Graphic Biography. Manuscript in preparation.
Funded by a 2015-18 Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Go to projectgraphicbio.com for more info.
In this book, I argue that graphic biography (biographies in comic book form) enjoy international popularity yet have not received sustained study as serious cultural artifacts. I show that graphic biography is a dynamic field of contemporary transnational cultural production that crosses borders between the popular and the avant-garde, history and literature, and truth and fiction. As such, graphic biography is a contemporary form of knowledge production that asks crucial questions about whose lives are worth remembering and recording, what constitutes 'greatness', how to represent an individual on the page and as part of collective histories, and how to tell a coherent life narrative from leftover traces, testimonies, and texts.
This book explores how graphic biographies use the conventions of life narrative and the techniques of comics to create new ways of seeing and reading the complex lives of subjects who are preoccupied in two senses: a. their life narratives dwell on their vocational achievements and/or failures; and, b. there is a pre-existing discursive field about them (fame, celebrity, notoriety, family mythology, etc.) that these graphic biographies at once extend and revise. This book seeks to answer a central generic and formal question: How can comics construct and deconstruct the biographical illusion of a knowable, linear, coherent life?
My methodology is informed by my training as a feminist, materialist literary critic who pays close attention to textual details in order to arrive at more theoretical generalizations. I draw on narratology, semiotics, and cultural theory that considers how the dynamics of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality shape subjectivity. My focus is a group of about twenty-five alternative graphic biographies published since 1990, primarily in North America and Europe.
The Introduction provides a snapshot of the field of graphic biography, including mainstream and alternative comic books. The rest of the project is divided into five parts, each of which foreground a small cluster of graphic biographies published since 1990 against a larger sub-field of thematically organized texts. I analyze visual and verbal techniques available to cartoonists seeking to represent the public and private experiences of lives dedicated to different kinds of work in the fields of: Part I. politics (Nat Turner, Louis Riel, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King), Part II. science (Marie Curie, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman), Part III. stage and musical performance (Isadora Duncan, Long Tack Sam, Brian Epstein, Johnny Cash, Ana Mendieta), Part IV. sports (Satchel Paige, Harry Haft, Roberto Clemente, Andre the Giant, Michael Jordan). Part V explores family graphic biographies by Young and Lasky, Talbot and Talbot, Backderf, and Chantler to consider storytelling itself as a form of artistic labour and to deconstruct the self/other binary of conventional biography. The conclusion discusses the meta-representational possibilities of graphic biographies about cartoonists.
"Immigration, Photography, and the Color Line in Lila Quintero Weaver’s Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White.” Immigrants and Comics: Graphic Spaces of Remembrance, Transaction, and Mimesis. Ed. Nhora Lucia Serrano. Routledge Advances in Comics Studies. New York: Routledge. Forthcoming 2018.
"Norman Bethune and the Contested Spaces of Canadian Public Memory." Contested Spaces: Counter-Narratives and Culture from Below.
Eds. Roxanne Rimstead and Domenic A. Beneventi. University of Toronto Press. Forthcoming 2018. French version listed under Essays.