Origin Stories: Narrative, Identity, and the Comics Form
MetadataShow full item record
My dissertation argues that comics’ unique formal properties are particularly suited toward exploring and representing the complex nature of identity. Just as the comics form is broadly defined by a peculiar tension between word and image, so identity can be conceived as a constant negotiation between abstract (“unrepresentable”) concepts that define identity and an individual’s attempts to represent that identity. Due to its formal negotiation of word and image, the comics form is thus uniquely suited to address the problems of identity and its representation. I begin this project by examining the relationship between word and image in comics. Some comics scholars have argued verbal and visual signification are hybridized, while others go so far as to claim the distinction between word and image is unsustainable. Still others reject these claims, arguing comics’ hybridity necessitates a strict separation of word from image. I argue that words and images in comics function on a spectrum in which the line between word and image must be able to be hybridized and distinct at the same time. This definition of the word/image relationship can describe the most straightforward, illustrative comics as well as the most experimental comics texts; it also provides the methodological framework for my project. In this dissertation, I examine the representation of gendered identity in Gilbert Hernandez's Love and Rockets stories and Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, arguing both authors’ injunction that the reader look at the mothers in their works is evidence of their demand that we understand the women as whole, ambivalent subjects. I explore the way the Gene Yang and Sonny Liew’s graphic novel The Shadow Hero addresses the repressive and racist history of superhero comics. In doing so, Yang and Liew’s text reveals the ways superhero texts constantly negotiate the genre’s conservative instinct to protect the status quo and its revolutionary vision for a better world. Finally, I contend Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III's Batwoman: Elegy reveals at least one intrinsically progressive theme in superhero genre: its performative and inherently queer conception of identity.