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Alternative Comics

An Emerging Literature

Publication Year: 2005

In the 1980s, a sea change occurred in comics. Fueled by Art Spiegel- man and Françoise Mouly's avant-garde anthology Raw and the launch of the Love & Rockets series by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, the decade saw a deluge of comics that were more autobiographical, emotionally realistic, and experimental than anything seen before. These alternative comics were not the scatological satires of the 1960s underground, nor were they brightly colored newspaper strips or superhero comic books. In Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, Charles Hatfield establishes the parameters of alternative comics by closely examining long-form comics, in particular the graphic novel. He argues that these are fundamentally a literary form and offers an extensive critical study of them both as a literary genre and as a cultural phenomenon. Combining sharp-eyed readings and illustrations from particular texts with a larger understanding of the comics as an art form, this book discusses the development of specific genres, such as autobiography and history. Alternative Comics analyzes such seminal works as Spiegelman's Maus, Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, and Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. Hatfield explores how issues outside of cartooning-the marketplace, production demands, work schedules-can affect the final work. Using Hernandez's Palomar as an example, he shows how serialization may determine the way a cartoonist structures a narrative. In a close look at Maus, Binky Brown, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, Hatfield teases out the complications of creating biography and autobiography in a substantially visual medium, and shows how creators approach these issues in radically different ways. Charles Hatfield, Canyon Country, California, is an assistant professor of English at California State University, Northridge. His work has been published in ImageTexT, Inks: Cartoon and Comic Art Studies, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, the Comics Journal, and other periodicals. See the author's Web site at www.csun.edu/~ch76854/.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. v

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pp. vii

Who can do this sort of thing alone? Not I. Thanks are due to many. For permission to include passages from my article, “Heartbreak Soup: The Interdependence of Theme and Form” (Inks 4:2, May 1997), the Ohio State University Press. For shepherding that article in the first place, Inks editor Lucy Shelton Caswell. For the use of copyrighted material, the many artists and other rights-holders represented herein. ...

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Introduction: Alternative Comics as an Emerging Literature

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pp. ix-19

This book is about comics. Specifically, it is about the growth, over the past thirty-odd years, of the American-style comic book and its loosely named offshoot, the graphic novel. In the English-reading world, the graphic novel in particular has become comics’ passport to recognition as a form of literature. Through this book I aim to cast light on both the necessary preconditions for and certain key examples of this newly recognized literature, while unashamedly holding up as ...

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1. Comix, Comic Shops, and the Rise of Alternative Comics, Post 1968

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pp. 3-31

Comics have most often come in small packages: broadsheets, panels, strips, pamphlets. Yet recent emphasis on the graphic novel suggests that the form’s further artistic growth, or at least recognition, depends on the vitality of longer stories that exceed these small packages. Critical attention has turned to longer works that cannot fit within the narrow straits of the strip and other miniature formats. Notwithstanding the many brilliant uses of the newspaper ...

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2. An Art of Tensions: The Otherness of Comics Reading

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pp. 32-67

To posit comics as a literary form—and alternative comics in particular as a wellspring of notable literary work—may seem question-begging, given the traditional critical view of comics as a subliterary and juvenile diversion that anticipates or preempts the experience of “real” reading. Despite the recent groundswell in multidisciplinary word/image studies, this damaging view of comics is still alive and kicking in some quarters, where classist concerns about ...

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3. A Broader Canvas: Gilbert Hernandez’s Heartbreak Soup

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pp. 68-107

Between its launch in 1981 and its fissioning into separate projects in 1996, the anthology Love & Rockets broke new ground for comics in terms of both content and form. Created by brothers Gilbert, Jaime, and (occasionally) Mario Hernandez,1 Love & Rockets fused underground and mainstream traditions, in the process reaching new audiences for whom such distinctions were moot. Though it at first built on such shopworn genres as superheroics ...

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4. “I made that whole thing up!”: The Problem of Authenticity in Autobiographical Comics

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pp. 108-127

About four-fifths into the comics memoir Our Cancer Year, lymphoma victim Harvey Pekar hauls himself out of bed, slowly, groggily—his mind addled by a psychoactive painkiller, his body numbed to near-paralytic heaviness as a result, apparently, of chemotherapy. Narcotized and reduced to merely “rocking through patterns,” Harvey continues to slip in and out of consciousness ...

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5. Irony and Self-Reflexivity in Autobiographical Comics: Two Case Studies

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pp. 128-151

Regarding autobiographical comics, hindsight reveals an ironic, self-reflexive impulse at work in many of the genre’s urtexts. The ironies may not always be as bald, or as cynical, as in the key instances from our previous chapter, but nonetheless they are crucial, often contributing to a sense of distance between the “naïve” self depicted in the autobiography and the older, more ...

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6. Whither the Graphic Novel?

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pp. 152-163

This book has bid for the recognition of comics as a literary form, and in particular for the understanding of alternative comics as an innovative and important field of comics production. We have sounded the origins of that field, charting its development through the comix counterculture of the 1960s and the subsequent rise of a specialized comics market, one that ...


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pp. 164-168

Works Cited

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pp. 169-176


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pp. 177-182

E-ISBN-13: 9781604735871
E-ISBN-10: 1604735872
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578067190
Print-ISBN-10: 1578067197

Publication Year: 2005