Alternative Comics

Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature

Charles Hatfield
Copyright Date: 2005
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvcc9
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  • Book Info
    Alternative Comics
    Book Description:

    In the 1980s, a sea change occurred in comics. Fueled by Art Spiegel- man and Françoise Mouly's avant-garde anthologyRawand the launch of theLove & Rocketsseries by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, the decade saw a deluge of comics that were more autobiographical, emotionally realistic, and experimental than anything seen before. These alternative comics were not the scatological satires of the 1960s underground, nor were they brightly colored newspaper strips or superhero comic books.

    InAlternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, Charles Hatfield establishes the parameters of alternative comics by closely examining long-form comics, in particular the graphic novel. He argues that these are fundamentally a literary form and offers an extensive critical study of them both as a literary genre and as a cultural phenomenon. Combining sharp-eyed readings and illustrations from particular texts with a larger understanding of the comics as an art form, this book discusses the development of specific genres, such as autobiography and history.

    Alternative Comicsanalyzes such seminal works as Spiegelman'sMaus, Gilbert Hernandez'sPalomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, and Justin Green'sBinky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. Hatfield explores how issues outside of cartooning-the marketplace, production demands, work schedules-can affect the final work. Using Hernandez's Palomar as an example, he shows how serialization may determine the way a cartoonist structures a narrative. In a close look atMaus, Binky Brown, and Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, Hatfield teases out the complications of creating biography and autobiography in a substantially visual medium, and shows how creators approach these issues in radically different ways.

    Charles Hatfield, Canyon Country, California, is an assistant professor of English at California State University, Northridge. His work has been published inImageTexT,Inks: Cartoon and Comic Art Studies,Children's Literature Association Quarterly, theComics Journal, and other periodicals.

    See the author's Web site atwww.csun.edu/~ch76854/.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-587-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION ALTERNATIVE COMICS AS AN EMERGING LITERATURE
    (pp. ix-2)

    This book is about comics. Specifically, it is about the growth, over the past thirty-odd years, of the American-style comic book and its loosely named offshoot, the graphic novel. In the English-reading world, the graphic novel in particular has become comicsʹ passport to recognition as a form of literature. Through this book I aim to cast light on both the necessary preconditions for and certain key examples of this newly recognized literature, while unashamedly holding up as a backdrop the formʹs populist, industrial, and frankly mercenary origins. In all, this book offers an entry—or rather several points of entry,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE COMIX, COMIC SHOPS, AND THE RISE OF ALTERNATIVE COMICS, POST 1968
    (pp. 3-31)

    Comics have most often come in small packages: broadsheets, panels, strips, pamphlets. Yet recent emphasis on the graphic novel suggests that the formʹs further artistic growth, or at least recognition, depends on the vitality of longer stories that exceed these small packages. Critical attention has turned to longer works that cannot fit within the narrow straits of the strip and other miniature formats. Notwithstanding the many brilliant uses of the newspaper strip as a ritualistic genre—one thinks of George Herriman, Charles Schulz, and a pantheon of others—the current renascence and critical reassessment of comics stems mainly from book-length...

  6. CHAPTER TWO AN ART OF TENSIONS THE OTHERNESS OF COMICS READING
    (pp. 32-67)

    To posit comics as a literary form—and alternative comics in particular as a wellspring of notable literary work—may seem question-begging, given the traditional critical view of comics as a subliterary and juvenile diversion that anticipates or preempts the experience of ʺrealʺ reading. Despite the recent groundswell in multidisciplinary word/image studies, this damaging view of comics is still alive and kicking in some quarters, where classist concerns about the cultural provenance of comics are reinforced by assumptions about essential ʺdifferencesʺ between communication by text and communication by images. When doubts persist about the terms of readerly engagement with comics,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A BROADER CANVAS: GILBERT HERNANDEZʹS HEARTBREAK SOUP
    (pp. 68-107)

    Between its launch in 1981 and its fissioning into separate projects in 1996, the anthologyLove & Rocketsbroke new ground for comics in terms of both content and form. Created by brothers Gilbert, Jaime, and (occasionally) Mario Hernandez,¹Love & Rocketsfused underground and mainstream traditions, in the process reaching new audiences for whom such distinctions were moot. Though it at first built on such shopworn genres as superheroics and romance,Love & Rocketstranscended these conventions, revitalizing long-form comics with new themes, new types of characters, and fresh approaches to narrative technique. In so doing, it became the quintessential alternative comic,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR ʺI MADE THAT WHOLE THING UP!ʺ THE PROBLEM OF AUTHENTICITY IN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COMICS
    (pp. 108-127)

    About four-fifths into the comics memoirOur Cancer Year, lymphoma victim Harvey Pekar hauls himself out of bed, slowly, groggily—his mind addled by a psychoactive painkiller, his body numbed to near-paralytic heaviness as a result, apparently, of chemotherapy. Narcotized and reduced to merely ʺrocking through patterns,ʺ Harvey continues to slip in and out of consciousness even after he stands. In fact he slips in and out ofself-consciousness as well, for his mind keeps turning over that most basic of questions, ʺWho am I?ʺ

    At the bottom of the page in question (fig. 39), Harvey rises with a wordless...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE IRONY AND SELF-REFLEXIVITY IN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL COMICS TWO CASE STUDIES
    (pp. 128-151)

    Regarding autobiographical comics, hindsight reveals an ironic, self-reflexive impulse at work in many of the genreʹs urtexts. The ironies may not always be as bald, or as cynical, as in the key instances from our previous chapter, but nonetheless they are crucial, often contributing to a sense of distance between the ʺnaïveʺ self depicted in the autobiography and the older, more sophisticated self responsible for the depiction. This distancing iscriticalin two senses, that is, both analytical and all-important. As Louis Renza long ago observed, the autobiographer experiences his ʺsignified past self as at once the same as his...

  10. CHAPTER SIX WHITHER THE GRAPHIC NOVEL?
    (pp. 152-163)

    This book has bid for the recognition of comics as a literary form, and in particular for the understanding of alternative comics as an innovative and important field of comics production. We have sounded the origins of that field, charting its development through the comix counterculture of the 1960s and the subsequent rise of a specialized comics market, one that encouraged the newly recognized form of the graphic novel. We have considered the potential of comics as a medium—that comic art is not a form necessarily defined by simplicity or transparency but rather a potentially complex narrative instrument, and...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 164-168)
  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 169-176)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 177-182)