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Saturday, July 9 • 13:00 - 14:30
Session 4C: Trauma and Grief

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Presence and Disappearance: The Surface of the Page and Narrating Sexual Abuse in the Works of Debbie Dreschler and Katie Green - Eszter Szép

The paper focuses on autobiographically motivated graphic narratives, namely Debbie Drechsler’s Daddy’s Girl (1996) and Summer of Love (2002) and Katie Green’s Lighter than My Shadow (2013), and examines representations of the violated female body in relation to the surface of the page. Both authors use the expressive power of background, and build on the emotional potential of patterns against which the body is performed. Furthermore, both Drechsler and Green utilize the notions of presence and absence their visual representations of deeply traumatized heroines. Drechsler deconstructs the idea of form and background in her tragic and disturbing stories about incest: she often visually disguises her female protagonists by making them blend in with backgrounds. Simultaneously, her work features backgrounds of dark rhythmic patterns, minute strokes and curves as a canvas on which the character’s emotions and moods can be represented. Green uses a system of visual markers of anorexia, anxiety and guilt – such as the gaping mouth or the black cloud of scribble – not only to indicate the emotional state of her protagonist, but on a different level also to structure the pages and the connect layout with content. In the works of both Drechsler and Green, emotionally motivated visual markers eventually influence the very structures of the narratives, and in Green’s case, the very format of the published work. The very body of this heavy, more than 500-page long book that promises lightness in its title can be interpreted as a metaphor for the body – think, for instance, about its scrapbook-like design and the disintegration of the protagonist’s body. Apart from form and pattern, absence will also be studied: Green’s sequence of black (142-145) and white (384-386, 388) pages will be interpreted as performative gestures and performative spaces where the anorexic body is present by its disappearance

Act Yourself Out - Jules Valera

In my paper I’ll be discussing themes of performativity and dissociation through an exploration of my own comics work, and the process I undertook making them. I’ll be examining four of my current published strips, as well as work from an upcoming anthology collecting autobiographical comics drawn during different points in a mental health breakdown I suffered between 2011-2013.The first part of my talk will discuss the “acting out” of a breakdown – the social performance that we put ourselves through in order to maintain a “normal” appearance which, ironically, is often what pushes us over the edge into the socially unacceptable chaos of a mental health crisis. I’ll also talk about the phenomenon of dissociation as a means to travel freely between key events in our lives, our different identities, and the spaces they occupy. The second part will discuss the process of drawing as performance, talking about my experience of using drawing comics both as an immediate substitute for self-harm, and in the long term, to delay the process of really acknowledging what had happened to me. I will talk about the process of carefully excising the narrative from my own recollection of events, drawing parallels between the organic process of drawing and the process of exposure therapy – a talk therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder which focuses on putting traumatic memories into order and establishing a completed narrative, which the patient can then lay to rest. The final part will address moving on from a traumatic event, the process and performance of recovery, discussing certain elements of recovery which are necessary to ‘act out’ in order to rejoin society and “pass” as mentally well. I will also talk about performing identity, reconciling the shadow identity of “traumatised” and “mentally ill” as a part of the whole. 

Graphic Psyche: The Healing Process of Creating Humour of Out of Tragedy - Emily Steinberg

To process is human. To laugh is divine. Creatives are often plagued with depression. I was/am not exempt, and slogged through some extremely bleak times as a young and not-so-young struggling artist. One way for me to process the grimness, in addition to therapy and meds, was to put down the brush and begin to write and draw it out. The combination of words and images proved to me way more powerful than either practice on their own. The act of creating a visual narrative recasts a depressive experience into something new, less painful and sometimes even laugh out loud funny. In Graphic Therapy, a memoir in black and white, published SMITH Magazine, 2008-2010, the central relationship is between the author and Vic, her shrink. Each chapter is called a session and the duo examine Nazi-phobia, Weight Issues, pesky singledom and the ongoing artistic existential abyss with vividly blunt drawing and words.

Broken Eggs, published Cleaver Magazine, 2014, is a 67-page visual narrative that focuses exclusively on infertility and my experience of the fertility treatment nightmare. Here, images, are wildly, sometimes grossly, exaggerated. Color is flung about as emotion and words, repeated and enlarged, become a big part of each page composition. Images convey a sense of loss of control, of feeling like an experimental animal. Currently I'm exploring my mother's 6-year stint with frontal lobe dementia and the subsequent familial psychic fallout in a new story called The Gondolier in the Bathroom.

These stories are a way to process and in effect neutralize acutely painful life events. My hope, in creating such visual narratives, is to give others a voice they can identify with, force open the shrouded box of pain around such intimate issues and allow the light in.



Elizabeth MacFarlane: The Body is Just a Metaphor for the Soul: Performing grief in the work of Leela Corman and Tom Hart

This paper discusses the comic narrative as a dynamic space in which to re-enact, re-live, and re-tell experiences of grief, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The paper will focus on Tom Hart’ s 2016 book Rosalie Lightning and Leela Corman’s 2015 comic PTSD: The Wound That Never Heals, both of which deal with the death of Corman and Hart’ s young daughter. About writing the book, Hart has said: “The attempt to relive was largely through the act of drawing and writing, in that order. The writing was the organizing principle, but the drawing was the reliving.” The paper draws on texts by Roland Barthes and John Berger quoted in Hart’ s book to investigate both the act of image-making, and the act of perceiving an image as playing crucial roles in dividing the self from the self’s grief. In each case –drawing an image and perceiving an image – the grieving self is performing its grief upon the stage of the page. This performance – a separation of self from role – is a step toward healing for Corman and Hart. As Hart’s avatar observes, during a counselling session: “I know [the counsellor] wants me to externalize my anger, chop wood, start hitting things... But he doesn’t know I do this, I write and I draw – it serves the same purpose.” I will argue for image-making and image-perceiving as processes of re-living grief and trauma, that re-living is a means of understanding traumatic events as stories, and that performing one’s traumatic stories is a means of being able to live with them.

avatar for Andrew Godfrey

Andrew Godfrey

PhD Student, University of Dundee
Andrew Godfrey is a PhD student in English at the University of Dundee and graduate of the university's MLitt Comic Studies program. His research focuses on the links between comics and performance within Graphic Medicine with a particular focus on liminality, the empty space, materiality... Read More →

avatar for Elizabeth MacFarlane

Elizabeth MacFarlane

Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Melbourne
I’m a writer, researcher, teacher and publisher in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. I wrote a PhD on the critical-creative nexus in J. M. Coetzee’s novels, and in 2013 published my fictocritical book Reading Coetzee. I teach Graphic Narratives, Theory for Writing... Read More →
avatar for Emily Steinberg

Emily Steinberg

Artist/Graphic Novelist, Penn State University/Abington College
I am a painter and a graphic novelist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. To process is human. To laugh is divine. Creatives are often plagued with depression. I was/am not exempt and slogged through some extremely bleak times as a young and not so young struggling artist. One way... Read More →
avatar for Eszter Szép

Eszter Szép

I am a doctoral candidate from Budapest, Hungary.
avatar for Jules Valera

Jules Valera

Comic artist, event sketcher, illustrator, animator, full time snail.

Saturday July 9, 2016 13:00 - 14:30 BST
Lecture Theatre 3