I’m becoming good friends with these guys
while working on my paper for the International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference in London.
The past 15 years has seen a resurgence of literary work that could be classed as postmodern. Authors like David Foster Wallace, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, David Eggers, and Jennifer Egan, to name a few, have created work that deconstructs literary realism utilizing many of the themes that Barry Lewis cites as major components of postmodern literature, although he would call any work created after 1990 post-postmodern (Lewis 2001). Time is a fluid construct to be tampered and played with and there is the preoccupation with portraying a subjective, fractured reality with no reliable narrator that eschews the conventions ascribed to literary realism and structuralism.
Comics, with the medium’s unique ability within printed matter to transcend the specificity of the written word via the dialogue between text and images, provide even more opportunity to break down these constructs. There are also reading structures that are specific to the grammar of comics that can be utilized to challenge reading conventions. It may be of little surprise then to learn that some of the authors mentioned above have also penned comics as part of their oeuvre. This is not to say that these writers are attempting to bring a postmodern literacy to comics, but rather that they have joined the body of work that has been created from at least the 1970s that has co-evolved with the prose avant garde. This paper will examine the relationship between postmodern comics and prose, starting with the underground comix scene in the 1970s, specifically R. Crumb’s work, moving on to Art Spiegelman’s 1977 Breakdowns, Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s work on RAW in the 1980s and 1990s and then discussing how the movement made its way into more mainstream works by writers such as Moore and Morrison.
Lewis, Barry. 2001. “Postmodernism and Literature.” In The Routledge companion to postmodernism, edited by Stuart Sim. London: Routledge.