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Reframing Disability through Graphic Novels for Girls

Alternative Bodies in Cece Bell’s El Deafo

Wendy Smith-D’Arezzo and Janine Holc

In this analysis of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel for children, we examine the tension between representations of able-bodiedness and disability in Bell’s narrative of a young girl negotiating family and friendships while experiencing hearing loss. Drawing on recent scholarship in disability studies and feminism, we demonstrate that ability is a characteristic that is not static; it circulates among a number of characters and bodies in the novel. Characters who match normatively abled bodies are at times unable to achieve their goals, while Cece, the protagonist, deploys a range of strategies to negotiate her social world, at times to great effect. El Deafo, in this way, neither idealizes disability nor represents it as something to be overcome. Instead, the novel opens up a space for alternative notions of embodiment.

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Agatha Mohring

María y yo by Miguel and María Gallardo, Arrugas by Paco Roca and Una posibilidad entre mil by Cristina Durán and Miguel Ángel Giner Bou are contemporary Spanish graphic novels that can be considered pathographies. This article shows how they use the metaphor of the journey to deconstruct social representations and challenge preconceived ideas about autism, Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral palsy. By making readers travel to the unknown territory of differences and diseases, these works help them to discover and understand alterity. I also study how the authors use techniques specific to travel guides to explain these disorders, and interrogate the extent to which creating and reading those pathographies can have a curative dimension. This will lead to questioning the concept of the therapeutic journey.

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Benjamin Fraser

This article explores Paco Roca’s graphic novel La Casa (2015) with attention to the structuring role of architecture at two interrelated levels of analysis. At the level of theme and represented content, the comic employs architecture as a mediator of emotional connections and familial grief. At the level of comics form and visual narrative structure, artistic choices underscore the architectural properties of La Casa’s own construction. Repurposing the notion of ‘iconostasis’ from Andrei Molotiu provides a way of bringing together the reader’s self-directed perusal of the comic’s page and the characters’ self-directed navigation of their grief. The characters’ collaborative construction of a pergola as an architectural addition to their father’s house holds two meanings. It provides a degree of emotional closure, further contributing to the architectural theme of the comic, and it pulls the architectural structure of the work towards a cathartic narrative resolution.

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Esther Claudio

Paco Roca (b. 1969, Valencia) creates stories that tackle the universal through the local. He examines historic and social conflicts through the everyday experiences of his characters, whom he treats with affection, detail and respect. His works explore personal concerns and relationships without falling into melodrama, always looking for a balanced and sober style. Arguably, the most successful aspect of his work is the harmonious, beautiful drawing, which makes it accessible and appealing to a wide audience. As is common in today’s graphic novel, his stories feature losers: characters whose struggle is finally defeated by greater forces but whose trajectory tells us about dignity, friendship and courage. In this interview, we talk about his major graphic novels, and we are given access to his methods of work.

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Monsters and Spectacles

A Lesson to Learn and Remember

Carla Calargé

This essay analyzes a three-volume graphic novel series titled Kia Ora that was published by Vents d'Ouest between 2007 and 2009. The essay is divided in two parts. In the first part, I show how the series' authors retrace the episode of human zoos in the West through a rigorous historical documentation that allows them to examine the mechanisms of 'monstrification' of the colonized subject. The graphic novel series shows how the shaping of a collective and national identity takes place through the exposition/exhibition of the 'abnormality' or (so-called) monstrosity of the Colonized. The second part of the article discusses the series as a contemporary French popular cultural product. It examines questions such as the extent to which Kia Ora explores the (problematic) colonial past of France, how it represents it, and whether it avoids delving in uncomfortable (forgotten) zones.

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‘. . . But Is It Literature?’

Graphic Adaptation in Germany in the Context of High and Popular Culture

Juliane Blank

As a hybrid between ‘high’ literature and ‘trivial’ comics, graphic adaptations have been the subject of extensive debate in Germany. This article discusses the specific cultural conditions of graphic adaptation in Germany, which have been influenced by a process of emancipation from deeply rooted prejudice against comics as a medium of popular culture. To illustrate the changes brought about by the term ‘graphic novel’ around 2000, this article analyses two examples of a newer generation of graphic adaptation in detail. Flix’s Faust (2009–2010) and Drushba Pankow’s Das Fräulein von Scuderi [Mademoiselle de Scudery] (2011) represent a new self-confident approach to classic literature, but they also reflect on their own status as adaptations and thus contribute to ‘closing the gap’ between ‘high’ and popular culture.

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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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Zeina Abirached

Zeina Abirached, born in 1981 in Beirut, is a cartoonist who studied at the Académie libanaise des beaux-arts [Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts] (ALBA) in Beirut and the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs [National Graduate School of Decorative Arts] in Paris, France. In this artist's statement, originally written for a keynote lecture given at the American Bande Dessinée Society conference held at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) on 3 November 2012, she presents her four comic books published to date, all of them autobiographical: [Beyrouth] Catharsis [(Beirut) Catharsis] (2006), 38, rue Youssef Semaani [38 Youssef Semaani Street] (2006), Mourir, partir, revenir: Le jeu des hirondelles (2007), published in English as A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Live, To Return (2012), and Je me souviens: Beyrouth (2008), published in English as I Remember Beirut (2014). She focuses especially here on the dimensions of time and space, history and geography, and memory and autobiography in her work. She also discusses the influence of OuLiPo, and especially the writings of Georges Perec, on her comics.

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Bart Beaty, Marc Singer and Erin McGlothlin

Christophe Dony, Tanguy Habrand and Gert Meesters, La Bande dessinée en dissidence/Comics in Dissent

Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda, eds., 'Comics & Media': Special issue of Critical Inquiry 40(3) (Spring 2014)

Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey, The Graphic Novel: An Introduction

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Hating Everything

A Coming-of-age Graphic Narrative

Alyson E. King

This article explores the ways in which words and images work together to portray the life of a teenage girl in the Canadian graphic novel Skim (2008). The interdependent nature of the words and images calls for non-linear ways of reading. At the same time, Skim creates a rich representation of girls attending a private high school in the 1990s.