• Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.


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  • Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.
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Trauma in Comics

Author: Ian Sampson

I've recently become aware of Harriet Earle's comics research (by way of the podcast Drawing a Dialogue - a must if you're interested in comics scholarship and pedagogy), and I am looking forward to reading her new book Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War. Earle notes that comics is an inherently profound medium for relating stories of trauma because of the formal structure: Here, from her essay Panel Transitions in Trauma Comics:

Traumatic narratives are not typically constructed around a linear chronology and they do not make comfortable reading. When boiled down to the very basic level, this is the aim of a traumatic text: to create in us some part of the psychological disturbance that undoubtedly plagues the traumatised within the text. The aim of the traumatic comics creator is that of his text-based cousin, though there is a different tool kit required to create the effect. In comics of trauma, the symptoms of traumatic experience are mimicked in the formal techniques of the comic. However, the comics creator has a range of devices open to him that the traditional writer does not and, as I previously suggested, the most important and visible of these is to be found in the gutter.

I immediately thought of the possibilities for pairing comics with LOC imagery of traumatic events - a time-honored approach - but with a focus on how the different media relate the violence and trauma of the events. In particular, the effect in question is possible because of the gutter in comics, i.e. what is left out. The question can be applied to the single-image sources as well - what is left out of this picture? What can we learn through that absence? And how do the different methods of narrative research affect us? 

One good example would be using a sequence from John Lewis and Nate Powell's graphic novel March in concert with LOC images from the March to Selma. The different media of the event provoke very different responses. Consider this proposal as an addendum to Stephen Wesson's blog post on Teaching Selma.

Another possibility would be Kyle Baker's graphic novel Nat Turner, paired with the strange image of the "Horrific Massacre in Virginia".

    • Horrid Massacre in Virginia
    • Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965
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