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3 Introduction 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 . For this reason, the examination of autobiographical comics allows us to rethink preconceived notions about the nature of the medium and to explore the many resources for creating meaning available to comics artists. On the other hand, autobiography has been greatly enriched by drawing on the sociocultural traditions and formal features of comics, which offer new possibilities for autobiographical storytelling. The roots of autobiographical comics began in the underground comix movement in the U.S. of the early 1970s, when comics artists first produced subversive and often sexually explicit stories for adults, which were often based on their own experiences. This development opened up the field of life writing to a new group of people, thereby changing the constraints of traditional assumptions about “who gets a life and who doesn’t: whose stories get told, why, by whom, and how” (Couser 1997: 4). Due partly to the critical and commercial success of works such as Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and more recently, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the graphic memoir has surged in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic and led to a greatly increased acceptance of comics by the political, cultural, and educational establishment. 4 Introduction The medium’s long history of skirting the margins of “polite” society , however, continues to influence how comics artists tell their life stories, with taboo-breaking subject matter, subversive humor, and irony still playing a central role in many such works. Autobiographers working in the comics medium are also constrained (and empowered) by its unique characteristics, particularly its heavy reliance on images. For example, the requirement to produce multiple drawn versions of one’s self necessarily involves an intense engagement with embodied aspects of identity, as well as with the sociocultural models underpinning body image. The formal tensions that exist in the comics medium—between words and images, and between sequence and layout, for instance—offer memoirists many new ways of representing their experience of temporality, their memories of past events, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Furthermore, autobiographical comics creators can draw on the close association in contemporary Western culture between seeing and believing in order to persuade readers of the truthful, sincere nature of their stories. My aim in this book is thus to identify the key conventions, formal and stylistic properties and narrative patterns of the autobiographical comics genre. In the choice of my title (Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures), I was inspired by Will Eisner’s (2007) collection of autobiographical stories, Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories, and by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden’s (2008) course book on creating comics, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. I was also influenced by Adams’s (2000: 225) discussion of the etymology of the word autobiography, and by his claim that the ancient Greek word “graphe” is more accurately translated by marking rather than by writing. An autobiography is often defined as the story of a life, whereas a memoir is used to designate a story from life (Barrington 2002: 20). “Life writing” typically refers to the broadest range of personal narratives, including, for instance, journals, letters, travel writing, and oral history (Adams 2000). In this book, however, I use the terms autobiography, memoir, and life writing more or less interchangeably. 5 Introduction Serious book-length comics for adults are often discussed and marketed under the label of “graphic novels,”1 but, like many other comics scholars, I object to the way this term is used by some as an “all-purpose tag” (Hatfield 2005: 5) for a vague new class of cultural artifacts, particularly when applied to works that have little to do with “novels” in the conventional sense. Instead, I will strive to rehabilitate the term “comics” and rid it of its close association, in the minds of some, with childish humor and trivial fantasy. Other scholarly terms with a similar semantic scope as “autobiographical comics” are “graphic memoirs,” “graphic life writing” (Herman 2011), and “autographics” (Whitlock 2006; Whitlock and Poletti 2008).2 My work builds on and extends existing comics scholarship, which is flourishing as never before. Several scholarly books include chapters on individual examples or particular aspects of autobiographical comics (Beaty...


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