Hybridity and Comics

by Stephanie Cawley

Not only are countless summer Hollywood blockbusters based on plotlines or characters lifted from the pages of DC and Marvel superhero stories, but “literary” graphic novels have found their way into college courses, best book lists from TIME magazine, and even earned their own New York Times best seller lists. Within academia, analysis, research, and pedagogical advice pertaining to comics has begun to appear in greater frequenty in scholarly journals. In light of this boom of interest in comics, I decided to examine Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic through a lens of postcolonial feminism. I chose these works primarily because I adore them, but also because I think it is important to contribute to the discussion about these works from this particular perspective.

What I discovered through my research and analysis is that the choice of comics as a medium for these authors, and others, is significant to the overall meaning and impact of their works because comics, and graphic novels, are hybrid forms. The use of a medium considered culturally “lowbrow” implies affiliation with the marginalized, or a resistance to dominant (more well-respected) cultural forms. Additionally, specific formal aspects of comics, such as the framed panels and blank “gutters” between them, contribute greatly to the meaning and effect on the reader of these works, demanding greater reader participation and interaction. In narratives like Persepolis and Fun Home, which directly engage with hybridity in their content, these formal elements can even be read as a direct metaphor for postcolonial theories of hybridity.

In this project I examine the relationship between the formal elements of comics and the political content and context of works like Persepolis and Fun Home. Ultimately, I see comics as a particularly apt medium for postcolonial writers, or for any writers who are presenting stories that show characters transgressing socially constructed and accepted categories of identity in the course of the formation of their own hybrid identities. In the case of Persepolis, the narrative of the formation of the narrator’s hybrid identity between Western and Iranian cultures, and her postcolonial critique of Western representations of Middle Eastern women, are amplified through her use of the comics medium.

Works Cited

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