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Autobiographical Comics

Life Writing in Pictures

Elisabeth El Refaie

Publication Year: 2012

A troubled childhood in Iran. Living with a disability. Grieving for a dead child. Over the last forty years the comic book has become an increasingly popular way of telling personal stories of considerable complexity and depth.

In Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures, Elisabeth El Refaie offers a long overdue assessment of the key conventions, formal properties, and narrative patterns of this fascinating genre. The book considers eighty-five works of North American and European provenance, works that cover a broad range of subject matters and employ many different artistic styles.

Drawing on concepts from several disciplinary fields--including semiotics, literary and narrative theory, art history, and psychology--El Refaie shows that the traditions and formal features of comics provide new possibilities for autobiographical storytelling. For example, the requirement to produce multiple drawn versions of one's self necessarily involves an intense engagement with physical aspects of identity, as well as with the cultural models that underpin body image. The comics medium also offers memoirists unique ways of representing their experience of time, their memories of past events, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Furthermore, autobiographical comics creators are able to draw on the close association in contemporary Western culture between seeing and believing in order to persuade readers of the authentic nature of their stories.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

It is not possible to mention everyone who has contributed, either directly or indirectly, to the creation of this book, but a few people deserve special thanks. My colleagues at Cardiff University have been unfailingly encouraging. I am especially grateful to Alison Wray and Adam Jaworski for all their support and advice, ...

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pp. 3-10

The autobiographical comics genre provides fascinating new opportunities and challenges for both comics artists and autobiographers. On one hand, the creators of autobiographical comics, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, often disregard established norms and conventions and invent new narrative techniques. ...

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1. Life Writing from the Colorful Margins

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pp. 11-48

Lynda Barry’s One! Hundred! Demons! (2002) is a first-person account of a young girl growing up in Seattle in a lively household that includes her eccentric Filipina grandmother. Two panels from the introduction (see Fig. 1.1) show a thoughtful-looking woman, who, as a label on the previous page has informed us, should be taken to be the “author.” ...

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2. Picturing Embodied Selves

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pp. 49-92

Alison Bechdel’s (2006) graphic memoir Fun Home centers on her complicated relationship with her father, a funeral director, English teacher, obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian house, and, as it turns out, closeted homosexual, who has secret affairs with his male students. Despite—or perhaps because of—his own sexual preferences, ...

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3. Commemorating the Past, Anticipating the Future

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pp. 93-134

Blankets is Craig Thomson’s (2003) autobiographical account of his fundamentalist Christian upbringing in a small town in the American Midwest, where his sensitive nature and creativity are greeted with incomprehension and ridicule. In one sequence Craig is being severely reprimanded by his English teacher for writing a poem about people eating excrement. ...

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4. Performing Authenticity

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pp. 135-178

Edmond Baudoin (1995) starts his autobiographical comic L’éloge de la poussière (“In Praise of Dust”) with a picture showing him sitting on the pavement in war-torn Beirut, drawing a beautiful building opposite (see Fig. 4.1). He is so absorbed by this activity that he fails to notice the car pulling up on the opposite side of the road ...

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5. Drawing in the Reader

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pp. 179-220

On the first page of the introductory section (pp. 1–9) to Rosalind Penfold’s graphic memoir Dragonslippers, a young woman is shown standing on a wobbly stool and reaching for a box on the shelf above her head (see Fig. 5.1). The only light in the room emanates from a torch, which the woman offers to an unseen addressee: “Here—Would you mind holding this?” ...

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pp. 221-224

The goal of this book has been to identify the key formal properties and narrative techniques of a relatively new and flourishing art form, the graphic memoir. My consideration of eighty-five autobiographical comics from North America and Western Europe has revealed that individual works differ substantially in terms of their subject matter, artistic style, ...


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pp. 225-236

Autobiographical Comics

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-262


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pp. 263-273

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036180
E-ISBN-10: 1617036137
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617036132

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 37 b&w
Publication Year: 2012