#CSS19 Sneak Peek: Francesca Lyn’s “Feels Bad Man: Anxiety and the Archives of Meme Culture” & “Against Universality: Embodiment in Women’s Autobiographical Comics”

The Comics Studies Society 2019 conference, “Comics/Politics” begins tomorrow! As folks are travelling to Toronto for the annual meeting, we wanted to offer one more Sneak Peek into events at #CSS19. This time we get a look at two presentations by former GSC board member and recent winner of the John A. Lent Scholarship in Comics Studies, Francesca Lyn. We can’t wait to see everyone in Toronto!

I am thrilled to be presenting the two research projects. The first “Feels Bad Man: Anxiety and the Archives of Meme Culture” will be presented as part of a roundtable titled Archival Anxieties: The Politics of Comics Preservation. This roundtable broadly centers on the archive and the ephemeral nature of comics. My brief presentation explores the challenges of preserving Internet memes. Examining memes and meme culture presents itself with several practical and conceptual obstacles. Memes are viral and often characterized by there wide dissemination. Additionally they are frequently altered and very rarely attributed. Here I focus on the controversial Pepe memes which appropriate Pepe the Frog, a character originally created by cartoonist Matt Furie. Pepe became a frequent fixture on the image board website 4chan and then became associated with alt-right politics. In October 2017, Furie addressed his own horror at Pepe’s evolution in The Nib. In the comic “Pepe the Frog: To Sleep Perchance to Meme” Furie depicts a somber Pepe first transforming into a soft-serve coiffed Trump surrogate. I also look at the social media campaign #SavePepe launched by Furie and The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), examining why it was a failure, eventually leading Furie to finally symbolically lay Pepe to rest in a 2017 comic strip.

My second project “Against Universality: Embodiment in Women’s Autobiographical Comics” builds on research from my dissertation Graphic Intimacies: Identity, Humor, and Trauma in Autobiographical Comics by Women of Color which examines works of comics art about the lived experience of the comics’ creator. My dissertation considered how the comics form represents the intersectionality of identity and feminism, exploring how the fragmentary nature of comics can embody trauma and identity in autobiographical comics written by women of color. These comics compress reality, representation, and subjectivity. Many of these comics employ the use of simplified forms and draw from an established vocabulary of conventions in comics such as panels, motion lines, and speech balloons.These graphic narratives address racialized difference and the construction of identity while also using humor to negotiate their narrations of traumatic events. Comics can allow for the representation of trauma as being intimately linked to corporeality. The comics medium allows creators to make visible and present fractured versions of the self, a product of traumatic fragmentation. I am most interested in how autobiographical cartoonists depict their embodied selves. Comics represent a collapsing of representation, a flattening of subject and meaning, the autobiographical comic compresses the self and bodily representation in a way that allows the cartoonist to portray complicated states of emotion and how these states can be expressed through the body.

In Understanding Comics (1994), Scott McCloud argues that comics derive meaning from their iconicity, stating that the more simplistic a rendering is the more easily we can identify with it. While comics, including autobiographical comics, do use symbolic language in order to derive meaning, many comics also resist or challenge their indexical nature. I argue that many of the most salient examples of women’s autobiographical comics resist iconicity as a strategic manipulation of the medium. These comics are often perceived as being messy and disjointed. or viewed critically due to their perceived reliance on the primacy of text in the narrative. In these comics the text complicates rather than explain the comic’s imagery, enabling autobiographical comics to perform the difficult task of portraying lived experiences. These comics challenge the dominant discourse on the gendered and raced body, presenting narratives that reject notions of a universal subject position.

Francesca’s roundtable will be Thursday, July 25 at 11:30am and her panel will be on Friday, July 26th at 8:30am.

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