Having always been very taken by non fiction graphic narratives that deal with sociopolitical crises, when I started working on my doctoral dissertation on comics, I was initially concerned with how formal aspects of the comic medium enable non-reductionist representation of complex and inter-sectional identities. Consequently, I wanted to consider how comics appeal to social justice. However, the more I thought about how comics accommodate narratives by and about people who have been historically pushed to the margins, how they help readers overcome social biases about gendered/racial/cultural Others—the more I was compelled to think about modes of production.
Primarily, if I am concerned with comics as literatures of resistance, I need to ask questions about accessibility and readability of my work: who are the readers for the final product? Who is my audience? If I seek to address people beyond the confines of academia, if I seek to address people who share the marginalized position/s my work is predominantly concerned with, how can I readjust or tailor my academic discourse to appeal to them?
These questions led me to comics, as a medium as well as a method— to address issues of accessibility of academic discourses, as well as to push the boundaries of visual art-based research in addressing social inequity. I write about the above in detail in my two-part essay in Women Write About Comics. You can read Part One here and Part Two here. The first essay addresses how I was inspired by the works of Nick Sousanis (Unflattening) and Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), the cultural perception of drawing as aesthetic pursuit and how that deters us from using art-based methods in scholarly spaces, Lynda Barry's art-based pedagogy, and well as the uses of comics as scholarship and comics as thinking. The second part addresses the affordances of the comics medium including comics as a holding environment to confront traumatic memories.
In the first chapter “Comics as Method”, I explain how comics present time as space and how it rearranges the spatial dynamics of the page to manipulate the readers’ perception of time within the story. I demonstrate how by utilizing the medium’s ability to “shape time by arranging it in space on the page in panels” like “boxes of time” (Chute, Why Comics 24), author-protagonists in graphic memoirs are able to move freely between several key events in their life—events that mediate their marginalized position/s. I contend how reenactment of traumatic memories within the holding environment of comics, enables the author-protagonist to wholly see, process, and come to terms with the repressed feelings that destabilize their sense of self.
The second chapter is auto-ethnographic work based on lived experiences that spans systemic patriarchy in a local context, suicide, homophobia, deep-seated familial issues, and inter-generational trauma. I wanted to apply the hypothesis from my introduction to my own inter-generational trauma to further develop my argument through practice. In this chapter, I also make affordances of existing comics such as Are You My Mother? or Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do to aid in my own “graphic analysis”.
This chapter was originally supposed to be on graphic medicine but I started working on this chapter in summer 2020 when the city I live in was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. When I began drawing about the pandemic (outside the scope of my dissertation) it was to cope with the isolation and with the grief of losing a loved one to Covid-19 complications, but it eventually turned into a larger exploration of the commodification of healthcare in the US, medical racism, wealth disparity and how Covid-19 has exposed the existing inequities in our socioeconomic structure. I approach the subject from my position as an immigrant in the United States so I also cover how, in India, the government's lack of contingency plan's for the working class affected thousands of migrant workers who lost their livelihoods (in some cases, their lives) in the wake of the nationwide lockdown that was meant to curb the virus spread. Excerpt from this chapter to be published in the debut title of Graphic Mundi
Currently, I am working on an interview with a patient of ‘long Covid’ to supplement Chapter 3 as an inter-chapter.
I am also in the early stages of working on a chapter on the use visual metaphors in comics to give a tangible form to the invisible illnesses. A part of this work is currently under review for a MLA volume on Neurodiversity.
Apart from using comics in my scholarship, I have also been incorporating comics into my teaching in every course I have taught during the length of my PhD, including in classes like "Adaptations and Animations in Global Film" and in "Contemporary World Literature". This summer I got the opportunity to teach an exclusively comics class that I called "Comics, Culture and Identity". I am scheduled to teach another version of this class in January--this time, I am tweaking the goals of the class slightly, and calling it "The Politics of Cartooning".
In all of these classes I have used the same basic principles I do in my own work. One of the major assignments in these classes is a "Visual Annotation Project", inspired by Nick Sousanis's classes on comics--the resources of which, Nick generously shares with the world. The other is a "Make Your Own Comic" project that I have found students tend to have a lot of fun with. I am attaching some examples of the former category below (shared with permission from the students).
Earlier this year, I wrote an article on Gradhacker, Insider Higher Ed on teaching with multi-modal projects. You can read it here.