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The Medium Is the Message

Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen beyond Expectations of Autobiography, Colonial History and the Graphic Novel

Benoît Crucifix and Gert Meesters


This article proposes a close reading of Olivier Schrauwen’s Arsène Schrauwen, focusing on the various cultural discourses that it engages with, and particularly its ironical self-positioning within the field of comics. First of all, Schrauwen playfully questions the entrenchment of autobiography in the contemporary graphic novel by presenting a wholly fantasised adventure as biographical family history. This play with generic expectations is continued through Schrauwen’s reliance on the tropes of the adventure story and its figuration of the voyage. Arsène Schrauwen also draws on stereotypical images of both Belgium and the Belgian Congo and integrates them into a grotesque narrative so as to question the supposed unicity of the individual and colonial bodies. Last but not least, the book displays a highly self-reflexive approach to comics storytelling, building on a legacy from Flemish comics in order to play with reading conventions, graphic enunciation and abstraction, thereby thematising the perception of the main character.

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Gert Meesters, David Miranda-Barreiro, and Jakob Dittmar

Philippe Delisle and Benoît Glaude, Jijé: L'Autre père de la BD franco-belge (Montrouge, France: PLG, 2019). 180 pp. ISBN: 9782917837337 (€15)

Nhora Lucía Serrano, ed., Immigrants and Comics: Graphic Spaces of Remembrance, Transaction, and Mimesis (New York: Routledge, 2021). 268 pp. ISBN: 9781138186156 (Hardback: £120; e-book: £27.74)

Johannes C. P. Schmid, Frames and Framing in Documentary Comics (London: Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels, 2021). 292 pp. ISBN: 9783030633035 (e-book: £43.99)