Drawn onward: Representing the autobiographical self in the field of comic book production

Gerard, Shannon. 
 York University (Canada) ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2006. MR19660.

Abstract (summary)

The recent proliferation of once underground comic books in the popular media has spawned a vibrant body of critical work about the form and its cultural meanings. Perhaps owing to its relative infancy, the field of comics 1 scholarship, while enthusiastic, has been inconsistent. The current debate seems to be over exactly which analytical approach to take. The search for a suitable critical template has led some scholars to consider comics from the perspective of literary criticism. Other academics use the lexicon of the art critic to focus on the formal design concerns of cartoonists, or attempt to locate the format2 within an art historical context. Due to the sequential narrative element of comics, many film studies majors have embraced the genre. Given that the reading of comics bears much in common with other fan-based and emotionally resonant sub-cultures like alternative music, a cultural studies perspective seems to provide another piece to the puzzle. However, as comic books represent a unique hybrid of various literary traditions, visual art movements and cultural perspectives, not one of these approaches works in isolation.

Since comics are resistant to conventional analysis, the resulting limited academic work can be frustrating, but I believe the inherent tensions in the field of comic book production are its greatest strength. As with any field of study, these intersections provide dynamic places for various existing ideas to pool together and for new ideas to crystallize. The pronounced interdisciplinary anxieties of comics scholarship make it one of the most exciting areas of inquiry to recently emerge in the academy. Broadly, my thesis attempts to highlight some of the frictions between these varied fields so that a better vocabulary for talking and writing about comic books can develop.

More specifically, my interest is in considering comic books as a form of life writing. I am focused on the autobiographical work of several artists currently working in North America, namely Lynda Barry, Chester Brown, Seth, Matt Blackett, and Shary Boyle. As this paper shall set out, the work of these five artists further demonstrates the complex narrative possibilities presented by the particular conventions of comic book design.

In the context of examining the life writing practices of other comic book artists, I aim not only to expand my academic engagement with comic books but also to develop my own visual art practice. Together with this paper, my thesis takes the shape of three short autobiographical comic books. The union of creative and academic work represented by my thesis is meant to echo the various cultural discourses which meet in the comic book format.

1 A letter S is used at the end of the word "comics" in terms such as "comics history" or "comics scholarship" to specify that a field of study is being discussed. The singular word "comic" sounds too much like an adjective. The term "comic history" might be misread to indicate a historical account of something quite hilarious. 2 Where possible, I have tried to avoid the use of the word "format" as it implies a limited view of comic books as a series of design choices. On the other hand, the word "genre" does not indicate the wide range of creative sub-categories within the field of production. In some ways, the inclusion of such flattening terms is problematic to my aims, but in others, it highlights the basic tension of my struggle for a suitable vocabulary.

Indexing (details)

Literature indexing term
Canadian literature;
American literature;
Modern literature
Rich, Adrienne (1929-2012); Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946); Pekar, Harvey
0298: Modern literature
0304: Biographies
0352: Canadian literature
0591: American literature
0401: Literature
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Language, literature and linguistics; Chester Brown; Lynda Barry; Matt Blackett; Seth; Shary Boyle
Drawn onward: Representing the autobiographical self in the field of comic book production
Gerard, Shannon
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
MAI 45/02M, Masters Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
York University (Canada)
University location
Canada -- Ontario, CA
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL