Interrogating and Analysing Narrative Structure Through Comic Books


How can the structures of graphic narratives help us to interrogate, analyse, and ultimately ground stories of ourselves and our world? Comics open up possibilities for transcending the limits of any single linguistic mode by not relying solely on verbal or visual language.


My dissertation consists of four chapters of written research and an exhibition of autobiographical narrative. My practice work challenges the traditional use of comics-specific affordances, such as panel borders, gutter, and use of space as time. Each chapter in the dissertation is its own book-object that enacts the content as well as relates to the larger body of practice work.


Childhood Memoirs—Autobiographical Approaches

Comic creators can utilize the dual linguistic modes of text and image to enunciate what may be unspeakable or incomprehensible, such as moments of trauma. I pay special attention to how subjectivity is presented in graphic memoirs within this context, as the drawn nature of comics allows for shifts in the reliability of the author/narrator that are unique to the medium.


Comics as a Synthetic Medium—A Very Short Introduction

The ‘introductory’ chapter contextualizes my research and comics studies more generally. In comics, text and imagery can actively oppose each other, creating a space where new meaning can be created from this tension. Each panel in a comics page may convey multiple levels of independent meaning, making it unique among narrative media. By examining the semiotic and structural theories presented by Barthes and Derrida, as well as Benjamin, Deleuze, Witgenstein and others, I develop the case for a comics-specific theory of non-binary, non-hierarchical communication.


Mapping the Journey—The Cartography of Autobiography

In this chapter, I analyse the supposed objectivity of the map. I also explore how embedding maps within comics impacts reader perception of truth through verifiability.


Media Specificity of Non-traditional Graphic Narratives

The focus of this chapter is on the impact of presenting comics in analog and digital formats. I assert that neither digital nor print is superior to the other, but deliver different experiences to the reader. I articulate the qualities unique to each distribution strategy and theorize ways that creators can take advantage of the media at their disposal.


The practical element of my submission takes the form of a collection of objects that utilize a variety of graphic narrative structures outwith traditional comics forms in order to explore facets of my childhood memories. To counteract any attempt to present a wholly unified and reliable narratorial self, I present the same places and memories through various angles and media. I make explicit some of the dissonant ‘truths’ myself and other members of my family were presented with. This is an attempt to consciously confront the fragility of utilizing such collectively constructed memory to construct a stable self-image.


Below you will find two galleries of images from my PhD.


Viva exhibition gallery


First is a selection from my viva exhibition. What I decided to exhibit for the examiners is, of course, a curated selection of the pieces I have created, and these images are a sample from that show. But as my narratives are built by accreating levels of meaning through iterations of memory, this collection of photographs adds another layer through my choice of grouping and framing, both in the room itself and in the representations you see before you.


I hope you enjoy, and more importantly, I hope they pique your curiosity. I urge the viewer to try to weave their own stories from the glimpses of moments and shards of thought you find before you.

Text submission gallery


Along with the exhibition, I also created four books that contain, and enact, the written portion of my PhD. Each book focuses on a particular facet of my research: Comics as a Synthetic Medium, Childhood Memoirs, Mapping Autobiography, and Media Specificity in Non-traditional Graphic Narratives. These books are, themselves pieces of practice, where the design is integral to the theories discussed therein. Derrida has said that deconstruction is something that happens within the text, where the manner in which we argue a theory works against the theory itself. This submission was created with that in mind, as I consciously performed deconstruction on form as well as content in my work.