In grad school, I worked as an editorial assistant at a scholarly journal, where my job required knowing the ins and outs of MLA citation format. Ever since, whenever a new edition of the MLA Handbook comes out, I'm anxious to see what changes have been made. And lots of stuff has changed this time around, including an addition that requires the medium (such as Print or Web) to be included in a works cited entry.
It has irked me that MLA has never had specific rules for citing graphic novels or comics, and this is reflected in a lot of the scholarship on graphic narratives, where it often seems like each essay or book has come up with idiosyncratic rules without any standards or collective agreement. Most of these rules are drawn from a variety of other types of sources, like periodicals, film, cartoons, and illustrated books, while some rules seem to be made up from whole cloth. Now, I'm glad to see that at least some rules are codified.
Here are some examples of graphic narratives given in the MLA Handbook (Note that the indentations are not correct):
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale. 2 vols. New York: Pantheon-Random, 1986-91. Print.
Pekar, Harvey, writer. The Quitter. Art by Dean Haspiel. Gray tones by Lee Loughridge. Letters by Pat Brosseau. New York: Vertigo-DC Comics, 2005. Print.
Yabuki, Kentaro, writer and artist. Showdown at the Old Castle. Eng. adapt. by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Trans. JN Productions. Touch-up art and lettering by Gia Cam Luc. San Francisco: Viz, 2007. Print. Vol. 9 of Black Cat.
The first one is pretty straightforward: if you have a graphic narrative created by a single cartoonist, then that gets cited like a regular book with a single author. For more collaborative graphic narratives, the rules here are pretty similar to citing films: cite by the collaborator(s) who is the most relevant to your research, then include other collaborators after the title.
Unfortunately, a some types of comics publications are still not addressed in the MLA rules. For example, periodical comics still don't have special rules, which they need, as they don't fall easily into the normal rules for periodicals, and nothing really compares very easily to this type of publication. Based on the rules that do exist, here's how I would guess one would cite an individual issue of a comic:
Hickman, Jonathan, writer. "The Bridge: Chapter One." Pencils by Sean Chen. Inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero. Colors by John Rauch. Letters by VC's Rus Wooten. Dark Reign: Fantastic Four 1 (May 2009). Print.
For the issue number and date of publication, I used the format for a scholarly periodical, but that may not be correct. One could leave the issue number out entirely and just reference the issue by date. But because this is a miniseries, would I need to indicate that this is part one of five? Also, I would want to include the name of the publisher in this citation, but that isn't standard for periodicals. Perhaps the line "Published by Marvel Comics." could go in after the lettering credit. And what if the issue contained an individually titled part of a larger story? I would guess that information could go after the individual issue's title.
MLA also doesn't offer guidance on how to cite a collected edition of previously published comics, which is, after all, one of the more popular ways in which comics are published. MLA does have rules for citing reprinted works; however, Maus would be considered at least a partially reprinted work, having been originally published in RAW, yet the example above does not indicate that. So, I'm not sure if one would need to include that original publication information or not. Here, then, is how I would cite a trade paperback collection:
Abnett, Dan, and Andy Lanning, writers. Guardians of the Galaxy: Legacy. Pencils by Paul Pelletier. Inks by Rick Magyar. Colors by Nathan Fairbairn and Guru eFX. Letters by Virtual Calligraphy's Joe Caramagna. New York: Marvel Comics, 2009. Print. Vol. 1 of Guardians of the Galaxy.
That last item might seem redundant, but I think it's necessary. At the very least, it would help to clarify confusing collections like the recent New Avengers and Mighty Avengers hardcovers, which are listed as both volumes of the Secret Invasion storyline in each series and volumes of each title. And if one wanted to include original publication information, I guess that it would now go at the very end of the entry, based on the new MLA rules.
In trying to think through these rules, I find myself sympathizing with my students, who see MLA citation format as frustratingly nebulous and impenetrable. While it may not be as bad as all that, as the scholarly study of graphic narratives continues to grow, these rules will have to be worked out in greater detail and consistency.