Comics

Undoubtedly, many or most of us can hardly go two or three pages through our notes without coming across and overwhelming series of doodles; some related to the topic at hand, some not. Sketching and doodling, a real time, improvised visual articulation of what’s going on inside your head. To me, this is indicative of what I find most appealing about comics, the (seemingly) erratic jumping between time and space—a non-linear, beautiful disaster. This is not to say that there is no art or formula involved in the creation of a comic however even the most elegant, well realized comic maintains that busy, spontaneous energy that drew me to the genre to begin with.

Charles Hatfield articulates it best when he states that there is “no right way to read the page.” Comics, unlike typical modes of writing, resonate so much to me because they provide a platform on which the chaotic visual and textual processes—of which we’re conditioned to abandon in academia—can come together and form a narrative. Lynda Barry’s class notes best exemplify how a narrative can be drawn from what we perceive as incoherent modes of storytelling.

Speaking more broadly to the place of comics in digital history, I find this structure of writing’s struggle to find legitimacy in the world of literature similar to that of oral historians and their discrimination experiences in academia in that both deal with the issue of alternative modes of storytelling. Drawing from the effectiveness and popularity of Maus, I see comics as an effective method of storytelling because they allow us to engage with non-verbal and verbal dialogues at the same time. For example, in Maus, the author’s jumping back and forth in time and between characters would be messy and incoherent in traditional literary styles but comics due to their marriage of image and text create space for this type of storytelling. What we then get is a more involved, more realized examination of a character’s experiences, choices, etc. Additionally, this speaks to why Maus had such a profound effect on the (perceived) exhausted subject of the Holocaust/World War II.

Lastly, I think for comics (and oral history in the same regard) digital history is the perfect space for comics to find legitimacy among academia because, as seen with Joshua Brown’s Ithaca, there are more inclusive mediums that heighten the storytelling capabilities of the comic style; it can address space more explicitly without sacrificing narrative and it better allows us to empathize with our subjects.

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