Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Drawing from Life

Drawing from Life: Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art

Edited by Jane Tolmie
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Drawing from Life
    Book Description:

    Autobiography has seen enormous expansions and challenges over the past decades. One of these expansions has been in comics, and it is an expansion that pushes back against any postmodern notion of the death of the author/subject, while also demanding new approaches from critics.

    Drawing from Life: Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art is a collection of essays about autobiography, semiautobiography, fictionalized autobiography, memory, and self-narration in sequential art, or comics. Contributors come from a range of academic backgrounds including English, American studies, comparative literature, gender studies, art history, and cultural studies. The book engages with well-known figures such as Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Alison Bechdel; with cult-status figures such as Martin Vaughn James; and with lesser-known works by artists such as Frédéric Boilet.

    Negotiations between artist/writer/body and drawn/written/text raise questions of how comics construct identity, and are read and perceived, requiring a critical turn towards theorizing the comics' viewer. At stake in comic memoir and semi-autobiography is embodiment. Remembering a scene with the intent of rendering it in sequential art requires nonlinear thinking and engagement with physicality. Who was in the room and where? What was worn? Who spoke first? What images dominated the encounter? Did anybody smile? Man or mouse? Unhinged from the summary paragraph, the comics artist must confront the fact of the flesh, or the corporeal world, and they do so with fascinating results.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-990-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction If a Body Meet a Body
    (pp. vii-2)
    Jane Tolmie

    What is at stake in comic memoir and semi-autobiography is embodiment. Remembering a scene with the intent of rendering it in sequential art requires nonlinear thinking and engagement with physicality. Who was in the room and where? What was worn? Who spoke first? What images dominated the encounter? Did anybody smile? Unhinged from the summary paragraph, the artist must confront the fact of—to quote Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element—the meat popsicle. Accordingly, work on autobiography is increasingly turning to the question, in Judith Butler’s words, of the “bodily condition of one’s narrative account of oneself” (Butler 2005:...

  4. Allusive Confessions The Literary Lives of Alison Bechdelʹs Fun Home
    (pp. 3-25)
    David M. Ball

    With its rich and intertwined narratives of a family’s history, a father’s closeted sexuality, and an artist’s coming of age and coming out, Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home has quickly emerged as an essential text in the vanguard of contemporary graphic narrative. As scholars incorporate such comics into literary anthologies and course syllabi, this inclusion prompts as-yet-unrealized considerations of the ways in which comics do and do not alter the literary and art historical canons they have begun to enter.¹ Bechdel’s work thus proves to be a compelling test case for an integrative approach to the intersections of...

  5. What Is an Experience? Selves and Texts in the Comic Autobiographies of Alison Bechdel and Lynda Barry
    (pp. 26-43)
    Yaël Schlick

    If, as is likely, all autobiographies can be read as containing (implicitly or explicitly) a theory of autobiography, we might well read Alison Bechdel’s comic autobiography Fun Home as locating itself at the constructivist end of the spectrum, along a continuum extending from autobiography as a referential practice to autobiography as a practice through which the self is textually constructed, ultimately fictional. Not only does she at one point lament that her father did not underline certain lines in Camus’s A Happy Death (47)—underlining that would have granted both certainty to the interpretation of his death as a suicide,...

  6. Animal Subjects of the Graphic Novel
    (pp. 44-66)
    Michael A. Chaney

    Just what is it about comics that summons the human in bestial form? From George Herriman’s Krazy Kat to Art Spiegelman’s Maus, from the animal-human preoccupations of superheroes like Spider-Man and Batman to webcomics variations on the “funny animal” genre in Kean Soo’s Jellaby or Chris Baldwin’s Little Dee—comics have theorized the animal by performing it since their incipience and contemporary productions show no signs of flagging. In fact, an examination of representative texts in one of the most acclaimed sub-genres of the medium—the autobiographical graphic novel—confirms that theorizing the animal remains essential to comics narratives of...

  7. Uncaging and Reframing Martin Vaughn-James’s The Cage
    (pp. 67-85)
    Jan Baetens

    Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison argue, is inextricably linked to our ideas, our practices, our history of subjectivity. This claim does not only hold for science but also for (popular) culture, and it also goes the other way round: subjectivity in culture cannot be thought of outside our stances on objects, objecthood, and objectivity. In this chapter I would like to advance a reading of “subjectivity through the object,” by applying it to one of the great missing links in the history of the graphic novel: Martin Vaughn-James’s (1943–2009) cult-album The Cage, started in 1968, first published in...

  8. Comics as Non-Sequential Art Chris Wareʹs Joseph Cornell
    (pp. 86-111)
    Benjamin Widiss

    One of the elements of Chris Ware’s artistic biography most frequently attested to is his affinity for the work of Joseph Cornell, but it is also one of the least analyzed. The scholarly archive is nearly silent on the topic, the massed media deeply and unreflectingly reiterative. Dozens of websites offer the same observation that, complementing the obvious influence of cartoonists like George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Frank King, and Charles Schulz, “Ware has found inspiration and a kindred soul in artist and sculptor Joseph Cornell, both men sharing the need to capture items of nostalgia, grace, and beauty within ‘boxes,’”¹...

  9. Yukiko’s Spinach and the Nouvelle Manga Aesthetic
    (pp. 112-143)
    Christopher Bush

    First scene: a cinematic sequence of “shots,” twenty-one narrow vertical panels spaced evenly over seven pages, fading in from black and out to white. Amid the play of electric lights blazing in the dark, fragments of numbers and letters appear, lit and neon signs giving just enough information to indicate the setting: Tokyo, Shibuya district. The images are accompanied by what it is tempting to call a voiceover, five phrases spaced evenly across the five central pages of the scene, separated by ellipses: “Damn you’re pretty to look at … Your neck … Your shoulders … Your stomach … Your...

  10. Memory, Signal, and Noise in the Collaborations of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
    (pp. 144-162)
    Isaac Cates

    Neil Gaiman is best known for his novels and for writing The Sandman, one of the foundational titles of the DC Comics Vertigo imprint. The novels and The Sandman, along with a number of Gaiman’s other works, occupy a recognizable genre, somewhere between fantasy literature and the contemporary gothic: Gaiman’s protagonists are often, for example, fallen gods; his characters pass into alternate dimensions; their dreams are magically real. But Gaiman is not only a fantasist, and with his frequent collaborator Dave McKean he has also created a handful of short, intensely subjective but realist graphic novels, two of which work...

  11. The Graphic Memoir in a State of Exception Transformations of the Personal in Art Spiegelmanʹs In the Shadow of No Towers
    (pp. 163-184)
    Lopamudra Basu

    This essay explores the graphic memoir In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman as an example of autobiographical recording in graphic form of the very public national tragedy of 9/11. Unlike Spiegelman’s previous foray in deploying the graphic memoir form for the memorializing of the public trauma of the Holocaust in Maus 1 and Maus 2, this particular memoir is a commentary on immediate American foreign and domestic policies of the Bush era, rather than an attempt to recover and resolve the traumatic experiences of his ancestors. Spiegelman experiences and records his personal memories of the tragedy, but...

  12. History, Memory, and Trauma Confronting Dominant Interpretations of 9/11 in Alissa Torresʹs American Widow and Art Spiegelmanʹs In the Shadow of No Towers
    (pp. 185-206)
    Davida Pines

    Nearly three thousand people died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, with countless others directly and indirectly affected by the disaster. Yet despite a multiplicity of stories, experiences, and perspectives on the attacks, a limited series of images have come to stand in for 9/11. Among them are: a deep and cloudless blue sky, the Twin Towers ringed in flames and smoke, the uncanny approach of the second plane, bodies falling from unimaginable heights, the collapsing skyscrapers, embattled rescue workers, the wreckage at Ground Zero, “missing” posters and make-shift memorials, ubiquitous American flags, the...

  13. You Must Look at the Personal Clutter Diaristic Indulgence, Female Adolescence, and Feminist Autobiography
    (pp. 207-240)
    Alisia Chase

    In 1975, pioneering feminist artist Carolee Schneemann performed what would eventually become one of art history’s landmark works. Titled “Interior Scroll,” the piece began when the fully clothed Schneemann entered the room, disrobed, and wrapped herself in a white sheet. She then divested herself of the sheet, climbed onto a table, and began to enact the poses of a traditional artist’s model, her alternately draped and exposed female form arguably intimating that of silent muse rather than vocal maker. Then, taking mud-colored pigment in hand, Schneemann began to paint her flesh in a forceful, definitive manner, almost as if she...

  14. A Female Prophet? Authority and Inheritance in Marjane Satrapi
    (pp. 241-263)
    Rachel Trousdale

    Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a book about rebellions, both the large-scale rebellion of the uprising against the Shah and the personal rebellions of teenagers listening to rock music. But the formal rebellions of the book—whether performed by the Islamic Revolution, punk children, or Viennese anarchists—are constrained, regimented, and reactive: the protesters and police alike are drawn as interchangeable figures in a Persian frieze, and the punk kids wear uniforms just as prescribed as soldiers or fundamentalist women.¹

    Throughout the memoir, however, Satrapi proposes her family as a parallel lineage of authority, one that does not strictly prescribe individual...

  15. Showing the Voice of the Body Brian Fiesʹs Momʹs Cancer, the Graphic Illness Memoir, and the Narrative of Hope
    (pp. 264-288)
    Sharon OʹBrien

    The cover illustration of Brian Fies’s graphic memoir Mom’s Cancer shows a person with a bald head.¹ Only a few stray lines suggest wisps of hair. The person, who is wearing pink and white striped pajamas, is leaning forward, more out of weariness than anticipation: she, or he, cannot hold the body up straight. There is a graying bandage attached to the neck with two crossed pieces of tape. The cheeks are sunken, the mouth drooping. The person is alone, isolated. The frame of a window marks a vertical down the left side of the frame, and outside we see...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 289-292)
  17. Index
    (pp. 293-300)