Comics and Literature: A Love Story

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Hutton, Robert




This dissertation investigates the conjunction of comics, literature, prestige, and narratives of development and deviance. Drawing on case studies from the forty-year history of alternative comics, I argue that comics creators and publishers referenced literary figures and characters as a means of developing their ideas of artistic autonomy and development. This tangle of ideas stems from the suspicion and censorship of comics in the 1950s, when the young medium was accused of promoting deviance and maladjustment. Early figures in alternative comics such as Harvey Pekar, Dave Sim, and the critics of The Comics Journal fought this idea by drawing on the prestige of literature to present a vision of comics that adhered to conventional ideas of autonomous elite culture. In doing so, these writers sought to create a new form of comic that could help the medium and its readers out of the maladjustment it found itself in. Later, the writers of "groundlevel" comics referenced canonical literary authors in ways that both reaffirmed and, in the case of Alan Moore, questioned their canonical light. It is here that we begin to see total rejection of the developmental narrative, and a celebration of comics' low cultural status. Finally, I argue that the work of Ariel Schrag and Alison Bechdel takes a step forward in developing a queer idea of reading and writing that disrupt the narrative upheld by earlier authors. By shifting the focus of the developmental narrative to their personal queer journeys, Schrag and Bechdel call into question the heteronormative premises of the discourse around the status of comics. By focusing on how these comics present the literary, this dissertation aims to demonstrate how such representations are always entangled in questions of status and normativity, and how the world of alternative comics' attitude towards these questions changed during their period of cultural ascendance.


Literature - Modern
Art History




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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