roundtable: queering the comic genre

Queering the Comic Genre: Graphic Novels as Social Justice Memoir
Friday, October 6, 9:00-10:45am
Marriott Ballroom

Roundtable Leader:
Lauren Beard, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Use this LINK to sign up by September 15th.

This session explores the possibilities and complications embedded within the intersectionality of literary genre theory and rhetorical genre theory. The presenter hopes to illuminate the social justice potential of genre scholarship as well as provide practical perspective on how this inter-sectional rhetorical literature can be a springboard for further research and analysis.

Literary and rhetorical scholars have long been at odds over the generic intersectionality of their disciplines. Many hesitate to blend the two fields for fear of destabilizing the already much-debated area of genre scholarship. However, I think the humanities must be somewhat destabilized so the field can adapt expeditiously to the developing needs of humanity. I also believe this cut-and-dry approach to the humanities causes outsiders to see the discipline as outdated, which is exactly what Amy Devitt says hinders us from making humanities studies “interactive…[and] fluid enough to encompass the multiplicity and instability of its participants” (“Integrating” 715). Devitt also remarks, “recent views of genre have changed, shifting from a formalistic study of critics’ classifications to a rhetorical study of the generic actions of everyday readers and writers” (“A Theory” 1-2). My paper, then, will seek to not only flesh out commonalities between traditional beliefs of genre and burgeoning rhetorical applications of genre, but also how threatened minorities can apply these commonalities to their writing and scholarship to bolster feminist and human rights causes especially in this unpredictable political climate. 

For example, Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed 2006 graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic attempts to piece together the complex life and even more complex suicide of the author’s father and how it coincides with the author’s own coming out story. My paper will focus on the rhetorical choices Bechdel makes in this recount of her journey from childhood to queer adolescence. Every page the reader encounters a detailed rendition of Bechdel’s fractured endeavors to make sense of her bizarre upbringing all while clinging desperately to the shaky foundation of an apathetic cool. I will argue Bechdel queers memoir and comic in order to craft the deviant, self-appointed identity of “dyke.” For example, she must rearticulate traditional modes of memoir, such as point of view and medium (i.e. a comic book instead of a book), to create space for a unique and divergent though nonetheless genuine sense of self. In this re-articulation, memory perhaps functions as one of Bechdel’s most important tools as a rhetor, since her memory allows her to harness agency from tragedy—an agency that she owns, instead of one that is transferred by a majority which dolls out and snatches away LGBT rights arbitrarily. 

Ultimately, my paper will aim to prove that Bechdel’s work transcends the generic container of graphic novel and tragicomedy and ascends to the level of an almost spiritual queer manifesto. Her unabashed and uniquely wrought approach to hers and her father’s complicated identities destroys the shameful silence so often surrounding queer, deviant bodies; this feat is vital since silence and misrepresentation are what allow oppressive narratives to continue. My paper will be guided mainly by the theories and theorists concerned with the intersectionality of rhetorical and literary genre, and I will support my analyses of the text itself with queer, disability, and feminist theory. What I hope to encourage with my presentation is a belief in the transcendent nature of combining the methodologies of literary and rhetorical genre. Amy Devitt writes that “Transcendence may not so much be a fact of all literature as a component of the context for some genres, both literary and rhetorical” and that “while the genres can be described in terms of their functions within communities in response to particular rhetorical situations, the evidence of some literary genres should remind us to allow those functions and contexts to include not only the present but also the future” (“Integrating” 711). Thus, I believe the findings of this paper will correspond to the conference category “Women’s/human rights’ activism and advocacies,” as I will attempt to prove that some literary works, almost especially those written by minorities, carry inherently the potential for social action and activism. 

In the roundtable discussion, I would hope to explore questions such as how do we apply exigence in real time to a decades-past event? What constraints does an author face rhetorically when she is also a character in her story? What does the combination of the genres “tragedy” and “comedy” say about the LGBT plight in general, and does this contribute to the argument that Bechdel is not just a memoirist or graphic novelist, but also a rhetor? What other possibilities can arise from literary scholars and rhetoricians working together?

Use this LINK to sign up by September 15th.