Review: Transatlantic Women in the Trenches, Transatlantic Literary Women Series

The day’s discussions were thought-provoking and engaging, in a time when coverage of senseless conflicts and rampant inequality still dominate the media. In the centenary of America’s entry into a war which opened wide the once unassailable values of Western civilisation, the event was a welcome engagement with women’s contributions to this period, and how these experiences were represented in their works and their lives. From unique perspectives on gender to wavering sentiments of nationhood, the event set the stage for a number of exciting new projects. Continue reading

‘Urban Comix’: Collaboration, Reconstruction and Resistance in the Divided City

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

On Sunday 25th October 2015, commuters passing through downtown Cairo’s Ramses Martyrs and Shohadaa metro station discovered large, sequential images plastered to the walls of the platforms. Blown up so that they ran almost ceiling to floor, these graphic interventions in urban space began to receive a great deal of attention from Cairenes waiting for their next train. The comic tackled a pervasive form of urban violence experienced by many women living and travelling in Cairo. The UN records that a 99.3% of women in Egypt are victims of sexual harassment and, perhaps unsurprisingly, 91% of Egyptian women feel unsafe in the streets of the city. Continue reading

Review: Historical Fiction in the United States since 2000

Historical fiction is sometimes characterized as genre fiction—not serious enough to be considered literature—yet the discussions throughout the day demonstrated that this dismissal is an unjust generalisation. Much of the work discussed at this symposium has been both commercially and critically successful. Panels reflected ongoing debates about cultural memory, race, futurity and the self-reflexivity of postmodern representation in historical fiction. By twisting or revising facts, many of these texts ask readers to consider how history is told, which stories are privileged and how the traumas of the past continue to inform our contemporary moment. Continue reading

‘Homo Abominum Americana’: The cultural tradition of the vampire in Snyder and Albuquerque’s American Vampire (2010).

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

ne of the most popular cultural figures to be adapted within the comic book format is that of the vampire, a creature whose murky cultural origins have been prone to evolution throughout its long and varied history. A staple of both European and American Gothic traditions as well as the American horror comics of the 1950s, vampire literature has long been associated with the lower end of the established critical canon, particularly due to its sometimes violent and sexually explicit content within the ‘low’ form of the comic. Yet, such an elitist view is to ignore some of the interesting insights and cultural evolutions that can be uncovered within the portrayal of the comic book vampire. Continue reading

Beyond the Refrigerator: Superheroines and Sexual Trauma as Disability

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

First published in 1988, Batman: The Killing Joke is regarded as one of the most controversial graphic novels of all time. Much of the criticism revolves around the violence inflicted upon superheroine Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, who is shot and sexually assaulted by the Joker. According to writer Alan Moore, the decision to paralyze Gordon received little pushback from editor Len Wein, who approved it, saying, “Yeah, okay, cripple the bitch”. (Figure 1) Although Moore has distanced himself from the story in recent years, the controversy surrounding his graphic novel remains. A 2016 animated film adaptation received mixed reviews, with many criticizing the role of Gordon as a sexual object, disabled at the hands of the Joker. Continue reading

British Association for American Studies Annual Conference 2017, Day Two

Following Thursday’s schedule, reviewed by Coco d’Hont, the second day of the annual British Association for American Studies conference engaged with some of the most pertinent questions facing the United States today, concerning marginality and oppression in terms of race, class and gender from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Continue reading

Disavowal of the Innocent: ‘Sally the Sleuth’ and the Survivor Narrative

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

For comic scholars who recognize this quote, it might elicit a reluctant smile and almost certainly an exasperated sigh. For those unfamiliar, it is the dialogue from a single panel reproduced in Frederic Wertham’s exposé on the dangers of comics, Seduction of the Innocent. An unsuspecting milkman discovers a woman’s corpse seductively prone on her front lawn. A trickle of blood from her temple and her torn and disheveled dress lead Wertham to the simple caption, ‘A girl raped and murdered’. To Wertham, this out-of-context image was indicative of the glamorization of sex and violence in 1950s comics. He believed comics both provided a ‘blueprint’ for juvenile delinquency and conditioned children to yearn for the thrill of a life of crime. While we may have progressed beyond his xenophobia towards the medium, we may be inadvertently repeating his mistakes. Continue reading

Introduction to the Special Blog Series

‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

Despite being among the most culturally iconic narrative forms in the world, comics is only just starting to break away from its ignominious past and claim its rightful place alongside film and literature in the American canon. Since the 1970s, the form has grown massively, with its popularity moving beyond the original reader stereotypes and into new territory. As with gaming, which typically focusses on a narrow demographic of participants and materials, popular understandings of comics is liable to focus only on the mainstream (which includes the publishers Marvel, DC and Dark Horse) and ignore the huge number of other texts, which may be seen as outliers. This could not be further from the truth. The form is as diverse as any other, with examples in every conceivable genre and spanning all themes. Continue reading