CFP: Graphic Lives in Wartime (MLA 2013)

Katin, Sacco, Satrapi, Mizuki

Call for Papers for a proposed panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, 3-6 Jan. 2013, in Boston. Jointly sponsored by the MLA Division on Autobiography, Biography, and Life Writing and the MLA Discussion Group on Comics and Graphic Narratives.


Comics and warfare are longtime companions. Organized mass violence underlies some of the most famous and enduring works in the form: the Crusades of Prince Valiant, the imperialist campaigns of Norakuro, the anti-imperialist clashes of Asterix, the global conflicts of Steve Canyon and Sgt. Rock, the wartime misadventures of noncombatants like Bécassine, and so many others. The concept of the superhero and the development of book-length stories in comic book format can hardly be separated from the outbreak of World War II. But the late 20th century metamorphosis of “funnybooks” into “graphic novels” brought a new element to the familiar thematic concerns of comics: life writing and the depiction of the self. Graphic biographies, autobiographies, and autofictions set in wartime have witnessed and personalized, dramatized and questioned, upset, reframed, and demythologized some of the most divisive and catastrophic conflicts in history—and in our time.

Indeed graphic life writing set in wartime has been crucial to recent developments in the Anglophone discourse on comics, including the cultural legitimization of comics that has enabled the rise of academic comic studies. From the trinity of Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Marjane Satrapi to diverse other examples, comics’ critical reception has been informed by war and memories of war—as has the re-visioning of comics in global rather than nationalistic terms (consider Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, Guibert’s The Photographer and Alan’s War, Katin’s We Are on Our Own, and many others). In fact an exhaustive list of graphic life writing rooted in war is hard to envision; in a world where warfare has become the normal state of affairs, such a list is functionally impossible.

This panel invites papers on the confluence of life writing, graphic representation, and organized violence, in all aspects and from all perspectives. Send 200 to 300-word abstracts in .doc or .pdf to Linda Haverty Rugg (rugg [at] berkeley [dot] edu) and Joseph Witek (jwitek [at] stetson [dot] edu) by 15 March 2012. Submitters will receive notification of results by April 1.

PLEASE NOTE: This CFP is for a proposed, not a guaranteed, session at MLA 2013, meaning it is contingent on approval by the MLA Program Committee (which will make its decisions after April 1). All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by no later than 7 April 2012.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site, or to email Charles Hatfield, charles [dot] hatfield [at] gmail [dot] com, if you have questions!

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