Graphic Women

Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics

Hillary L. Chute
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Graphic Women
    Book Description:

    Some of the most acclaimed books of the twenty-first century are autobiographical comics by women. Aline Kominsky-Crumb is a pioneer of the autobiographical form, showing women's everyday lives, especially through the lens of the body. Phoebe Gloeckner places teenage sexuality at the center of her work, while Lynda Barry uses collage and the empty spaces between frames to capture the process of memory. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis experiments with visual witness to frame her personal and historical narrative, and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home meticulously incorporates family documents by hand to re-present the author's past.

    These five cartoonists move the art of autobiography and graphic storytelling in new directions, particularly through the depiction of sex, gender, and lived experience. Hillary L. Chute explores their verbal and visual techniques, which have transformed autobiographical narrative and contemporary comics. Through the interplay of words and images, and the counterpoint of presence and absence, they express difficult, even traumatic stories while engaging with the workings of memory. Intertwining aesthetics and politics, these women both rewrite and redesign the parameters of acceptable discourse.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52157-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-28)

    In July 2004, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on graphic novels, speaking of them as a “new literary form” and asserting that comics are enjoying a “newfound respectability right now” because “comic books are what novels used to be—an accessible, vernacular form with mass appeal.” However, this lengthy Times article virtually ignores graphic narrative work by women: the piece excerpts the work of four authors, all male; depicts seven authors in photographs, all male; and mentions women only in passing: “The graphic novel is a man’s world, by and large” (McGrath 24, 30). It would...

  6. 1 Scratching the Surface: “UGLY” EXCESS IN ALINE KOMINSKY-CRUMB
    (pp. 29-60)

    The texts I analyze in this chapter, on Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and the next, on Phoebe Gloeckner, deal explicitly with issues of sexual politics. While explorations of sexual and childhood trauma are typically relegated to silence and invisibility, their relevance understood as restricted to the purview of the private sphere, the work of Kominsky-Crumb and Gloeckner responds to this problem by inventing new textual modes of expressing life stories. Kominsky-Crumb, who has a style of hyperexaggerated impressionism, and Gloeckner, who is a trained medical illustrator and favors a viscerally disturbing, provocative style of realism, present images of pleasure and pain that...

  7. 2 “For All the Girls When They Have Grown”: PHOEBE GLOECKNER’S AMBIVALENT IMAGES
    (pp. 61-94)

    In literally visualizing the lived reality of women, what cartoonists like Kominsky-Crumb and Phoebe Gloeckner make especially clear is that, in dominant social formations, female sexuality is composed of both pleasure and degradation. These graphic narratives unsettle epistemological binaries with the charged, affective images they offer, playing with critical “correct distance.”¹ As Marianne Hirsch suggests, “To be a spectator . . . is to respond through body and affect, as well as through the intellect” (“Collateral Damage” 1211). On the valence of the “graphic” in graphic narratives, Gloeckner’s publisher Richard Grossinger, referencing Dorothy Allison’s famous 1992 narrative of sexual abuse,...

  8. 3 Materializing Memory: LYNDA BARRY’S ONE HUNDRED DEMONS
    (pp. 95-134)

    Though both explore of the terrain of childhood trauma, Phoebe Gloeckner and Lynda Barry’s comics narratives could not look more different. The visual precision of Gloeckner’s carefully shaded and crosshatched images is central to how her work conveys its horror. Barry’s visual style, on the other hand, is expressively imaginative as opposed to realistically precise. Her work has the most tactile appeal of the authors discussed here. Her comics are largely composed of black line art, and she paints her words and images with a brush: her lines are thicker and rounder than Gloeckner’s, often animated by energetic exaggerations of...

    (pp. 135-174)

    As with Lynda Barry’s nonfiction, in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood—an account of her childhood in Iran in which she endured the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war—the author-subject makes political, collective claims by testifying to the very ordinariness of her trauma. In contemporary comics, there is a significant yet diverse body of nonfiction graphic work that engages with the subject either in extremis or facing brutal experience. As with Barry, Satrapi’s autobiography in words and images swerves from the amusing to the appalling, insisting on both as the lived reality of girlhood. In much...

    (pp. 175-218)

    While Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis aims to be productively alienating and to suggest the devastating normalcy and profusion of violence in Iran with its minimalist, two-tone visual schema and de-particularized faces, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) works in reverse.¹ Focusing on the most particular aspects of the Bechdel family, Fun Home recuperates an archive of family documents—which Bechdel laboriously re-creates in her own hand—in order to seek out the specificities of a man who felt abstract to his daughter, and also to propose the embodiment of the cartoonist’s link to the past (and hence to her...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 219-260)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-298)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-302)