The Interrelation of Ethnicity, Iconicity, and Form in American Comics
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This dissertation analyzes issues of race, ethnicity, and identity in American comics and visual culture, and identifies important areas for alternative means to cultural authority located at the intersections of verbal and visual representation. The symbolic qualities that communicate ethnicity and give ethnicity meaning in American culture are illuminated in new ways when studied within the context of the highly symbolic medium of comics. Creators of comics are able to utilize iconic qualities, among other unique formal qualities of the medium, to construct new visual narratives around ethnicity and identity, which require new and multidisciplinary perspectives for comprehending their communicative complexity. This dissertation synthesizes cultural and critical analysis in combination with formal analysis in an effort to further advance the understanding of comics and their social implications in regard to race and ethnic identity. Much like film scholars in the 1960s, comics scholars in the United States currently are in the process of establishing a core of methodological and theoretical approaches, including Lacanian theories of the image, the comic mapping of symbolic order, the recognition of self in undetailed faces, comics closure, and the implications of the comics gutter. Drawing upon these ideas and additional perspectives offered by scholars of film and literary studies, such as the relationship between ethnicity and the symbolic, the scopophilic gaze, and filmic suture, I analyze the following visual texts: Henry Kiyama's The Four Immigrants Manga, Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, and Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles. The dissertation also performs a multimedia analysis of the current ascendency of geek culture, its relationship to the comics medium, and the geek protagonist as an expression of simulated ethnicity. Ultimately, the unique insights offered by the study of comics concerning principles of ethnic iconicity and identity have far reaching implications for scholars of visual and verbal culture in other mediums as well.