This essay considers the obsession with historical and archival work in contemporary graphic narratives, focusing on examples from graphic narratives by Ben Katchor and Kim Deitch. The essay argues that the comics form has an especially important role to play in the new century, in large measure because of its longstanding negotiation of the interplay between word and image—a hybrid language increasingly central in the age of new media.
Jem Cohen’s film Lost Book Found and Ben Katchor’s comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer theorize American memory and urban decay. In moving images and sequential panels respectively, Cohen and Katchor comment on melancholy, nostalgia, commodity fetishism, and the meanings extracted from physical objects and lived space. Their works of cinema and graphic art draw attention to urban shopping centers, the repetitious work of salespeople in those ritualized environments, and the mass public’s transitory consumer experiences. This essay examines Cohen’s and Katchor’s work in light of Walter Benjamin’s historical materialist criticism.
In adapting Paul Auster’s postmodern detective story City of Glass as a graphic novel, Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli succeeded in producing a visual translation of an often non-visual text. Focussing on Auster’s text rather than Auster’s story, it is argued, the artists make inventive use of visual metaphors, visual styles, and comic conventions to translate Auster’s words into pictures. The text’s investigation into, and interrogation of, language is brought to bear on the comic version’s own visual language, and City of Glass: The Graphic Novel emerges as valuable source material for a future poetics of comics.
This article challenges the strong presumption that narrative, capable as it is of expression in different media, is constituted by a medium-independent content. It draws upon Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics series in order to interrogate the role of the medium in narrative, and the foundational narrative concept of the event, and elaborates a concept of narrative as a cognitive faculty. This approach to narrative facilitates a rhetorical model of its medium-contingency, and occasions an exploration of the narrative quality of dreams, which emerge as proto-fictions, and as the paradigm for a rhetoric-driven model of fictionality.
Focusing on the unique architecture of comics, in which panels are both sequenced linearly and meaningfully juxtaposed on a two-dimensional page, this essay explores Chris Ware’s use of two- and three-dimensional narrative strategies to complicate linear understandings of narrative structure. In Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Ware employs such multidimensional narrative strategies to effectively thematize the novel’s engagement with issues of narrative time, circularity, and continuity, as well as to call into question the very notion of a “narrative line.”
This essay examines McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Number Thirteen, edited by Chris Ware, and its use of intimacy, shame, and gender melancholy to make a case for the artistic merit of comics. Through readings of contributions to the issue by artists such as Lynda Barry, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Joe Matt, John Porcellino, Archer Prewitt, and Chris Ware, the essay finds that the McSweeney’s comics issue interpellates readers through “comic shame” and uses modernist tropes to establish comics as high art. Affect is central to contemporary independent comics and the readerly participation they elicit.
This article, a study of the Milestone Media graphic novel Icon: A Hero’s Welcome, argues that African-American graphic novels are an important literary forum for black women’s voices. I examine the ways in which Rocket, Icon’s female narrator, revises the conventions of both the slave narrative and the conventional superhero comic story in order to locate black women within the American histories from which they traditionally have been absent. Rocket, sidekick to the superhero Icon, both helps her alien counterpart to assimilate into a black male identity and rewrites their adventures together to reflect her own process of self-discovery.
Lynda Barry’s “autobiofictionalography” One! Hundred! Demons! (2002) and Marjane Satrapi’s memoir Persepolis (2004) recast the visual and narrative conventions of comics to provide critical commentary on issues ranging from the social construction of gender to the forces subtending forms of prejudice. The works literally as well as figuratively draw out the ways in which the transition from childhood to adulthood becomes overdetermined by narratives of development that set gendered roles, articulate racial demarcations, inscribe religious differences, and authorize imperialist vision; they also highlight the ways in which figures resist, subvert, and capitulate to forces of social coercion and normative visions.
Recently Marianne Hirsch has argued it is necessary to think anew about words and images and their expressivity in the specific cultural and historical context of the ‘war on terror’. Here Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Art Speigelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers are read in terms of ‘autographics’: the distinctive technology and aesthetics of life narrative that emerges in the comics. Unique mediations of cultural difference occur in the grammar of comics, which make demands on the reader to navigate across gutters and frames, and shuttle between words and images, in an active process of imaginative engagement with others.
This paper demonstrates how in his graphic novel In the Shadow of No Towers Art Spiegelman reads the events of 9/11 through the conceptual screen of the Holocaust. The questions that are raised in this connection concern the legitimacy of speaking about catastrophes, the stylistic means necessary to avoid sensationalism and kitsch, and finally the role of political commitment in the process of mourning or working-through.