Monday, April 18, 2011

Graphic Literature & Childhood: SDSU Lectures April 28

from Joseph Thomas...

San Diego State University's The National Center for the Study of Children's Literature is sponsoring a joint lecture on the subjects of graphic literature (comics!) and childhood. The talks are scheduled for April 28th at 4:00, at the SDSU Love Library, in the Leon Williams Room (4th floor, room 430).

The first talk, "Homage to Binky Brown," will be given by California State University, Northridge professor Charles Hatfield, internationally renowned expert on visual literature, comics, and childhood studies. [Details below]

The second talk, "Unsuitable for Children: Queering the Adult/Child Distinction in Graphic Narrative," is the work of Yetta Howard, who will be joining the faculty of SDSU's department of English & Comparative Literature as an assistant professor next fall. [Details below]

Be there!


Homage to Binky Brown

Justin Green’s underground comic book Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary (1972)—a graphic memoir at once embarrassing, moving, and, in several senses, deeply comic—is widely recognized as a foundational, if not the foundational, work in confessional autobiographical comix, and thus one of the ur-texts of alternative comics and graphic novels. Scholars have acknowledged its historical priority and influence (see e.g. Hatfield 2005; Gardner 2008; Chute 2010; Witek 2011), McSweeney’s has republished it in lavish facsimile (2009), and no less than Art Spiegelman (1995) has credited the book as an inspiration for Maus. What if we read it as a children’s story?

This would seem to be a stretch. Green himself, in the frontispiece for Binky, cautions that the comic is not for children, and its status as an underground comic (published by the notorious Last Gasp) places it ipso facto beyond the pale of official children’s culture. In any case, Binky is, among other things, a polemic against Catholicism and a memoir of sexual guilt and extreme, life-cramping obsession (partly attributable to Green’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition diagnosed well after Binky was created). The protagonist, Green’s autobiographical avatar Binky, is a boy, later a young adult man, fixated to the point of madness on his own inadmissible sexual desires. An artist at heart, he envisions his sin in graphic terms, imagining his lustful thoughts emanating from him as so many dotted lines of invisible force. To say the least, Binky Brown, due to its darkly comic riffs on neurosis and suffering, its satirical takedown of Catholic dogma, and the scatological precision of its images—images that a student of mine recently described with the single word “foul”—seems far removed from children’s literature.

My talk will not seek to argue that Binky Brown is a “children’ book”—truly, that is a stretch—but will focus on the ways that Green foregrounds and subverts conventional images of the child. My impetus is the recognition (based on teaching experience) that Green’s far-reaching satire, which implicates not only Catholicism but also nationalism, conventional masculinity, and the genre of the bildungsroman, can too easily be misrecognized and dismissed as merely the fanciful venting of one person’s pathology. I’ll show how the book depicts boyhood in the context of 1950s America, specifically how it probes the intersection of nation, religion, gender, and sexuality, and also how Green casts doubt on the book’s own liberationist agenda with a final dose of self-mockery. In the end, I hope to show how Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary anticipates the rise of alternative comics for adults that depict childhood from critical and subversive perspectives. In this way Green prepared for the works of Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Lynda Barry, Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, and so many others.

Expect plenty of images and Q&A.


"Unsuitable for Children: Queering the Adult/Child Distinction in Graphic Narrative."

This talk will ask us to re-think the definitional boundaries of adulthood and childhood as routed through graphic narrative forms and queer identities. Emphasizing their various “unsuitable” positions as graphic—meaning both explicit and pictorial—texts about childhood, I turn to Kathy Acker’s, Diane DiMassa’s and Freddie Baer’s Pussycat Fever (1995) and David Wojnarowicz’s and James Romberger’s Seven Miles a Second (1996). I suggest that theses narratives help us to see where childhood traumas reach their recuperative limits via the adulthood memories of/identifications with them, queering the adult/child distinction while dismantling the logic of recuperation that comes with queer identities as modeled on an assumed trajectory of emancipation. Ultimately I contend that identifying with these limits may offer more suitable, if perhaps unsavory, modes of being and of understanding adult queer identities associated with childhood traumas and abuses.

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