Popular Culture: Memory and Representation in (Auto)biographical and Documentary Comics

This class provides an introduction to one of the most productive genres created at the intersection of literary and popular culture: autobiographical comics. The class provides examples from both American and British autobiographical comics, and it attempts to answer questions about how the particular visual-verbal vocabulary of graphic narratives can help us reflect on issues such as the complexity of self-representation, the representation of trauma, the ethics of storytelling, and the unreliability of memory.

Course instructor: Dr Mihaela Precup

Class Requirements

  • Class contributions: every student will be asked to make 1 presentation of an article or book or participate in the round table discussion (Class 12), but also make enough contributions to class discussions. Please note that you are required to also provide some research about the authors of the secondary sources (articles) you are presenting. There is no need to do research about the authors of the primary sources (comics) you are focusing on (the class professor will provide an introduction to each author’s work). Please bring relevant images to class, but also bear in mind that we only have a limited amount of time. Those students who do not show up for their presentations will lose 2 points from their final grade.
  • Attendance is 50% mandatory and it must be accompanied by significant class participation. Anyone who misses more than 50% of all classes will be unable to take the final exam.
  • All of the sources from the bibliography will be scanned and e-mailed to you.
  • Any form of plagiarism (=presenting somebody else’s ideas as your own) is severely sanctioned (i.e. students who plagiarize will fail the class).


– Class participation: 1 or 2 extra points added to (or deducted from) your exam grade.

– Final exam: a response paper (a sample will be provided to you).

– Please note that, for those comics that are in .cbr format, you will need to download a free program called CDisplay (available here: https://www.cdisplay.me/) or any other comic book reader of your choice.

– Please note that one of the sources (Drawing Power, class 8) is in .epub format, which means you need to download Calibre to upload the book and read it there: https://calibre-ebook.com/download. In fact, Calibre is a good way to organize your electronic resources, so you might want to keep it.

Class Structure:

Class 1. Introduction. Grading, Requirements etc.

Class 2. The Vocabulary of Comics. A Short History of the Graphic Narrative. Lecture.

Class 3. Life Writing in American Comics. Lecture.

Class 4.  Genocide, Memory, and Postmemory in Autobiographical Comics.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Mourning and Postmemory” in Hirsch, Marianne. Family Frames. (1997) 17-40

Spiegelman, Art. MetaMaus. “Why Comics?” 164-234

*Spiegelman, Art. Maus (1980-1991)

Class 5. Memory and Mourning  

Leader, Darian. The New Black. Mourning, Melancholia, and Depression (2009) 24-59

*Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home (2006)

Class 6. Life Writing and the British Tradition

From Sabin, Roger. Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels (1998) 131-149

Raymond Briggs. Ethel & Ernest (1998)

Class 7. Perpetration and the Family Archive

Waller, James. 2002. Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. New York: Oxford University Press (1-22 and 267-279)

Nora Krug. Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home (2018)

Class 8. Documenting Sexual Assault I

From Mittman, Asa Simon and Marcus Hensel (eds). Classic Readings on Monster Theory (Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses), 43-54; J. Halberstam, “Parasites and Perverts,” 75-88)

*A selection of works from the anthology Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival (ed. Diane Noomin)

Class 9. Documenting Sexual Assault II

Sjoberg, Laura and Caron E. Gentry. Mothers, Monsters, and Whores. Introduction: “A Woman Did That?”

*Bunjevac, Nina. Bezimena (2018)

Class 10. Comics Journalism I

From Chute, Hillary. Disaster Drawn “Introduction: Seeing New”

*Joe Sacco. Palestine 

Class 11. Comics Journalism II

Arjana, Sophia Rose. Muslims in the Western Imagination. “Introduction: Islam in the Western Imagination.” (2015)

Kate Evans. Threads: From the Refugee Crisis (2017)

Class 12. Round Table – Life Writing in Comics on the International Scene

Readings (choose one): Zeina Abirached. To Die, to Leave, to Return (2012); Asaf Hanuka. The Realist (2015); Ari Folman & David Polonsky. Waltz with Bashir. Positive Negatives (www.positivenegatives.org); Riad Satouf. The Arab of the Future (vol 1), Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis (2004)

Students who opt for this need to choose one of the readings above and apply one of the theoretical perspectives discussed in class (choose from the theory from Classes 4 to 11), in conversation with their colleagues. A set of research questions will be provided, if needed.