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Autobiographical Comics

Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures

Elisabeth El Refaie
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Autobiographical Comics
    Book Description:

    A troubled childhood in Iran. Living with a disability. Grieving for a dead child. Over the last forty years the comic book has become an increasingly popular way of telling personal stories of considerable complexity and depth.

    InAutobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures, Elisabeth El Refaie offers a long overdue assessment of the key conventions, formal properties, and narrative patterns of this fascinating genre. The book considers eighty-five works of North American and European provenance, works that cover a broad range of subject matters and employ many different artistic styles.

    Drawing on concepts from several disciplinary fields--including semiotics, literary and narrative theory, art history, and psychology--El Refaie shows that the traditions and formal features of comics provide new possibilities for autobiographical storytelling. For example, the requirement to produce multiple drawn versions of one's self necessarily involves an intense engagement with physical aspects of identity, as well as with the cultural models that underpin body image. The comics medium also offers memoirists unique ways of representing their experience of time, their memories of past events, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Furthermore, autobiographical comics creators are able to draw on the close association in contemporary Western culture between seeing and believing in order to persuade readers of the authentic nature of their stories.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-618-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    The autobiographical comics genre provides fascinating new opportunities and challenges for both comics artists and autobiographers. On one hand, the creators of autobiographical comics, who come from a wide range of backgrounds, often disregard established norms and conventions and invent new narrative techniques. For this reason, the examination of autobiographical comics allows us to rethink preconceived notions about the nature of the medium and to explore the many resources for creating meaning available to comics artists. On the other hand, autobiography has been greatly enriched by drawing on the sociocultural traditions and formal features of comics, which offer new possibilities...

    (pp. 11-48)

    Lynda Barry’sOne! Hundred! Demons!(2002) is a first-person account of a young girl growing up in Seattle in a lively household that includes her eccentric Filipina grandmother. Two panels from the introduction (see Fig. 1.1) show a thoughtful-looking woman, who, as a label on the previous page has informed us, should be taken to be the “author.” Floating above her head, in soft handwritten loops, are the questions the “author” is considering: “Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true?” and “Is it fiction if parts of it are?”

    Literary scholars have struggled for decades to pin...

    (pp. 49-92)

    Alison Bechdel’s (2006) graphic memoirFun Homecenters on her complicated relationship with her father, a funeral director, English teacher, obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian house, and, as it turns out, closeted homosexual, who has secret affairs with his male students. Despite—or perhaps because of—his own sexual preferences, he tries to bully his young daughter, much against her wishes and inclinations, into assuming a stereotypically feminine identity, telling her, for instance, to wear dresses and ribbons in her hair (see Fig. 2.1). The young Alison is filled with a deep sense of joy when she catches sight...

    (pp. 93-134)

    Blanketsis Craig Thomson’s (2003) autobiographical account of his fundamentalist Christian upbringing in a small town in the American Midwest, where his sensitive nature and creativity are greeted with incomprehension and ridicule. In one sequence Craig is being severely reprimanded by his English teacher for writing a poem about people eating excrement. By way of explaining to the reader why he wrote the poem, the autobiographical narrator recalls an earlier memory of how he failed to protect his little brother from sexual abuse by their babysitter. The narration has returned to the events that took place in the English class...

    (pp. 135-178)

    Edmond Baudoin (1995) starts his autobiographical comicL’éloge de la poussière(“In Praise of Dust”) with a picture showing him sitting on the pavement in war-torn Beirut, drawing a beautiful building opposite (see Fig. 4.1). He is so absorbed by this activity that he fails to notice the car pulling up on the opposite side of the road and the young soldier approaching and looking over his shoulder to see what he is doing. Having previously been warned of the danger posed by the trigger-happy young men who roam the streets in 4x4s, Edmond is initially petrified, but his terror...

    (pp. 179-220)

    On the first page of the introductory section (pp. 1–9) to Rosalind Penfold’s graphic memoirDragonslippers, a young woman is shown standing on a wobbly stool and reaching for a box on the shelf above her head (see Fig. 5.1). The only light in the room emanates from a torch, which the woman offers to an unseen addressee: “Here—Would you mind holding this?” On the next page, the beam of light is directed at the pile of boxes, suggesting that the reader has entered the storyworld and is helping the woman find whatever she is looking for. As...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 221-224)

    The goal of this book has been to identify the key formal properties and narrative techniques of a relatively new and flourishing art form, the graphic memoir. My consideration of eighty-five autobiographical comics from North America and Western Europe has revealed that individual works differ substantially in terms of their subject matter, artistic style, and the degree to which they claim to be “true” to the author’s real-life experiences. While some graphic memoirists focus on the actual, specific experiences they have had, others use the genre to reflect upon the complex nature of self-identity and truth, often freely mixing nuggets...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 225-236)
  12. Autobiographical Comics
    (pp. 237-240)
  13. References
    (pp. 241-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-273)