The case for graphic counter-memorials in the comics of Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman, and Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli
thesisposted on 24.05.2021, 07:08 by Brooke Winterstein
My dissertation considers a group of contemporary comics about war by Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman, and Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, as examples of a larger genre I call the graphic counter-memorial. Graphic counter-memorial comics address history, memory, and trauma as they depict the political, violent, and collective aspects of war and social conflict. I argue that the particular comics I study in this dissertation, which mingle fiction and non-fiction and autobiography as well as journalism, follow the tradition of the counter-monuments described by James E. Young. Studying commemorative practices and counter-monuments in the 1980s, Young notes a generation of German artists who resist traditional forms of memorialization by upending the traditional monument structure in monument form. Young looks at the methods, aims, and aesthetics these artists use to investigate and problematize practices that establish singular historical narratives. Like these works of public art, the graphic counter-memorial asks the reader to question ‘official history,’ authenticity, and the objectivity typically associated with non-fiction and reporting. I argue that what these comics offer is an opportunity to re-examine comics that incorporate real and familiar social and historical events and wars. Comics allow creators to visually and textually overlap perspectives and time. Graphic counter-memorials harness the comic medium’s potential to refuse fixed narratives of history by emphasizing a sense of incompleteness in their representation of trauma, memory, and war. This makes possible a more complex and rich way to engage with Western society’s relationship to the past, and in particular, a more complex way of engaging with collective memory and war. Their modes of mediating history produce political intervention through both form and content.