CONFERENCE TALK: I Sing the Body Comic: Breaking the Skinned Surfaces of Empaneled Corporeality
At the 2014 Comics and Medicine conference in Baltimore, I presented an attempt to theorize the relationship between comic form, embodiment, and rupture in a series of graphic narratives, articulating what I call “the body comic” that emerges from comics’ interplay between surface/image and depth/text. Here’s the abstract:
Mainstream graphic narratives have often manifested an obsession with the secret: the identity simultaneously withheld and constituted by a cape, a mask, a suit, a pair of glasses. Comics as a medium has proven exceptionally fruitful for such explorations more broadly, leveraging prose and poetry’s articulations of interiority and visual media’s capturing of surfaces (faces, body language, outward presentation) to interrogate these intersections between surface and depth, public and private, the presented and the withheld. Independent comics, too, have taken up the medium’s affinity for the porous boundaries between inner and outer self, opening closets (of sexuality, disability, trauma) and making public and legible the private narratives on which so many graphic memoirs hinge.
Within this context, I seek to understand how the human body in graphic narratives functions as a site for and of these boundaries and boundary-crossings, and to what extent the penetration or dissolution of such inside/outside boundaries inheres in the medium itself. How do the interplay of surface and depth in sequential art—the static image whose interior depths are only revealed or implied in juxtaposition, sequencing, and textual narration—render a theory of the body, and of the relationship between the body’s inside and outside? How does comics’ tendency toward revealing the depths underneath a surface constitute a theory not only of public and private but of skin and viscera? How does the relationship between bodily insides and outsides in graphic narratives shape our understanding of public and private, and of how public/private boundaries are mediated bodily? What is the relationship between, on the one hand, the secrets whose potential disclosure drives so many graphic narratives and, on the other hand, the kind of revelation enacted by wounds, infections, and other moments in which the safe corporeal interior becomes unsafe and/or exterior? How does the form of comics, from iconic representations that eschew visual depth to the photorealism of medical illustration aesthetics, suggest the body as something always on the verge of puncture or eruption? How do such artists as Charles Burns, Phoebe Gloeckner, and Ken Dahl construct “the body comic” as one whose insides are never quite isolated from or by its outsides?
And here is the Powerpoint, for some sense of the particular aesthetics I’m interested in here: