Special Issue: Cripping Graphic Medicine: Approaching Comics from a Disability Studies Perspective
Guest Editors: Gesine Wegner (Leipzig University) and Dorothee Marx (Kiel University)
At first glance, a wider public may find the connection between comics and disability rather counterintuitive, as Rosemarie Garland-Thomson remarks: “Most of us assume that comics and disability exist in two completely different worlds. […] Comics are light; disability is heavy. Comics are inviting; disability is forbidding. Comics are cheerful; disability is dismal” (Garland-Thomson 2016: x). Yet, as a growing amount of scholarship in recent years has shown (Squier and Krüger-Fürhoff 2020; Foss et al. 2016), explorations of the connection between comics and disability can spark productive analyses that enrich both comic and disability studies. In a broader sense, graphic disability narratives hold the potential to simultaneously challenge popular misconceptions of comics and of experiences of disability. As a scoping review by Matthew N. Noe and Leonard L. Levin reveals, questions of healthcare have, indeed, pertained to the study of comics for many decades, with first explorations on the topic dating back to 1958 (Noe and Levin 2020: 11). While these early studies looked at disability and illness from a purely medical gaze, the 21st-century emergence of the interdisciplinary field of “graphic medicine” (Williams) has shifted scholars, artists and medical practitioners’ attention towards comics’ potential to narrate experiences of disability and illness from “the inside out” – following in the footsteps of disabled activists and writers of the 1990s (Fries 1997).
While disability studies has been an essential part of the various disciplines that come together in graphic medicine, the field’s complex yet fruitful relation to the medical humanities, in general, has yet to be addressed more openly in the study of comics and disability. This special issue wants to foreground the effects that a disability studies-centered approach to comics can have on the larger field of graphic medicine and comic studies in general. Inspired by Zach Whalen, Chris Foss, and Jonathan W. Gray’s groundbreaking collective volume Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives (2016), the issue aims to take into account and analyze a broad range of comics out of which a distinct disability studies perspective on comics ought to (further) emerge. Disability studies’ roots in the disability rights movement and its predominant resistance to medical understandings of disability make the interdisciplinary field a critical and
valuable interlocutor within graphic medicine. Appreciating disability not (primarily) as a physical state but as a form of cultural difference, disability studies is uniquely situated to both challenge and enrich some of the work done in graphic medicine and the medical humanities more generally. Simultaneously, the interdisciplinary network of scholars, artists, and medical practitioners that constitutes graphic medicine promises to offer new insights and creative forms of collaboration for research pursued within disability studies. For this issue, we welcome proposals for papers that explore these various potentials and address any of the following (or related) questions:
• How do approaches from disability studies complicate and enrich work done at the intersection of comics and healthcare? What insights can, in turn, be gained in disability studies from research pursued at this intersection?
• What can more recent theorizations within disability studies add to our understanding of the comics medium in general and its negotiation of disability and illness in particular?
• How do comics about disability and illness relate to practices of normalization? For instance, how is the omnipresence of the body in comics used to enforce, challenge, and comment on notions of “the normal” (McRuer 2014)?
• How do the different, often hierarchical positions in healthcare settings complicate renderings of illness and/or disability in comics? Which distinct, contrasting perspectives emerge in narratives told by healthcare providers, caregivers, or relatives, compared to the graphic stories told by patients themselves? And where do these perspectives overlap and enrich each other?
• How do questions of disability in sequential art intersect with other identity categories, such as gender, race, class or sexuality (see for example the recent publication Graphic Reproduction (Johnson 2018))?
• Which affective strategies do comics about disability or illness employ? How do comics evoke different affects and/or emotions, perhaps even such that were previously debated in disability studies (cf. Donaldson and Prendergast 2011; Kafer 2016), e.g. the “feelings and reactions— […] the mental and emotional distress—that do not yet fit within disability studies?” (Kafer 2016: 5).
• Which comic-specific strategies do graphic narratives employ to visualize ‘invisible’ disabilities, such as mental disabilities or the effects of trauma? To what extent can comics provide a context that fosters explorations of the interconnectedness of disability and trauma?
• How can comics’ potential to engage conversations about disability and chronic illness be applied in (higher) education beyond graphic medicine’s application in the education of future medical staff? Can comics help engage new audiences with disability studies?
• What effect do different genre conventions have on narrating disability and/or illness in comics? How can, for instance, previous work on disabled superheroes (Alaniz 2015; Smith and Alaniz 2019) be further expanded?
• How can comics be made accessible to different audiences (e.g. through tactile comics or image descriptions? (cf. Foss et al. 2016: 8-9).
• How can comics foreground marginalized voices in healthcare, such as those of indigenous, BiPOC, trans*, intersex, and/or otherwise impacted patients and healthcare professionals?
• In what ways do comics as well as comics studies address questions of the body and take into account the different embodiments of their characters and readers? How do new approaches to the body in disability studies (Mitchell et al. 2019) relate to the study of graphic narratives of disability and/or illness?
• How do comics respond to other aspects of lived disabled experience and the distinct knowledge it creates, as theorized in crip theory (e.g. crip time, critical rethinkings of concepts like pleasure and pain)?
We explicitly welcome contributions that are based in experiential knowledge and/or use an autoethnographic approach to disability.
Please email a 500-word proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com- kiel.de by February 1, 2021. Contributors can expect to be selected and notified by March 1, 2021. Full drafts of the selected articles will be due on August 15, 2021. Please do not hesitate to contact the guest editors if you have any questions regarding this special issue.
Alaniz, José. Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond. University Press of Mississippi, 2014.
Alaniz, José and Scott T. Smith, editors. Uncanny Bodies. Superhero Comics and Disability. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019.
Donaldson, Elizabeth J., and Catherine Prendergast. “Introduction: Disability and Emotion: ‘There’s No Crying in Disability Studies.’” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies vol. 5 no. 2, 2011, pp. 129–36.
Foss, Chris, Jonathan W. Gray, and Zach Whalen, editors. Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives. Palgrave, 2016.
Fries, Kenny, editor. Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. Plume, 1997. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “Foreword.” In: Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives, edited by Chris Foss, Jonathan W. Gray, and Zach Whalen. Palgrave, 2016,
Jenell Johnson, editor. 2018. Graphic reproduction. A comics anthology. Vol. 11 of Graphic
medicine. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Kafer, Alison. “Un/Safe Disclosures: Scenes of Disability and Trauma.” Journal of Literary &
Cultural Disability Studies vol. 10, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1–20.
McRuer, Robert. “Normal” Keywords for American Cultural Studies, edited by Bruce Burgett
and Glenn Hendler. NY UP, 2014, pp. 184-187.
Mitchell, David T., Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder, editors. The Matter of Disability.
Materiality, Biopolitics, Crip Affect. U Michigan P, 2019.
Noe, Matthew N. and Leonard L. Levin. “Mapping the use of comics in health education: A
scoping review of the graphic medicine literature.” Graphic Medicine.
Squier, Susan and Irmela Marei Krüger-Fürhoff, editors. PathoGraphics: Narrative, Aesthetics,
Contention, Community. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020. Williams, Ian. “Graphic Medicine: Comics as Medical Narrative.” Medical Humanities, vol.
38, no. 1, 2012, pp. 21-27