The Auto / Bio / Fiction Series: Maaheen Ahmed and Elisabetta Varalda

The last seminar in this year’s Auto / Bio / Fiction series turns to graphic narratives:

7 March 2024, 5.30pm UTC (online)

Maaheen Ahmed, “Representations of children in autobiographical and autofictional graphic novels”

Maaheen AhmedTurning to contemporary alternative publications from North America, France and Belgium, this talk delineates the contours of childish elements in graphic novels to show how they figure as the unsaid in a transatlantic comics history marked by the emergence of the graphic novel: in the zealous ‘growing up’ of comics, the childish and childlike has been reconfigured to acquire a more marginalized, heavily connoted space within comics for adults. In the now acclaimed, but once difficult to publish comics by Lynda Barry, in Dominique Goblet’s partially autobiographical Pretending is Lying or more recently Weng Pixin’s Let’s Not Talk Anymore and Disa Wallander’s Becoming Horses, the childish and childlike are activated to open the spaces and meaning-making potential of the graphic novel in affective ways.

I examine the possibilities of understanding these graphic novels’ incorporation of childlike elements – ranging from the collaging of children’s drawings, the interweaving of imitations thereof, to the representation of children’s spaces, imaginations and logics – from the angles of affective connections, material interventions into the possibilities of communicating and expressing through drawing and the essence of drawing itself (teaching and transmitting it, unlearning it) to the hybrid, word-image spaces of the graphic novels themselves and how the space of the book-object is reconfigured through childlike elements.

Elisabetta Varalda, “Virginia Woolf’s life in images and words”

Over the last few years there has been a considerable increase all over Europe in graphic biographical narratives, which delve into Woolf’s life and push the boundaries of storytelling by using images as well as words.

The graphic biographies examined in this paper alternate between two different modes of engagement, since they not only recreate a life by borrowing facts, details, and events from Woolf’s real life, but they are also intertextually related to her fictional world. They not only depend on minute factual research on Woolf’s life, but also on the authors’ imaginative and creative ability. These narratives, which are now in the literary mainstream, share many characteristics with biofiction, since both undoubtedly have their roots in the practice of life writing but they free themselves from the limitations of traditional life writing and have developed as separate and distinct aesthetic practices.

As Virginia Woolf becomes the protagonist of graphic biographies, the focus of this paper, the artists highlight the palimpsestic nature of life writing through their versions of Woolf’s life story and often succeed in inviting an active participation on the reader’s part and in engaging them in a more emotional connection than prose.


Attendance is free but booking is required to receive a link to attend. Booking has now closed. Watch the video recording of the seminar:

The speakers

Maaheen Ahmed is associate professor of comparative literature at Ghent University, Belgium. She is author of Openness of Comics and Monstrous Imaginaries: The Legacy of Romanticism in Comics (both published by the UP of Mississippi). In addition to editing several volumes on comics, including The Cambridge Companion to Comics (CUP) and Comics Memory: Archives and Styles with Benoît Crucifix (Palgrave), she has published in journals such as European Comic Art, Children’s Geographies and Comicalités. She is currently the principal investigator of a multi-researcher project on children and/in European comics. For more information please visit the project website:

Elisabetta Varalda completed her PhD in English Literature at the Sapienza University of Rome, after defending a thesis entitled ‘Postmodernist Rereadings of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse’, which explores the influence of Woolf’s novel on postmodernist biofiction. Her research work benefited from a period as a visiting scholar at the English Department of Reading University. She is a member of the Italian Virginia Woolf Society. She has collaborated on a collection of essays published by Cambridge Scholars Press called Biofiction in Context. Her contribution is entitled “‘Time Passes’ in Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan”.
She has presented papers exploring the influence of Virginia Woolf’s life and works on Postmodernist biofictions and graphic biographical narratives at many international conferences.