Postcolonial Graphic Novels
‘Postcolonial Graphic Novels’ is aimed at plugging a significant gap in a growing area of critical literature: the link between the realities of postcolonial existence and the representation of these in graphic novel form.
The present century has seen a rise in academic interest in the once ‘critical[ly] neglect[ed]’ graphic novel form (Hugo Frey and Benjamin Noys, ‘Editorial: History in the Graphic Novel’, Rethinking History, 6 : 255–60 [p. 255]): the graphic novel, cartoon, or comic has become a viable object of academic study, with recent articles on the form as a ‘compelling’ example of critical fiction (Alicia Decker and Mauricio Castro, ‘Teaching History with Comic Books’, The History Teacher, 45 : 169–88 [p. 169]) ‘worthy of scholarly attention’ (Harriet Earle, ‘Panel Transitions in Trauma Comics’, Alluvium, 2 : np. [web]). What has been absent from this surge in attention, however, is a discussion of the intersection of postcolonial ideas of identity and the form. This is especially surprising since two early examples of graphic novel engagements with serious, politicised subjects are Will Eisner’s A Contract with God (NY: W.W. Norton, 1978), an explicitly racialised view of 1930s Jewish New Yorkers, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Maus II (London, NY: Penguin, 1986 and 1992), initially published in the form of serialised comic strips (1980–91; united in two collections) on the sufferings of Spiegelman’s Jewish parents in World War II Nazi-controlled Poland.
My project responds to this lack of attention, tracking a series of global graphic novel engagements with sites of conflict and trauma. The graphic novel’s combination of text, graphics, and structure is uniquely able to convey the political and social complexities of postcolonial existences; I start to consider the important links between form and content in literature and culture revealed by studying postcolonial graphic novels.
The project’s primary publication is a monograph, Postcolonial Graphic Novels: Marginalisation, Representation, and Resistance. I advance the thesis that the graphic novel is a particularly useful form in which to interrogate the dualities and oppressions of the postcolonial self. It uses a series of authors/artists and texts as case studies to develop its thesis, and charts a series of engagements with sites of conflict and trauma.
(Although the texts are all 21st-century graphic novels, and are not presented in chronological order, there is a progression in the events depicted: from war in the 1980s/90s [§1], to crime in the 1990s/2000s [§2], to the aftermath of disasters – man-made, natural, and a mix of the two – in the 2000s, and beyond [§3].)
INTRODUCTION (comparative, historical; setting out work’s thesis)
- Guibert, Lefèvre and Lemercier, The Photographer (NY: First Second Books, 2009 [2003–06]); focus: 1980s Afghan war; using graphic novels in representing conflict
- Stassen, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda (NY: First Second Books, 2006 ); focus: genocide in mid-1990s Africa; graphic novels and fiction/non-fiction
- Adam, Luchadoras (London: Blank Slate Books, 2011 ); focus: female homicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico (1993—); graphic novels and fiction/non-fiction
- Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (NY: Viking, 2004); focus: aftermath of September 11 2001 in NY; the graphic novel in the 21st-century US
- Neufeld, AD: New Orleans After the Deluge (London: Random House, 2009); focus: pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans, cross-media projects and representing disaster
- Sacco, ‘The Unwanted’ (in Journalism [London: Jonathan Cape, 2012], pp. 109–57); focus: immigration due to war in N Africa; comics journalism and postcolonialism
CONCLUSION (the C21st graphic novel; considering whether the three categories [I, II, III] are separable)
In 2014, I approached the editorial board of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, with a view to editing an issue entitled ‘Trans/forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration, and Postcolonial Identity’; the board said yes, scheduling it as #52:4 (Aug, 2016), and I have secured two co-editors and a team of international contributors (using a Call for Papers disseminated at transformingliterature.wordpress.com).
My co-editors and I have written an introduction to the issue, which lays out the themes and contemporary concerns of the number — this begins with a consideration of the intersections of graphic representation, refugee rhetoric, and freedom of expression both in Europe (Jyllands-Posten, Charlie Hebdo) and further afield (an anti-immigrant comic strip campaign by the Australian government in 2014). Contributions then build on this interdisciplinarity and transnationalism; there is a piece on Japanese manga and structure from a UK academic, and an essay on an Australian graphic novelist by a lecturer from Hong Kong.