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Authorial Influence in Graphic Novels - Justin Mirsky

Excluding the rather obvious author-story relation in Bechdel's Fun Home I feel we have greatly neglected the context of the author in the creation of a Graphic Novel. I believe there is a great amount that can be taken away from the graphic novel if it is known the context in which it is written. For example - what kind of person is Alan Moore, the mind behind Watchmen? Does Chris Ware of Jimmy Corrigan fame have actual paternity issues in his life, or did he just decide to write a story about them? I would like to look into the biographies of selected authors (I haven't quite decided who yet - we really haven't read enough to decide) and see how their lives might have influenced their graphic novels. I expect to find some interesting links in Persepolis and Maus, although I haven't read them yet and wonder if they may, like Bechdel's work, be too much of a memoir.

I think that by learning more about the creator of the graphic novel it might shed light on the actual intentions of the graphic novel - what inspired them, what were some important decisions they had to make during the course of writing/illustrating the comic, what was their original intention (did it change?) These are questions that are significant to the process of reading just about anything and for the most part it's been entirely avoided in all class discussion.

If it turns out that the memoirs dominate the readings, I might simply focus on them and question why use the comic book medium to tell the story? What are the benefits of using it? What about the disadvantages. I could compare the graphic novel memoirs to memoirs in the forms of books, movies, self portraits and any other medium that I can think of. With something like Persepolis I could even compare the movie to the comic - to talk about the different adaptations and choices. The same goes for a book like Angela's Ashes, which I believe has been adapted into a fairly awful movie.

Unfortunately, in regards to the first idea I'm foreseeing a few problems-- what kind of sources are there to use? How much is actually written about Chris Ware or some of the other relatively unknown authors/artists? I hope to be able to find a significant amount of information online, but aside from maybe Alan Moore I'm not sure how much information I'm going to find in significant journals or sources.

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  1. Unknown User (lcm5)

    Insofar as sources for your paper go, I think it might be good to start very broadly. For example if you decide to study Alan Moore, it might help you to put Watchmen into the context of 1980s England. Moore is one in a long line of novelists (graphic and non-graphic) that are responding to crices like the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, the threat of nuclear war, and increasing envrionmental terrors. British novelist Martin Amis deals with similar themes, although not in a graphic narrative way. Anyway, it might help to incorporate this aspect of research with personal motives, as you had said in your abstract.

    That having been said, I think you can really avoid memoirs and autobiographies altogether if you wanted to. Authorial intent is such a dominating feature and it might be more interesting to see where you can pick out the truth in what is supposed to be "fiction." I've read some interviews with Chris Ware (there's a lot out there about him) and your inclinations are correct - he had a pretty shitty relationship with his father, which is clearly played out in Jimmy. You should consider looking at anything by Jeffrey Brown ("Clumsy," "Unlikely," or "AEIOU") since he heavily injects personal experiences into comics.

  2. Unknown User (mvm1)

    I know that Ware does have father issues similar to what Jimmy Corrigan experienced, but his interactions with his father didn't inform too much of JC.  If you look online, he has a couple of interviews to draw information from that would give you an insight into how his life shaped his writing.  Moore is the closest thing to a recluse in the comics industry, and I've read that his goal, which ultimately was Watchmen, was to write a story that was a "twilight of the gods."  Whether he wanted to write this because of the scope of the story or the notoriety it would bring him is unclear, but I have a feeling it's a combination of the two.

    The best bet for finding information about the process or motivation in writing the graphic novels would be through interviews with the more "famous" authors.  Satrapi is relatively famous because of Persepolis, so I'm sure you can find some good interviews, maybe even from a source like Time magazine or the New York Times.  I'm not sure where, maybe his website, but Spiegelman does talk about the catharsis of writing Maus both dealing with his father and the holocaust.  The same cathartic experience goes undoubtedly for Fun Home.  I've heard of a graphic novel called Blankets that is a memoir, which is often coupled with Fun Home, that would be an "outside" source if you wanted.  It's about 600 pages, though, so you might have some Spring Break reading to do.

  3. I think Laura and Mike both raise good points I would have stated, as well: autobiographies probably are a distinct topic, and there's quite a bit out there on Chris Ware!  If you decide to take on this latter topic, some of what I write about Kathryn LeFevre's abstract would be relevant.  I'll confess to approaching your thoughts regarding comic authorship more from a standpoint of literary theory, where there already is a pretty well-developed body of writing upon biographical criticism.  A short introduction might be Stanley Fish's "Biography and Intention," to be followed by Michel Foucault's famous "What Is an Author?" essay (an excerpt is here, and I think there are ways to get the whole work pretty easily).  Possibly Carl Rollyson's Biography: A User's Guide is worth a look via interlibrary loan.  For various reasons, I think that Alan Moore is an interesting figure -- his "famous" reclusiveness not least among them....I'm reminded of a very hardcore fandom surrounding the novelist Thomas Pynchon, and all the issues of authorship, privacy, meaning, surveillance, and so on that attach to him.  So do you necessarily need to have a lot of information upon a comic writer for that "author-function" (Foucault) to be important?  You might easily take a journey into the world of fansites to see how that functions among other comic book readers.... Also, did you know that Moore, like Pynchon, "appeared" in an episode of The Simpsons? Last thing: it will be important to ponder and then persuasively state your own reasons for undertaking this particular project.  Fascination with artistic inspiration?  Frustration at people "superimposing" meanings upon texts?  Insight into the relationship between lived experience & transformed art?  Etc.?  Interesting project; let me know how I can assist....