A study of the distinctive manner in which comics portray trauma and war
Conflict and trauma remain among
the most prevalent themes in film
and literature. Comics has never
avoided such narratives, and comics
artists are writing them in ways
that are both different from and
complementary to literature and
film. In Comics, Trauma, and the
New Art of War, Harriet E. H. Earle
brings together two distinct areas of
research—trauma studies and comics
studies—to provide a new interpretation of a long-standing theme.
Focusing on representations of conflict in post-Vietnam War
American comics, Earle claims that the comics form is uniquely
able to show traumatic experience by representing events as
viscerally as possible.
Using texts from across the form and placing mainstream
superhero comics alongside alternative and art comics, Earle
suggests that comics are the ideal artistic representation of trauma.
Because comics bridge the gap between the visual and the written,
they represent such complicated narratives as loss and trauma in
unique ways, particularly through the manipulation of time and
experience. Comics can fold time and confront traumatic events,
be they personal or shared, through a myriad of both literary and
visual devices. As a result, comics can represent trauma in ways
that are unavailable to other narrative and artistic forms.
With themes such as dreams and mourning, Earle concentrates
on trauma in American comics after the Vietnam War. These
works include Alissa Torres's American Widow, Doug Murray's The
'Nam, and Art Spiegelman's much lauded Maus. These works pair
with ideas from a wide range of thinkers, including Sigmund Freud,
Mikhail Bakhtin, and Fredric Jameson, as well as contemporary
trauma theory and clinical psychology. Through these examples
and others, Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War proves that
comics open up new avenues to explore personal and public
trauma in extraordinary, necessary ways.
Harriet E. H. Earle, Grantham, England, is lecturer and
researcher in American comics and popular culture. She holds a
PhD in American comics from Keele University in the UK. She has
published in such journals as the Journal of Popular Culture, Film
International, the Comics Grid, and Journal of Graphic Novels and
Comics. Earle is on the editorial board of Comics Forum.
240 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 14 b&w illustrations, 2 tables, bibliography, index