Comics scholar and Visiting Professor in the Harvard University English Department Hillary L. Chute discusses her 2016 book, Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima’s Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics have come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists document the disasters of war.
In her book, Chute traces how comics inherited graphic print traditions and innovations from the seventeenth century and later, pointing out that at every turn new forms of visual-verbal representation have arisen in response to the turmoil of war. Modern nonfiction comics emerged from the shattering experience of World War II, developing in the 1970s with Art Spiegelman’s first "Maus" story about his immigrant family's survival of Nazi death camps and with Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa's inaugural work of "atomic bomb manga," the comic book "Ore Wa Mita" ("I Saw It") - a title that alludes to Francisco Goya’s famous Disasters of War etchings. Chute explains how the form of comics, their collections of frames, lends itself to historical narrative. By interlacing multiple temporalities over the space of the page or panel, comics can place pressure on conventional notions of causality. Aggregating and accumulating frames of information, comics call attention to themselves as evidence. Disaster Drawn demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness.
(Image: Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
BIO: Hillary Chute
Hillary Chute is Associate Professor of English at the University of Chicago and the author of Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists (University of Chicago Press). She is also the author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (Columbia University Press) and Associate Editor of Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus (Pantheon). She recently co-edited both the Critical Inquiry special issue on “Comics & Media” and Daniel Aaron’s Scrap Book (Pressed Wafer). She has written for publications including Artforum, Bookforum, The Believer, and Poetry.