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Terrors of the Mirror and the Mise en Abyme of Graphic Novel Autobiography

From: College Literature
Volume 38, Number 3, Summer 2011
pp. 21-44 | 10.1353/lit.2011.0036



Why are so many of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels autobiographical? Why do so many of these works contain scenes of mirroring or the trope of mise en abyme, in which the picture has within it an identical miniature picture? This essay probes the formal mechanics of autobiographical graphic novels to show how mirror scenes and their self-conscious play with pictorial identity forge autobiographical subjects. This essay, therefore, analyzes not simply the form of autobiographical graphic novels but their formal unconscious as well. Drawing on comics scholarship, autobiography studies, and psychoanalysis, it investigates Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003) and James Kochalka’s American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries (2004) to show that in frequency and function these mirror moments mark “failed encounters with the real.”