Playing with Gender in Arthur, King of Time and Space

Article excerpt

By developing characters with unstable and changeable sex identification, Paul Gadzikowski creates an Arthurian world with fluid gender boundaries in his webcomic Arthur, King of Time and Space. The effect of this fluidity is a cast of Arthurian characters that continuously confronts sex and gender stereotypes, inviting audiences to reconsider their own assumptions about sex and gender. (CF)

On May 21st, 2004, Paul Gadzikowski launched a daily webcomic entitled Arthur, King of Time and Space, which he intends 'to tell the story of King Arthur in real time in daily panel gags over twenty-five years,' a time period connected to the length of Arthur's reign.1 As the title suggests, Gadzikowski uses the characters of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as his inspiration. However, this webcomic does not simply retell Arthur's story in a chronological treatment of the narrative; instead, as the rest of his title might suggest, Gadzikowski plays with both time, by moving backward and forward through traditional elements of the Arthurian narrative, and space, by literally placing the Arthurian characters in multiple and concurrent settings, or genres if you will. The creator re-imagines the world of King Arthur by weaving together three primary story arcs-the fairy tale arc (also known as the medieval arc), the contemporary arc, and the space arc-into a narrative that follows Arthur as he is caught in a time travel anomaly. Within these multiple settings and times, Gadzikowski is able to offer his readers a Round Table that considers the gender and sex of its characters both changeable and open for interpretation. By developing a fluidity of sex identification, Gadzikowski is able to work outside of traditional gender boundaries, so that a character's most fixed attribute is a character's name.

The fluidity of sex and gender embodied in Arthur, King of Time and Space (hereafter AKOTAS) reflects discussions of gender performativity. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler posits that 'acts, gestures, enactments, generally construed, are performative in the sense that the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means.'2 For example, a female batting her eyelashes is frequently construed as a feminine mannerism; however, nothing precludes a male from batting his eyelashes, a performance of the same mannerism, a fabricated signifier. For Butler, these corporeal signs function on the surface of the body and work to 'create the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core.'3 This gender performance then denies the idea of a 'primary and stable identity' and invites parody, or 'an openness to resignification and recontextualization.'4 Denise Riley agrees: '"The body" is not, for all its corporeality, an originating point nor yet a terminus; it is a result or an effect.'5 The gendered body is a product of its history, established by context and usage. Additionally, as Moira Gatens explains, 'Significantly, the sexed body can no longer be conceived as the unproblematic biological and factual base upon which gender is inscribed, but must itself be recognized and constructed by discourses and practices that take the body both as their target and as their vehicle of expression.'6 By their very nature, comics subject the 'bodies' of their characters to new contexts and engage in different discourses on a sometimes daily basis. Through its use of multiple genres and storyline time periods, AKOTAS illustrates the instability of the body and the performance of gender.

Comic strips and comic books have been frequently scrutinized for their presentation of gender. In these texts, the visual plays a significant role, as our own cultural consumption of multimedia supports.7 Sheri Klein, having examined images of women and humor in comics, agrees: 'Comics and cartoons as part of our visual culture are laden with both multicultural and socially relevant content. …