration of the significant and unique experiences of these readers, offering “plausible insights” that made immediate the richness and multifaceted nature of the reading experience. The primary methods of data collection were semi-structured interviews and a think-aloud protocol. The sample included seventeen participants, from sixteen to twenty-five years of age, nine female and eight male, who also represented different reading experiences: beginning readers, occasional but committed readers, and expert readers. I recruited participants and collected data in three different sites: public libraries, comics stores and at a university with a large undergraduate population.

Four dimensions of the reading experience emerged from the interview data: 1) the construction of the reader-self; 2) the significant role of the materiality of comics; 3) the institutional contexts of comics reading and; 4) the unique temporal aspects of comics reading in contemporary society. With these dimensions in mind, I emphasize the situated nature of the reading experience that requires the researcher to explore both how the experience is shaped but also shapes the reader-self and how it is embedded in an influential social context. I anticipate that this work will support a change in the way comic readers are conceptualized in Library and Information Science literature and practice. The knowledge emerging from my participants’ experiences and understandings significantly enhances and seriously challenges commonplace understandings of the reading practices of a historically neglected group of readers.