Auto / Bio / Fictional Graphic Narratives: A Symposium – Abstracts & Biographies

Abstracts and biographies are in alphabetical order, by surname, preceded by Day and Panel number.

[D2-P8] Laura L. Beadling
Graphic Memoir of Witness: MK Czerwiec’s Memoir as a Complex Work of Graphic Medicine

MK Czerwiec’s memoir Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371 combines the graphic memoir, oral history, and the narrative of witness. Such a combination allows Czerwiec to accomplish numerous goals, including crafting a public history of Unit 371, expressing and mitigating her own suffering as a witness to many deaths that she and her colleagues worked tirelessly but often fruitlessly to prevent, and providing witness to the trauma of the AIDS epidemic. Graphic medicine, an emerging field that arises at the intersection of healthcare discourses and comics, is capacious enough to hold these separate but connected strands of Czerwiec’s work. The graphic medicine memoir offers a number of relevant techniques that enable such complex works of activism, education, and memory. For instance, Czerwiec features not only quotes from her former colleagues, but she also includes drawn representations of them, which offers an expressive access to affect beyond just words. In addition, her representation of herself is often on the edges of the frame and is frequently expressionless, which allows her representations of patients and colleagues to take center stage. Such choices might seem odd for a memoir, which presumably foregrounds the experiences of the self, but make total sense for a memoir of witnessing, which prioritizes the stories of others. This paper will examine Czerwiec’s memoir as a hybrid comic of both graphic medicine and witness in order to appreciate the complexity of the work, both of the comic itself and the caregiving it represents.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS, graphic medicine, witnessing, oral history

Dr. Laura L. Beadling is a professor of English and Film Studies at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University in 2007. She has recently published on Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoir of caretaking Displacement and is working on a paper on gendered comics of caretaking ill parents.

[D1-P3] Gareth Brookes
Hybrid Traces of Fact and Fiction in Graphic Autobiography

Autobiographical comics make use of a unique subjective register in which every mark communicating the narrative represents the embodied trace of the autobiographer. How theories of trace and embodiment in drawing can be integrated into the narratological analysis of autobiographical comics, is an undertheorized area.
This paper will explore the ways comics use their materiality to collapse hierarchies of imaginative storyworld and tactile real world. I will discuss handmade self-published autobiographical comics in order to clarify how auratic traces and tactile materials problematise these boundaries through metaleptic transgression of author into storyworld.
I will then apply this discussion to the analysis of three graphic novels with different relationships to autobiography. Drawn Together (2012), by Robert and Aline Crumb, in which the drawn traces of husband and wife compete for enunciative dominance, My Favourite Thing is Monsters (2017), in which Emil Ferris presents the storyworld through the re-presentation of a fictional autobiographical notebook, and Nora Krug’s Heimat: A German Family Album (2019) in which the author’s family past is explored through the scrapbooking of historical documents and photographs.
I will argue that these ‘real’ materials and traces, which are often digitally manipulated before being mechanically reproduced in the object of the comic, create a complex ecology of ontologically ambiguous surfaces in which autobiography and the construction of autobiography become intractable.
This analysis is important to the understanding of how the traces of embodied drawing and re-presentations of materiality affect truth claims and performances of authenticity in autobiographical comics. 

Keywords: Autobiography, Drawing Theory, Materiality, Metalepsis, Digital Practice

Gareth Brookes is a AHRC Techne funded PhD Candidate at Central Saint Martins, UAL. He has written several peer reviewed articles including ‘Stylistic co-existence and the chronotope in Stone Fruit and onwards towards our noble deaths’ for the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. He is a practicing graphic novelist who has published three graphic novels known for their unusual approach to materials: The Dancing Plague (SelfMadeHero, 2021), A Thousand Coloured Castles (Myriad Editions, 2017), and The Black Project (Myriad Editions, 2012) which was nominated in the Sélection Officielle 2018 at 45e Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême.

[D2-P9] Laura Cernat
Doubling the Punctum: Autofictional Hues and Biofictional Shades in Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (10-minute flash contribution)

According to Martha Kuhlman (2017: 120), “[i]n graphic narrative biographies, the constructed nature of a life story is openly acknowledged in the separation between the writer and the life of the person who is depicted”. Mary and Bryan Talbot’s Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (2012) breaks away from this pattern, becoming a case in point for how, instead of a separating principle, the “graphic” can be exactly what introduces the connecting “fiction” in “auto/bio/fiction”. Thought by graphic novel specialists to inaugurate a “more subtle, slow, and serious approach to reflecting on the literary world”, (Baetens & Frey 2015: 213), the book illuminates the transmission of knowledge and the dynamics of cultural and familial memory and oblivion. In a previous publication (Cernat, in Novak & Ní Dhúill 2022), I have singled out Mary and Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel as one of the few biofictional retellings that captures Lucia Joyce’s life in its vivid splendour without refracting it through the prism of imagined compensations for her marginalization and erasure, and I submitted that the graphic narrative provides an alternative to escapist scenarios about Lucia by interweaving the biofictional thread with an autofictional one.
In this presentation, I will delve deeper into how the parallel between the two lives is constructed and what impact it has on reviving the Lucia Joyce narrative. I will focus particularly on the configuration of time through colour across the novel’s plates. While Baetens and Frey (2015: 213) have considered the novelty of this artwork to reside not in the tripartite temporality, frequent in graphic novels, but rather in the combination of fictionalized autobiographical and biographical elements, I would like to return to the aspect of technique and look at how colour inflects the temporalities of the auto- and the bio-fictional. In slight contrast to the obvious fact that the Lucia Joyce plates are in greyscale, the autofictional Talbot story in pale sepia hues, and the metafictional episodes set in the present are in louder, more cartoonish colours, the way in which time and the historical setting are marked counterintuitively presents the 1920s as fresh and new while the 1950s and 1960s have a sooty and dusty aspect. I argue that it is not chronology in a linear sense, but rather an emphasis on youth and coming of age, portrayed against the backdrop of changing gender norms and enduring stereotypes, that governs the articulation of the narrative and allows the authors to create resonances between the autofictional and the biofictional going beyond the “nostalgia industry” (Baetens & Frey 2015: 223) specific to recent graphic novels. Bringing together biofiction as a play with archival and cultural memory and autofiction as a play with living memory, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes succeeds in finding the visual punctum which allows the Joyce story to fall into place.

Keywords: Lucia Joyce, temporality, colour, auto/bio/graphic novel, gender norms

Laura Cernat (she, they) is an FWO (Flemish Research Foundation) postdoctoral researcher at KU Leuven, Belgium, working on the project “Biofictions of Border-Crossing: A World Literature for Outsiders”. Laura obtained her doctorate with a thesis about the representation of canonical authors in contemporary biofiction. She has contributed to the edited volumes Virginia Woolf and Heritage (2017), Theory in the “Post” Era (2021), Imagining Gender in Biographical Fiction (2022), Reading the Contemporary Author (2023), From Shakespeare to Autofiction (2024), has published in the journals Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly and Partial Answers, has guest-edited a special issue of American Book Review on autofiction and autotheory and co-edited a special issue of Dacoromania Litteraria on Eastern European Women’s Life Writing. Together with Lucia Boldrini, Alexandre Gefen, and Michael Lackey, she is currently editing the Routledge Companion to Biofiction. Laura has presented at over twenty international conferences and has contributed to organizing four conferences, including the hybrid bilingual conference Biofiction as World Literature in 2021.

[D1-P4] Deepak Dhananjayan E
Intersectionality and Hybridity in Indian Postcolonial Graphic Narratives: A Study of Bhimayana

Life-writing is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Indian graphic narratives. Life-writing is an established genre in other comic and graphic novel traditions around the world. Biographies and autobiographies are produced by blending genres like coming-of-age, history, fantasy, superhero, horror, etc. The amalgamation of genres with life-writing changes the definition and pushes the boundaries of biographical and autobiographical narratives in the graphic form. The primary concern of the early Indian comics was about the nation, and there was no space for personal narratives, except for comics about national leaders and political personalities, whose life stories were narrated with ideas of nationalism and nation-making as the primary focus. Life writing, in the 21st-century Indian graphic narratives, shifts the focus from the nation to the individuals or rather on the nation through the individuals. Identity, sexuality, social justice, and artistic freedom feature as recurring themes in life-writing in Indian graphic narratives. They embody the shift in postcolonialism from the colonizer-colonized dichotomy to the subaltern within the postcolonial societies. Bhimayana, the graphic biography of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, embodies that postcolonial shift in both its form and content. The narrative is predominantly visual, and the indigenous Gond art style is used to illustrate the whole work, and the result is an amalgamation of various traditions influencing each other, resulting in the production of unique text. The intersections between the postcolonial, the intermedial, and the intercultural elements within the text make Bhimayana a culturally hybrid text that carves a niche within the local and global graphic narrative traditions.

Keywords: Life-writing, postcolonial, graphic narrative, biography, autobiography, hybridity.

Deepak Dhananjayan is a PhD research scholar from Pondicherry University, currently working on Indian postcolonial graphic narratives. His research focus is on intertextuality in graphic novels. He has previously worked on coming-of-age graphic narratives for his M.Phil dissertation, which focused on genres.

[D2-P10] Marjorie Dryburgh
Ambivalent Graphic Memoir and the Child in Wartime: Morita Kenji’s My Manchuria

The child’s experience of the Asia-Pacific War has been extensively explored in Japanese popular culture, in animated film and graphic novel, and has focused most visibly on the child as victim of conflict. This paper will shift the focus of attention to more ambivalent stories that position the child as sceptical observer of conflict and its end, in Morita Kenji’s graphic memoir My Manchuria. Morita (b.1939) belongs to a network of Japanese manga artists who grew up in civilian settler families in ‘Manchuria’ (north-east China). My Manchuria – which Morita has described as a mixture of personal memory and received family story – shifts uneasily between romanticised memories of childhood in an exoticized China and traumatic stories of defeat and postwar repatriation. Reading My Manchuria beside other graphic narratives and autobiographical essays by Morita and his peers, we find that he consistently uses the visual to unsettle the reader, and to introduce uncertainty and internal contradiction into the child’s story.

Keywords: childhood, war, memory, East Asia

Marjorie Dryburgh works on memory, life story and the social histories of north and north-east China, with specific interests in Japanese civilian engagement in the region and its social effects, the interplay between Chinese and Japanese histories, between life story and the archive, and between personal, collective and official registers of history. Her current project is a history of childhood and education in wartime China that explores the tensions between official records of the school system and oral histories of schooling as remembered by former students. She is the co-editor of Writing Lives in China, 1600-2010: histories of the elusive self (Palgrave, 2013) and author of recent articles published in History Workshop Journal, Japan Forum and Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. She is a Lecturer in Modern Chinese Studies in the School of East Asian Studies, University of Sheffield.

[D1-workshop] Darren Fisher
Reconsolidate, Revise, Reframe: Narrativising the Past with Diary Comics

Diary comics are a readily accessible artistic and narrative practice that provides at least some of the benefits demonstrated in art therapy. In this workshop I make a case for the benefits of graphic narrative reflection and self-narrativisation through diary comics, exploring this niche form of autobiography as a means of creative life writing, intentional identity formation, and constructive reframing of past experience. More than that, diary comics are offered as a portal for creativity and introspection, a methodology for slowing down, and a practice for developing sound artistic habits. This workshop seeks to outline the key distinctions between the two closely related fields of autobiographical comics and diary comics, draw useful relationships to art therapy modalities, and propose distancing and reframing as therapeutic mechanisms, via a series of practical exercises.

Keywords: Diarycomic, reframing, autobiography, drawing, renarrativisation

Self-taught in drawing and comics, I pursued a deeper level of knowledge via undergraduate studies in animation, followed by an honours year studying the sequential art medium. In my doctoral studies, I created over 1000 pages of autobiographical comic narratives, exploring visual approaches and narrative scopes. Over ten years of teaching in higher education, working with creative and interdisciplinary teams, and supervising student projects has only strengthened my enthusiasm for visual narratives. My emerging research profile was formally recognised in 2019 as a ‘Top 5’ humanities and social sciences scholar. This opportunity led to multiple outcomes, including the autobiographical explainer comic Kicked Out During Coronavirus. A successful example of visual narrative and public outreach, it was read almost 100 thousand times in its first month and attained the highest possible ranking by the national research evaluation framework, Excellence in Research for Australia.

[D1-P2] Kristina Gedgaudaitė and Enrique del Rey Cabero
Teaching at Comics/Literature Crossroads: Genres, Forms, Narratives

The paper draws on the experience of teaching with comics in order to examine the notions of fiction, life-writing and historicity. Literature has found its way into the form of comics in a range of ways, be it adaptations of literary works or non-fiction narratives using extracts from literary works as scaffolding for autobiographical experiences. By focusing on the latter, we have developed a workshop that explored comics from different transnational contexts and examined the ways in which they engaged literary fiction to tell their story. In doing so, we addressed the questions: what can comics as a form of knowledge contribute to the ways in which we frame historical events, including their ruptures, continuities, and the ways they affect ‘ordinary lives’? What different roles does literary fiction assume in this process? What is at stake when representing difficult, contested historical moments? How do graphic narratives negotiate the tension between the documentary and the aesthetic? How do different media interact on the comics page? The workshop showcased a variety of ways in which, beyond just being a means of representation, comics act to enrich our understanding of history, give voice to the marginalized communities and reframe mainstream narratives by providing alternative visions. Drawing on our experience of teaching this workshop – which included theoretical framing, close-reading exercises as well as creative exercise – we will discuss multiple ways of using comics for teaching and research, and the avenues they open up for student engagement.

Keywords: teaching with comics; autobiography; history and fiction

Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests fall within the fields of cultural memory, migration, comics and graphic novels. Kristina holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford, and has held positions as a Marilena Laskaridis Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam and Mary Seeger O’Boyle Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University. Kristina’s first monograph Memories of Asia Minor in Contemporary Greek Culture: An Itinerary, published by the Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies Series, examines the memories that shaped Asia Minor refugee identity, focusing on the ways in which these memories continue to reverberate in present-day Greece. Her current project examines Greek comics and graphic novels as a site of artistic innovation and social critique.

Enrique del Rey Cabero currently is postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alcalá and in the past has worked as Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at La Trobe University (Melbourne, Australia), University of Exeter and University of Oxford, where he was also the co-convenor of the Oxford Comics Network at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). He is the author of (Des)montando el libro. Del cómic multilineal al cómic objeto (2021), co-author of How to Study Comics & Graphic Novels: A Graphic Introduction (2021) and co-editor of Dúplex. Cómic y poesía (2020), an anthology of comics and poetry.

[D2-P7] Ajay James
The Self in Performance: Examining the Innovative Visual Storytelling in Mira Jacob’s Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

The integration of life writing genre into the comics medium has significantly expanded the expressive capabilities of autobiographies. Mira Jacob’s graphic life narrative, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (2019), showcases a distinctive visual style that challenges traditional conventions of comics and graphic narratives. This paper aims to examine the ways in which Jacob’s innovative visual storytelling—combining photographic backgrounds with the cut-outs of drawn characters—enhances the performative aspects of identity and deepens the narrative complexity. The graphic memoir’s unique approach to visual design does not merely function as a backdrop but plays a crucial role in understanding how conversations and identity performances are framed and perceived. The characters, rendered in a stylized, nearly static form, enact a series of conversational performances that delve into complex themes of race, belonging, and cultural identity.
This paper seeks to examine the performative aspects of the graphic memoir and the role of the reader as co-creator of meaning. The study will involve a detailed close reading of the selected text, employing the theoretical framework of performance theory and life writing studies, to analyse how the memoir’s visual strategies contribute to its narrative and thematic goals, fostering a nuanced understanding of the ‘self’ in relation to the broader social and political landscape. By contributing to the discourse on narrative innovation and the visual-verbal construction of the self in autobiographical comics, this paper will underscore Mira Jacob’s Good Talk as a significant work that challenges and extends the boundaries of graphic storytelling in life writing.

Keywords: graphic memoir, South Asian diaspora, performance, life writing, visual narratives.

Ajay James is a PhD scholar in English in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India. His doctoral research is centred on the study of graphic life narratives on diasporic experiences. He has presented papers at national and international conferences on areas like comics studies, cultural geography, and diaspora studies. He completed his MA in English from The English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad, India.

[D2-P9] Maria Juko
A Bacchante Unbound: Isadora Duncan’s Dance with Death

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) is remembered primarily for one thing: her dramatic death. It was her silk scarf that got entangled in the wheel of a car that broke her neck. Duncan was by that time famed for her rebellious dance routines, mostly improvised and highly sensual for high society. But she also made her name as a choreographer for various operas; Duncan’s return to the natural approach to dancing was lauded in every big city of the day. But with only a handful of live recordings of the 20th century icon, the essence of her work largely remains a mystery.
Enter Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie’s graphic novel Isadora (2017; the English translation appeared in 2019): Birmant and Oubrerie put Duncan’s meteoric rise to fame centre stage. Rather than sticking to biographical conventions, the duo seek to impress on their readers Duncan’s virtuosity, her sense of movement, and the ancient philosophies that influenced her dance.
Transferring dance to paper, the graphic novel situates Duncan as a modern muse; her dance, the graphic novel suggests, is Isadora Duncan’s escape – from society, from poverty, from loneliness. The graphic narrative is structured rather like literary fiction, with chapter titles and epigraphs introducing every new phase of Duncan’s life. The episodes captured in these chapters, I argue, are snapshots of Duncan’s life the artists embellish and envision, zooming in on Duncan’s restlessness.

Keywords: Isadora Duncan; modern dance; 20th century; adaptation;

Maria Juko completed her B.A. and M.Ed. in English and Biology for Secondary Education with a focus on Victorian Literature at the University of Hamburg. She is currently reworking her PhD on female self-reliance in the Long Nineteenth Century for publication and working on a monograph on graphic biofiction as a teacher and independent researcher in Potsdam. She researches women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, considering novels, conduct books, and self-help literature of the period. She further examines adaptations of the period in theme park rides, comics, film and literature.  Contact:; Twitter/X: @MariaJuko

[D1-P2] Julian Lawrence
Making Comics, Collaborative Practice and Critical Pedagogy: Graphic Memoir as Methodology in Arts-Based Educational Research

 This critical commentary by academic cartoonist Julian Lawrence presents an analysis of three of his published comics-based research outputs. The objective of this paper is to bring together three research projects that utilised a little-investigated genre of comics as methodology: graphic memoir. The first aim is to qualitatively reflect on the ways graphic memoir has performed as methodology in Lawrence’s research; the second aim is to explore his creative industry experiences and how these supported his collaborative comics-based educational research projects; and the third aim is to discuss the ways his comics pedagogy emerged as a critical, embodied, and material practice of academic research. In his scholarly comic outputs Lawrence applied a mixed methodology of analogue skills, digital techniques, arts-based research, cartooning, biography, and autobiography. The two journal articles and one textbook chapter discussed in this paper were narratively drawn as comics, and analyses of the works uncover a praxis braided via three contexts: Pedagogy; Collaborative practice; and Making comics.
Comic books and graphic novels are increasingly applied in educational settings, and Lawrence has observed the ways individual style and identity linked to experiences of making comics, for both himself and his students. Thus, shared paths have resulted in significant works of knowledge co-creation between Lawrence and participants. This analysis explores arts-based educational research outputs as graphic memoirs that document community-building via making comics. The projects under discussion present explorations of participatory culture and pedagogy whereby research through graphic memoir provided a novel methodology and output.

Keywords: Autobiography; critical pedagogy; collaborative practice; comics-based research; graphic memoir.

Julian Lawrence is an award-winning cartoonist and educator specializing in comic books. Born in England and raised bilingual English-French in Québec, his work has been published and displayed internationally by Fantagraphics Books, Les Editions des Plaines, Conundrum Press, National Film Board of Canada, Penguin Books, Cartoon Network, and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Julian is a Senior Lecturer and the Course Leader for the MA (Hons) Comics and Graphic Novels programme at Teesside University. Julian’s research concentrates on ethnographic investigations into the ways comics transmit narratives. His research explores freehand narrative drawing and its impact on representations of artist identity. Investigations of these topics led him to combine theories of authorship with semiotic analysis of comics and create lessons that support students develop a voice, improve literacy, and negotiate conceptions of identity.

[D1-P3] Barnaby Lickens-Richards
Do you see what I mean? Eata and Hild and their relationship to words

Eata and Hild is a comic book in progress (I have begun sharing some pages of the work on instagram: @barnabylickensrichards) which explores my relationship with my autistic, pre-verbal daughter. The work developed from an autobiographical piece of writing I produced reflecting on a picture in the National Gallery of Washington of two hermits meeting (The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, attributed to the Master of the Osservanza, Italian mid 15th century, The National Gallery of Washington). My paper will explore this ekphrastic process. It will also explore my interest in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, within which, to quote Michelle Brown, “pictures are to be read and words are to be looked at” (Bede and the Theory of Everything, London: Reaktion, 2023, p. 111). John Berger’s reflections on the nature of translation requiring a return to the preverbal4 (Confabulations, London: Penguin, 2016, pp. 3-8) will be key to articulating my understanding of the medium, as well as its obvious pertinence to my subject matter.
I hope that Eata and Hild places the reader at the site of an encounter between pictures and words. Tim Ingold’s work on the relationship between authorship and scribe, that the “hand that writes does not cease to draw” (in  (Lines, New York: Routledge, 2016, p. 128) is central to my understanding of comics as a primary and colloquial form of communication, located within an inchoate space where pictures and words can meet, merge and exchange properties. Mostly, I want the viewer to see what I mean. That the narrative is told through two characters – who are not entirely my daughter or I – will also be discussed.

Keywords: Experimentation, process, ekphrasis, image-text relations, narrativizing caring, narrativizing disability,

Barnaby Lickens-Richards is the Course Leader of MA Illustration online at Falmouth University. He developed the course and has led it for the past six years. In 2018 he received a Falmouth Excellence award for driving diversity in the workplace. Prior to this he held lecturing positions at Plymouth Art College, Stoke University and associate positions at Goldsmiths, University of Hertfordshire, University of Westminster, and UAL. Before moving into education Barnaby worked as a freelance illustrator for twenty years and produced two comic books during that time, for Blank Slate Books (UK) and TOON Books (US) respectively. He is based in London.

[D1-P4] Cheng Tju Lim
Drawn to Satire: Sketches of Cartoonists in Singapore

In 2023, I wrote and self-published / distributed the first book about pioneer cartoonists in Singapore. (The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew doesn’t count as Charlie Chan doesn’t exist) Funded by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and drawn by Koh Hong Teng, it is a comic book or graphic novel about the history of cartooning in Singapore. In this 10-minute flash contribution, I will share about the research process (based on my own writing on comics and popular culture in Singapore for the last 30 years) and using archives such as the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts library, the use of the comics medium and creative non-fiction to tell life stories and navigating funding bodies and deadlines.

CT Lim writes about history and popular culture in Singapore. He is the country editor (Singapore) for the International Journal of Comic Art and also the co-editor of Liquid City Volume 2, an anthology of Southeast Asian comics published by Image Comics. His articles and book chapters have appeared in Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, Journal of Popular Culture, Print Culture and various comics studies anthologies. His most recent creative non-fiction book is Drawn to Satire: Sketches of Cartoonists in Singapore. He reads too many comics.

[D2-P7] Lucie Lindnerová
“I’m Not Like Other Girls”: Construction of the Female Identity in Patriarchal Society

Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach that integrates insights from comics analysis, autobiographical studies, and gender studies, this paper provides an analysis of the autobiographical comic “Srdcovka” (A Matter Close to (My) Heart, 2023) by the Czech female author Štěpánka Jislová. The analysed comic depicts the journey of a young girl named Štěpánka as she grapples with the various challenges of growing up and coming of the age within the context of Czech patriarchal norms. This paper seeks to investigate the gendered construction of female identity through an examination of Štěpánka’s character development. Furthermore, the paper also delves into how social expectations and gender norms shape the protagonist’s behaviour within romantic relationships.

Keywords: autobiographical comics, Srdcovka, identity, gender

Lucie Lindnerová is a graduate of Czech Language and Literature (Bachelor’s degree) from the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. Currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Literature and Intercultural Communication at the same institution. Her academic focus centres on literary theory, narratology, memory studies, and the exploration of autobiographical writing within contemporary Czech literature. Her recent publication includes a conference proceeding paper titled “Forms of Memory and Remembering in the Works of Matěj Hořava”. When not delving into academia, she enjoys writing reviews and literary critiques focusing primarily on contemporary Czech literature, with a particular emphasis on works by women authors.

[D1-P4] Meenakshi Malhotra
Gods and Demons: Challenging  Representation and Caste in Graphic Formats

The proposed paper is on Bhimayana, based on the life and activism of Dr B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), considered “the father of the Indian constitution” and A Gardener in the Wasteland, based on the life and work of Jyotirao Phule, a 19th century Indian social reformer, whose advocacy against caste and for women’s education, is well known.
Their part fictionalized biographies can be read as creatively redesigned bio fictions with a strongly political message protesting against the persistence of caste and gender discrimination in 19th century, as well as late 20th-early 21stcentury in India. Published by Navayana, an independent publishing house which represents caste from an anti-caste perspective, the two texts present biographical accounts countering hegemonic accounts of ‘official’ Indian history and power structures of dominant historiography.
The panels in these graphic texts often challenge the representational hegemony and the modes and practices of an earlier series called the Amar Chitra Katha, loosely translatable as “Immortal Picture Book Tales” which replicate the power structures of dominant historiography. This representational dominance is secured through creating a binary where the good /right/just/gods/brahmins are all fair and cast in an Aryan mould, and others -the demons who are the antithesis of the gods, (often belonging to the lower castes) are demonized with grotesque features expressing their enormous appetites and lust for power. The imaginatively re-created biofictions of caste -activists under discussion, presented in the comic book/graphic format, challenge and recast, interrogate and critique these narratives in order to highlight the persistence of caste.

Keywords: caste, activism, social reform, representational hegemony, discrimination, binarised representation

Dr Meenakshi Malhotra, Department of English, Hansraj College, Delhi University has edited two textbooks on lifenarratives. Her recent publications include articles in international journals like JIWS (Journal of International Womens Studies) and Indialogs, in books like WGS in India: Crossings (Routledge,2019), on “Subjugated Knowledges and Emergent Voices” in Revolving around Indias (Cambridge Publishers 2020), on Kali in Unveiling Desire, (Rutgers University Press,2018). She has been part of curriculum development with several universities, a consultant for school textbooks, visiting faculty at Grinnell College, Iowa and University of Minnesota at Duluth and a Nalanda Studies Fellow. Her coedited book on Gendered Bodies in South Asia has been published by Routledge in September 2023.

[D1-P1] Dana Mihăilescu
Humor as (Graphic) Resilience and Revenge against Holocaust Perpetrators in Miriam Katin’s Autobiographical Graphic Narratives

In my presentation, I examine the forms and functions of humor in two autobiographical graphic narratives created in 2006 and 2013 by Miriam Katin, a child survivor of the Holocaust from Hungary who emigrated to the United States. I investigate what forms of wartime humor Katin maintained in her graphic narratives and what other nuances of humor she added for coping with her memories of Holocaust displacement, oppression, and trauma via which she constructed powerful auto-bio-fictional identities for herself and her mother. In the first part of the paper, I present the main characteristics of Jewish humor as self-empowerment during World War II identified by Holocaust scholars. In the second part, I build on these scholars’ findings and provide an analysis of Katin’s use of humor as (graphic) resilience and revenge against Holocaust perpetrators via which she constructs an empowered gendered auto-bio-fictional self by exploring her use of naming, code language and self-directed humor.

Keywords: Holocaust, child survivors, women, humor, resilience, revenge, graphic narrative

Dana Mihăilescu is associate professor of American Studies at the University of Bucharest. She was a Fulbright Junior grantee at Brandeis University and the Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Crown Family Center of Jewish and Israel Studies at Northwestern University. Her main research interests and publications focus on Jewish American Studies, Holocaust (survivor) testimonies, graphic narratives and Holocaust representation, trauma, ethics, and memory. She is the author of articles in venues such as Yad Vashem Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, MELUS, European Review of History, Shofar, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, East European Jewish Affairs, American Imago, and of the monograph Eastern European Jewish American Narratives, 1890-1930: Struggles for Recognition (Lexington, 2018).

[D2-P7] Ishita Mondal
Reconciling with the Altered Ill Body-self through Graphic Negotiations: A Study of Comics as a Method of Creating Identity Content.

The experience of illness creates an alienated self and subjectivity and modifies its relation to the body. As the control over the body, its abilities, and routines deteriorate rapidly, there is a destabilization of the body-self relationship towards reality. This paper argues that the process of drawing and framing oneself in the panels of comics is used by an ill person as a narrative reconciliation with their othered ill body.  It happens through the complementary processes of self-narration and embodiment. These narratives not only express but rather create “identity content”. Flexibility of the comics medium enables the ‘speakability, visibility and audibility’ (Chute 2008, 93) of the suffering subjectivities transform into identity content.  I also argue that the processes of drawing and making marks on paper are connected to the patterns of thinking and meaning making, and take the form of negotiated embodiment. Simultaneously, I try to explore intermingling of memory, imagination, and embodiment; and, the reconfiguration of the self transformed through illness. Following Taussig’s concept of “doubling the image through drawing, stroke by stroke, erasure by erasure, amounts to a laborious seeing” (89) I will study a selection of illness narratives in the comics form to suggest that the comics recreates material, spatial, and temporal experiences of illness, helps the artist come to terms with the comprehensivity of  experience and reconcile with the post-illness body-self, and help revisualise such body-self as a generative model of unmediated moderation for emotional and psychological stability.

Keywords: Illness autobiographies, Graphic Medicine, Narrative identity, Embodiment.

Ishita Mondal is a PhD research scholar in English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. She is currently working on how the process of drawing comics impacts the transformed subjectivity of the body-self in graphic narratives of illness. Her research interests include graphic medicine, comics studies, self-writing, and medical humanities.

[D2-P8] Juanita Navarro-Páez
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and Marbles: madness in their own words

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata, and Marbles, by Ellen Forney, are deeply personal narratives in which their authors narrate and reflect their experiences with depression, eating disorders, and bipolar. However, through the cross-cultural accessibility that the language of comics allows, combined with the open and straightforward way in which Forney and Nagata address their stories and decide to present themselves makes these comics not only approachable but also relevant for their readers. As Nagata explained in an interview, she tried ‘To not glorify or lower myself and my stories too much. It’ll become hard for the readers to find the stories relatable if glorified, and making myself too pathetic will just spread a lot of negative feelings’. Following the focus of the artists on achieving a balanced representation of themselves, the purpose of this paper is, from the standpoint of feminist disability studies, life writing studies, and comics studies, to look into how the visual/textual nature of comics helped Nagata and Forney to depict their experiences with mental illness in a manner that acknowledges the complexity of their life narratives, stepping away from the Western literary traditions of the “mad woman” as either a monster or a feminist icon.

Juanita Navarro-Páez is PhD Student in Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the College of Humanities. Currently part of the Shame and Medicine project.

[D2-P7] Małgorzata Olsza
Everywoman’s story: Between biofiction and zóéfiction

This paper discusses two American comics devoted to abortion located at the intersection of fact/fiction, biography/autobiography, and graphic medicine/memoir. The first is the now legendary Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli’s Abortion Eve, published in 1973 concurrently with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. The other is Leah Hayes’s Not Funny Ha Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard, published in 2015, at the time when abortion was still legal in the U.S., albeit attacked by pro-life activists and conservative politicians, which foreshadowed the political and social developments leading to the overruling of Roe v. Wade in 2022. While both comics were published 40 years apart – and symbolically mark the “beginning” and the (nearing) “end” of legal abortion in the U.S. – they are united in their interweaving of the fictional and the factual as well as the biographical and the historical to tell a story about the importance of choice, agency, and exercising one’s political, human, and reproductive rights, inseparable as they are. I argue that both comics invent/create an everywoman, a character whose struggles are empathetic, and in that sense “generic,” enough to make her stand for more than just herself. While she is, for the lack of a better word, fictional, behind every everywoman’s story there are real life dramas of individuals who remain anonymous, often for fear of public shaming. The methodological framework which comprises biofiction, comics, and feminist studies is also further rooted in the bios/ zóé distinction, where (every)woman’s story as a reproductive body (zóéfiction) clashes with her selfhood (biofiction).

Keywords: comics, comix, reproductive rights, reproductive justice

Dr Małgorzata Olsza (she/ her) is Assistant Professor at the Department of American Literature at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Her Ph.D. thesis was devoted to the poetics of the contemporary American graphic novel. She also holds an M.A. in Art History. She has published on different aspects of Polish and American comics in Polish Journal for American Studies, ImageText, and Image [&] Narrative. She has also contributed chapters to the edited collections Comic Art and Feminism in the Baltic Sea Region (Routledge, 2021), Drawing the Past, Volume 2: Comics and the Historical Imagination in the World (Mississippi UP, 2022), and Seeing Comics through Art History: Alternative Approaches to the Form (Palgrave Macmillan 2022).

[D1-P1] Soham Pradhan
Memories of the War in Waltz with Bashir

Published as a companion piece to its cinematic counterpart, Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story (2009) by Ari Folman features an autobiographical narrator who is characteristically unable to account for his actions as a former Israeli combatant in a series of Palestinian massacres. Prompted by a bizarre confrontation with one of his friends some 20 years later, the narrator’s gaze is turned inwards as he fails to remember certain incidents from Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1962. He claims the memory of the event, “[…] is not in my system”.
Over a series of interviews with fellow soldiers, the narratorial ‘I’ finds itself precariously lodged between two possible worlds – the ‘real’ and the ‘imagined’, unable to identify with either. Episodic amnesia in the narrator is visualized in distinct sepia-toned frames wherein shifts between the past and the present are never quite resolved, as the narratorial ‘I’ seems to be caught between competing visual and verbal signs. Any attempts at recollection by the narrator are open to suspicion since fictionality constitutes an integral part of how memory functions within the narrative.
The current paper argues how the ambiguous narrator in Folman’s text symbolically embodies a split in the collective psyche of an entire state that has failed to reconcile itself with the ethical dilemma of responsibility. Additionally, it will examine how the visual/verbal dialectic explores the limits of memory from within a perpetrator’s gaze and its complicitous role in the subsequent erasure of the Palestinian ‘other’.

Keywords: Memory, Palestine, Narration, Lebanon

Soham Pradhan is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India. He works on Contemporary graphic narratives of the Middle East. Soham has an MA in Literature from Hindu College, University of Delhi, India.

[D2-P6] Logan Scott
The Dark Lit-up: The Factual and Fictional in Environment and Personal Loss Narratives

I will present a selection of complete pages from my work in progress, The Dark Lit-up, an autofiction exploration of the intersection of memory and documentary within our experience of personal and environmental loss. The novel uses family photographs alongside comics and drawn depictions of the self, to ‘open out’ the narrative to the vagaries of memory and individual experience within the context of massive global change and climate anxiety.
At the heart of the challenge in communicating the scale and complexity of the climate emergency is the tension between expectations of narrative order and the non-human world’s resistance to order and linearity. One answer, according to Raglon and Scholtmeijer, is the exploration of an open narrative form in which nature can “remain ambiguous, enigmatic, and resistant to the imposition of human meaning-making exercises.” (Raglon, R. and Scholtmeijer, 260). I am proposing that explorations of memory in fiction, particularly in the context of personal loss or trauma, should reflect the same level of resistance and that the human experience is not one of linearity and narrative conclusion, but one equally enigmatic and ambiguous. This presentation explores the intersection of photography with comics and how this layering in of contradiction and ambiguity provides a route into the contemporary experience of climate change and environmental loss. 

Keywords Climate change, Trauma, Memory, Trauma, Photography, Comics

Logan Scott is a screenwriter, comics maker and doctoral candidate with the University of East Anglia, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. His PhD project is a creative and critical exploration of the application of hybrid narrative forms and abstraction as a means to communicate the scale and complexity of climate change within fiction.

[D2-P9] Arnaud Schmitt
Vicarious Narratives and Biographical Mirrors in Alison Bechdel’s Autobiographical Work

Alison Bechdel’s work might essentially be seen as autobiographical, but one cand find various levels of nonfiction in it and some of these levels are openly biographical. In Still Pictures, Janet Malcolm presents a compelling argument: “Autobiography is a misnamed genre, memory speaks only some of its lines. Like biography, it enlists letters and the testimony of contemporaries in its novelistic enterprise” (21). Indeed, autobiographers enlist multifarious forms of testimonies, unacknowledged most of the time, but in the case of Bechdel’s autobiographical work, it enlists major cultural figures such as Proust in Fun Home for instance, Virginia Woolf in Are You My Mother? or Jack Kerouac in The Secret of Superhuman Strength. The author’s intent here is not to corroborate any facts about her own life, but to reflect upon it by drawing parallels with the lives of great artists in order to clarify but also complexify aspects of her life narrative. This is to some extent a case of heterophenomenology, of vicariousness: “[…] narratives of personal experience are limited to what the teller has actually witnessed, whereas narratives of vicarious experience provide the natural vehicle for news and general information: they lend themselves to providing examples of all those events the teller has not experienced personally” (Neal R. Norrick, “Narratives of Vicarious Experience in Conversation,” 386). As a matter of fact, biography might be seen essentially as a form of vicarious narrative but biographers don’t try to experience what their subject experienced and most of the time focus on their lives as seen from an outsider’s perspective. Bechdel’s own approach that I will study in this article offers a different, multifaced form of biography, the life of the Other as seen from outside, but also from inside, spawning different degrees of identification. We will of course focus both on the textual and the visual dimension of Bechel’s way of integrating the biographical into the autobiographical.

Keywords: Visual biofiction / Alison Bechdel / vicarious narratives / biographical avatars / Auto/biography

Arnaud Schmitt is a professor of American Studies at the University of Pau. He has worked extensively on the concepts of autobiography, autofiction, and “self-narration,” and published, among others, The Phenomenology of Autobiography: Making It Real (Routledge, 2017) and more recently The Photographer as Autobiographer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022).

[D2-P6] Leonie Sharrock
Curious Tides: Processes of discovering an inherited biography

My graphic novel work-in-progress ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife’ is a fictional reflection within my own life of the life-narratives of my parents and their narratives of abandonment, war, loneliness and depression. The negative consequences of such are kept at bay by the heroine’s persevering belief in the value of ‘keeping the light’ to protect her island and all shipping against the encroaching grey tides of war. Archetypal allusions of light, greyness, sea and tides act also as metaphors for my maintaining an analogue art practice in the face of the bewildering ‘other’ of digital technologies. Questions around these issues and the processes of practice in making this work have informed my PhD-in-progress. This piece is intended as a hybrid construct of wordless and ‘narrated’ images, comics panels, text (prose and poetry), animation and sound. While the final outcome will be viewed in a flat format of print or screen, the making of the work employs varying ‘thicknesses’ of material (analogue drawing, collage, three-dimensional dioramas, CGi and 3D printing) as well as varied timing and spacing of the media employed, echoing levels of time, reality, imagination, dream and nightmare within the story. A six-page extract of the story has been published in the Sequential Artists’ Workshop’s Graphic Novel Intensive ‘Push Pull’ (anthology 2023 edition) and the full 154-page novel is due for completion this summer.

Keywords: Self and Other; Analogue; Hybrid; Imagined Biographies.

Leonie Sharrock has been an artist and story-maker at the service of teaching for over forty years, currently a part-time Senior Lecturer at the University of South Wales on the BA 2D and Stop-Motion and MA Animation courses. While recognizing the need for symbiosis with the digital, Leonie is a passionate advocate for the continuing relevance of analogue material practice at all levels of teaching and making stories within and beyond education. Leonie finds her artistic practice moving full circle through various iterations of animation and story-telling back to a love of comics, painting, puppets and collage, to seek synthesis in hybrid comic-making.

[D1-P4] Letícia Simões
Malungas: A black feminist epistemology in autofictional comics

This proposal presents a reading methodology called malunga communication: a way of producing, elaborating and distributing a black feminist discourse through cultural objects that aims to identify historical and social problems and, through a language operation, perform a leap of fabulation, on desires and memories in dialogue with other subjects to create new possibilities of existence. Among these objects are comics, a writing that is booming in the Global South, especially in Latin America. To this end, contemporary Brazilian autofictional comics production carried out by black women is analyzed, where these traits are identified: a) stories that start from an experience of the black woman author, b) experience that does not end with the director/social actress but is shared with her ancestors; c) this sharing of experience necessarily leads to a way out of oppression and subsequent construction of a future based on joy and hope. According to historian Margareth Rago (1998), “avowed feminists or not, black women force the inclusion of themes that speak about themselves, that tell their own story and that of their ancestors, and that allow us to understand the origin of beliefs and values, of many often oppressive social practices and forms of declassification and stigmatization”.

Keywords: autofictional comics; global south; self fabulation.

Letícia Simões (Salvador de Bahia, 1988). Graduated in Communication at PUC-Rio; studied Screenwriting and Documentary at the London Academy of Film, Media and TV and Visual Arts at the London Art Academy. Letícia holds a Master’s degree in Essay Cinema from EICTV (Cuba) and a Master’s degree in Contemporary Studies of Arts from UFF (Brazil). She is a PhD researcher in Communication and Information at UFRGS and a PhD Student in Literary, Cultural and Interartistic Studies at the University of Porto, Portugal. Her field of work studies the relationship between image and text through the axes of memory, gender and social history, creative writing for film and television and intersections between cinema, performance and literature.

[D2-P9] Svitlana Stupak
Through the Eyes of the Blind: A Biofictional Account of Nathan Leopold in The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry (2017)

In this paper, I read a graphic novel, The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry (2017) by David Carlson and Landis Blair, as a graphic biofiction. The central figure in the graphic novel is Charlie Rizzo, who narrates the story of his father Matthew – a former convict who lost his vision in an armed robbery earlier in life. Matthew was taught Braille by Nathan Leopold – a criminal, notorious for committing the “Crime of the Century” together with Richard Loeb. When telling the young Charlie about his prison life and his friendship with Leopold, Matthew first frames it through fictional stories. The central story of a hunting accident, made up to explain his blindness to his son, serves as an ironic parable of his criminal past. This tension between the factual and the fictional/imagined is relativized within the framework of the “truth of imagination” that the character of Matthew Rizzo asserts.
In examining the biofictional components in The Hunting Accident (2017), I provide a comparative analysis of Leopold’s written autobiography, his later biography, and the graphic novel, which singles out the biofictional identities they feature, on par with the moral closures that these works construct. By doing so, I illustrate how the graphic style and visual metaphors in the graphic novel underscore the constructed-ness of Leopold’s narrative identity that comes to being through the gaze of the intradiegetic narrators of Matt and Charlie Rizzos. Incidentally, the narratorial function of the blind Matt as the monstrator serves as an ironic meta-commentary on the hybrid nature of knowledge in biofiction.

Keywords: biofiction, truth of imagination, parable, Leopold and Loeb, blindness.

Svitlana Stupak is a PhD student (2022 – ongoing) in American Studies at the University of Siegen, Germany, working on her dissertation project “The Construction of Irony in American Graphic Narratives at the Turn of the 21stCentury.” Her research interests include: US-American and Ukrainian graphic narratives, postclassical narratology, autobiography/autofiction, postcolonial comics, multimodal irony. Relevant publications: “In the Eye of the Blind: A Biofictional Account of Nathan Leopold in The Hunting Accident (2017)”, forthcoming in The Comics Grid, Special Collection: Graphic Biographical Fiction.; and“Playing on the Expectations: Seth’s It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (1993–1996) as Graphic Autofiction”, Anglia, 141(1), 2023, pp. 117-134.

[D2-P10] Carole-Anne Sweeney
Reading (at) home with the queer child: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006).

In Fun Home, Bruce Bechdel’s reverence for decorative artifice in his compulsive house restoration project produces a kind of still-life domesticity resulting in the conflation (and confusion) of kinship and aesthetics whereby he treats ‘his furniture’ like his children and ‘his children like furniture’ (14) and, accordingly, his children become aesthetic accoutrements within a carefully cultivated domestic space that is ‘not a real home at all, but a simulacrum of one’ (170). Full of ‘dizzying displays of artfulness’ (9), the Bechdel home is a hyper-aestheticized domestic environment set against an ‘artic’ emotional climate (67) in which the family struggle to cohere affectively. To the young Alison, the elaborate restoration of the Gothic house hints at a form of clandestine encryption that she finds difficult to decipher as a queer child hyper-sensitive to the emotional tones of intimate spaces wholly dominated by her father, the ‘savant of surface’ (6). She comes to understand that her family home, however stylishly restored, does not facilitate familial attachment but, rather, seems to encourage inscrutable silences and gaps that she finds hard to read. Through her encounter with the narrative experiments of modernist literature, in particular Ulysses, and a particular type of theocratic approach to reading, Alison learns to negotiate an ‘epistemological crisis’ in her early life, eventually becoming an adept reader (and interpreter) of her home surroundings and, in time, her own sexuality. Using Eve Sedgwick’s influential ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,’ this paper examines the domestic space of home depicted in this graphic novel as an urtext that shapes young Alison’s subsequent reading and interpretative practices. 

Carole-Anne Sweeney is Professor of Modern Literature in the Department of English at Goldsmiths. She has written three books, From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism and Primitivism; Michel Houellebecq and the Literature of Despair and Vagabond Fictions: Gender and Experiment in British Women’s Literature 1945-1970. Her new monograph, Home Bodies: Domesticity, Dwelling, and Feminism in Contemporary Women’s Writing, examines ethics and embodiment in the new feminist domestic.

[D1-P5] Athmika Tarun
Documenting Dissociative Identity Disorder: History, Experience and Authenticity

Although Sybil and the lesser-known Michelle Remembers—both narratives about Multiple Personality Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder aka DID) written by psychologically distressed women—were debunked in the 90s for being misrepresentations and fraudulent, there has been a mushrooming of DID narratives regardless. What has accompanied the popularity of DID texts, alongside other mad narratives, post-Sybil is a hermeneutics of suspicion, i.e., a general scepticism among the public regarding the validity of some of the medical diagnoses—not least DID. Add to this, the first-person narrative account, in general, by patients with mental disorders is notoriously treated as unreliable by physicians and the public. In the post-Flexnerian world, the patient’s narrative is viewed with discomfort by physicians who have come to depend more on ‘impartial’ clinical data obtained from various technical manipulations of the Foucauldian clinical gaze and on their positivist scientific expertise. In such an economy of suspicion, DID narratives such as L. B. Lee’s graphic memoir All in the Family are invariably forced to engage with the question of authenticity. In this paper, I will show how Lee’s memoir uses the visual and verbal tracks of comics to establish the authenticity of their subjective experience. I will also demonstrate that by engaging the history of MPD/DID—referring to historically specific judicial cases, individuals and organizations which were instrumental in delegitimizing victims of childhood sexual abuse and their recovered memories—Lee’s memoir not only lends a sense of authenticity to the narrative but also functions as a critique of an entire ‘truth regime’ which favours the scientific over the subjective.

Keywords: madness, narrative, graphic memoir, dissociative identity disorder

Athmika Tarun is a PhD student in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Delhi. He is researching representations of madness in contemporary literature through the frameworks of narrative theory, medical humanities and mad studies. He graduated from the University of Hyderabad with a Master’s degree in English in 2020. He can be contacted via email at

[D1-P5] Kathleen Venema
Aneurin Wright’s Things to do: Comics and End-of-Life Care

Twelve years after his father’s death, Aneurin (Nye) Wright published Things to do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park … When You’re 29 and Unemployed (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015) (hereafter Things), a 300+ page graphic memoir documenting the six months he spent providing primary care as his father died of emphysema.  Already unique in the small corpus of graphic caregiving memoirs because it is authored by and is about a young male caregiver, Things is a startling, literally and figuratively outsized work of constant surprises.  Ostensibly a chronological account of 31 things (e.g., “Counting Pills,” “Learning about Hospice,” “Vengeance”) Nye learns while caring for the father from whom he has often been estranged, Things deploys noir, superhero, and unpredictably fantastical elements to grapple with the anomalous situation in which Nye finds himself.  It also simultaneously explores late 20th century American masculinity and family estrangement; Nye’s related struggles with depression and mental illness; the tobacco industry’s tentacled capacity to create fatal addictions; the intricate ways in which life and death are interwoven, despite contemporary American culture’s framing of death as failure; and the possibility that life endures after death.  This paper focuses on tensions, in Things, between realistic elements and the fantastical, its documenting of the documentary process and its flights of imagination.  Ultimately, the paper argues that it is comics’ capacity to simultaneously depict the real material world and entirely other realms of existence that renders Things a profound exploration of the permeable nature of life and death. 

Keywords:  Aneurin Wright; caregiving memoirs; family estrangement; fathers; life and death

Kathleen Venema, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, English Department, University of Winnipeg, where she works on life writing about ageing, illness, disability, and care. She has published several articles and book chapters on graphic narratives of end-of-life care, most recently, “Picturing What Happens at the End: Graphic Narratives of Ageing and End-of-Life,” in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Ageing in Contemporary Literature and Film (2023) and “‘See this scar on my hand?’: Women’s Graphic Narratives of Ageing and Care,” forthcoming in Women’s Narratives of Ageing and Care (De Gruyter 2024).  Her 2018 Alzheimer’s matriography, Bird-Bent Grass: A Memoir, in Pieces (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) (audiobook 2022), examines spiritually grounded commitments to social justice, the complexity of international development, and dementia’s dispossessions, as they are negotiated in epistolary discourse.  Bird-Bent Grass was shortlisted for the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-fiction (2019).

[D1-P1] Jeanne-Marie Viljoen
Countering confinement and using comics to make life ‘breathable’

This paper examines a creative, non-fictional graphic narrative, Mohammad Saba’aneh’s (2021) ‘Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine’ depicting the experiences of Palestinians across various sites of confinement, including the author’s own as a resident of the West Bank and as a political prisoner in the notorious Naqab prison in Ramallah.  The formal innovations of this narrative with its magic realist influences, striking back and white images (reminiscent of Spiegelman’s challenging early autobiographical work), experimental panel structures and use of the double verbal-visual code of comics, make it a powerfully affective tool for sharing a range of experiences of extreme and ongoing confinement.  With this it combines reflections on Mbembe’s work on confinement in ‘The Universal Right to Breathe’ to explore how ‘breathable’ lives may be facilitated in the face of the unequal exposure to risk death brought into focus by the current Covid-19 pandemic, which further shapes the context in which these works have come about (Mbembe & Shread 2021). Methodologically, this paper shifts the focus from singular normative centres such as Western brands of humanitarianism to draw upon Africa’s advanced knowledge of diversity and inclusion and her authority in using the arts for creating knowledge of isolation’s counterpart – ‘planetary entanglement’. It finds not only that a radical re-evaluation and reimagination of the necessity of communion of both human and non-human life is required but that art (such as Saba’aneh’s) is vital to address contemporary intractable and exclusionary politics.

Keywords: planetary entanglement; Achille Mbembe; Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine; The Right to Breathe; affect; comics

Jeanne-Marie Viljoen ( is a contemporary literature and visual culture scholar at the University of South Australia where she teaches and researches visual storytelling as a way of solving social problems and imagining new futures for diverse, cohesive societies. She is a scholar with an emerging international profile in literary trauma studies, focusing on decolonial contexts of violence and Program Director of the Bachelor of Creative Industries at the University of South Australia. Her interdisciplinary international training as well as living and working in contested states with violent histories (such as Apartheid South Africa, Cyprus & Australia) drive her engagement with marginalization and decolonization. Her current projects include: writing a book in graphic medicine about how comics may help us envision women’s mental health; being chief investigator on a grant project supporting neurodiverse comics creators and contributing to a handbook on southern perspectives in global film

[D2-P6] Siddiqua Fatima Virji
Embroidered Narratives: Spaces and Boundaries in Embroideries, Marjane Satrapi’s 2003 Comic

Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries takes us through a conversation between women over cups of Samovar after lunch. What follows is a session of the ventilation of the heart where the women discuss marriage, love, men, sex and virginity, and society’s expectations from women regarding the same in the Satrapi social circle back in Iran. The comic flows seamlessly between diverse topics, weaving its panels together like an embroidered tapestry. This paper explores the semi-autobiographical narrative that the author represents in the comic, using a theoretically guided visual analysis of the unbound panels of the comic narrative, featuring the ideas of Will Eisner and Pascal Lefevre. I propose that the lack of boundaries on the panels is not just metaphoric but is also a characteristic choice for a text with such an unconstrained theme, keeping in mind that form and content in literature are interdependent. This study aims to bring unconventional forms of life writing into academia, subverting dominant ideas of what autobiography and life writing must look like, allowing for more life stories to become part of popular scholarly discourse.

Keywords: Marjane Satrapi, feminist discourse, women’s lives, comics, graphic narratives

Siddiqua Fatima Virji is currently a PhD scholar at IIIT-H and has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from EFLU, Hyderabad. She has been an Urdu enthusiast since she was in school where she studied Urdu as her second language. She enjoys reading different genres of poetry in English, Urdu and Hindi. She has publications in topics like diaspora and Urdu literature and has recently published translations of Urdu poetry in the peer-reviewed journal PR&TA (Practice, Research and Tangential Activities).

[D1-P5] Haiqi Yang
Embodying anxiety disorders in Auto/Bio/Fictional graphic narratives

Anxiety disorders could be the most prevalent mental illness around the world; and nearly one-third of the population is affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, but more than half of the patients do not recognise their anxiety disorders and do not seek treatment (Bandelow and Michaelis, 2015; Cía et al., 2018). As graphic narratives (comics and graphic novels) about illness can help readers understand them in an engaging way (Williams, 2012), comics and graphic novels about anxiety disorders can potentially aid people in better understanding and dealing with them. However, few comics and graphic novels narrate this theme, and their narrative effectiveness of communicating anxiety disorders has rarely been examined.
Since 2015, the number of graphic narratives about anxiety disorders has significantly increased, and four representative works are selected for the analysis in this paper: Marie and Worrywart (Woodall, 2015), When Anxiety Attacks (Koscik, 2015), Monstermind (Alfonso, 2021). The effectiveness of their visual and textual narration will be discussed and compared. Moreover, in the dominant theory for embodying illness in graphic narratives – visual metaphor theory, it has been stated that autobiographical graphic narratives can embody feelings and experience more vividly for readers (El Rafie, 2019). However, readers might have similar mental conditions as shown in the comics and graphic novels about anxiety disorders, so reading intensive depictions and the resulting embodiment might dramatically raise their anxiety level. In this case, the balance between narrative effectiveness and emotional safety will be discussed in relation to autobiographical and fictional storytelling.

Keywords: anxiety disorders, visual metaphor, embodiment

Haiqi Yang is a PhD candidate at the University of the Arts London (London College of Communication), where she is deeply involved in researching Portraying Anxiety Disorders in Picturebooks: An Exploration into Using Picturebooks as an Interface between Therapists and Young Adults 18-34. As a member of the Comics Research Hub and Illustration Studies Hub in UAL, she actively researches how graphic narratives can support healing and understanding. Haiqi is also a freelance illustrator and has participated in international competitions. Her illustrations have been recognised with shortlisting, including The Great Art Times Illustration Award and the Hiii Illustration International Competition. Her two picturebooks about anxiety disorders are available at GOSH! Comics in London, and have been collected by UAL library. In her ongoing journey, Haiqi remains committed to her dual passions for education and illustration, endeavouring to merge academic inquiry with creative expression to enhance her understanding of mental health.


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