Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives

Article excerpt

Chris Foss, Jonathan W. Gray, and Zach Whalen, eds. Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016. Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-137-50110-3. $109. 216 pp.

Disability scholars have analyzed and interrogated comic books and their portrayals of disability for a number of years, effectively adding a crip and disability perspective to the field. Yet what has remained mostly absent from these conversations in disability studies is how the medium of comics and graphic novels themselves can be particularly apt at portraying a wide range of disabilities. Edited by Chris Foss, Jonathan W. Gray, and Zach Whalen, Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives strives to mend this hole in the literature. The collection is curated around three main threads found throughout the works. The first is representations of disability in comic books, graphic novels, and manga. The second is David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder's theoretical work on narrative prosthesis and the ways in which this is used in comic books. The third centers on reevaluating comic theory through the lens of disability studies, specifically reimagining the work of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

In their introduction to the volume, the editors use what they identify as comics' "interoperation of verbal and visual modalities ... and emotive iconography" to examine how embodiments, identity, trauma, and illness are portrayed both by characters and the comic components themselves (1). Foss, Gray, and Whalen illustrate the form's potentialities through their analysis of "The Enchanted Prince" and explain that the comic's use of swirling frames rather than static rectangles and squares is able to portray the neurodiversity of a character (6). Further, they discuss how the hybridity of the visual and textual found in comics and graphic novels allow them to portray pain and other non-visible illnesses better since they do not rely solely on communication of those feelings via text (6). They argue that "comic art is capable of both finely grained nuance and cartoonish broad strokes, and the history of how disability has been represented therein is as fraught with problematic tropes as it is rich for recuperative subversion of these tropes" (2).

Jay Dolmage and Dale Jacobs use the first chapter to examine the ways in which features of the medium of comic books-specifically "multimodality, arthology, and transtexuality" in the autobiographical comic series Dumb by Georgia Webber-informs a disability rhetoric (15). Dolmage and Jacobs briefly trace the history of visual representation from medical textbooks to contemporary comic book forms before examining the ways in which the gaze/ stare, crip time, narrative prosthesis, and multiple narratives create a disability rhetoric in comic books that examines how meaning is attached to and by disability. Chapter 2 by Christina Maria Koch discusses "graphic pathology" (the combination of graphic memoir and literary illness narratives) and the need to portray embodiment despite characters in comic books only having psychological ailments (29). Koch examines the graphic memoir Stitches and builds upon Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's stare/gaze theory and the social and medical model before exploring the materiality of narrative prosthesis in order to show how David, the main character and writer/illustrator, recognizes the self in the Other as well as finds resistance through the materiality of the individual embodied self.

Chapter 3, written by Todd A. Comer, argues that in the comic Building Stories the anthropomorphized apartment building makes central the "fragmentation" and "loss" that become the prosthesis for the feelings of the disabled protagonist (54). Because of this, loss and lack of wholeness becomes a central metaphor and narrative function that ultimately colors Building Stories even though the protagonist's disability goes largely uncommented on throughout the series. …

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