Finding Closure: Trauma Narratives in Graphic Literatures

Katharina Harling, Bates College


Recent years have seen a rise in nonfiction graphic novels that deal with traumatic experiences and their impacts that defy ordinary processes of thought and communication. From the repressive traumatic silence of familial pain to the widespread trauma shared by communities in times of conflict and brutal bloodshed, the focus of these works are served well by the visualverbal form of the genre. This thesis examines the ways in which the graphic novel form successfully represents trauma by bringing together two subgenres: the memoiristic graphic novel and the journalistic graphic novel. Looking specifically at Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Goražde, and Art Spiegelman’s In The Shadow of No Towers, it combines trauma theory and literary comic criticism to investigate the way the form works to articulate the psychoanalytic conditions of traumatic experience and memory. By engaging a parallel analysis of the two subgenres, this thesis also examines how the form enables meaningful representation of widespread catastrophe and its effects through the focus on personal narrative and testimony. The form works well to continue the documentary work of photojournalism, reframing largescale trauma in terms of a more granular “human” scale through the narrative lens of individual experience. Comics such Sacco’s represent that which is largely overlooked and perhaps ultimately unrepresentable in the media archives of disasters, war, and violent conflicts, generating an imaginary archive that personalizes the political. Conversely, the memoiristic graphic novel’s anti-realism works to de-privatize personal histories of family trauma making visible what is otherwise unsayable.