This essay explores the links between word and image in David Small’s graphic memoir Stitches (2009), an autobiographical account of the author’s abusive upbringing and the childhood throat cancer that left him voiceless. Small’s use of disjunctive images highlights how words and text combine to co-create meaning, constructing a narrative whose sum exceeds its parts. While Small’s text recounts the manifest content of his trauma, his illustrations elaborate upon deeper meanings and fantasies. Most notably, Small draws the parents of the character David without eyes, an omission that foregrounds the memoir’s central conflict between the pleasures and dangers of seeing. Depictions of eyes, which preoccupy the visual world of the memoir, are furthermore thematically connected to images of mouths, genitals, and babies, which are in turn linked to death. This associated chain of images suggests the character’s annihilation anxiety and visually elaborates upon the unconscious meanings of seeing, which the written text elides. Finally, by reading the text and images, the essay gives insight into the narrative potential of the graphic memoir as a medium.


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pp. 183-211
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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