Bodies and Boundaries in Graphic Fiction: Reading Female and Nonbinary Characters

This book by Jessica Baldanzi examines the fictional female bodies of four stylistically distinct comics artists in the United States—Chris Ware, Emil Ferris, Ebony Flowers, and Tillie Walden—whose work has attracted significant attention. These bodies showcase how comics and its unique visual language can both critique and re-envision some of the most challenging social issues of our time.

The characters analyzed in this book illustrate diverse techniques for projecting the complex humanity and “truth” of U.S. women’s unruly bodies onto a two-dimensional page. All of the protagonists qualify as “outsider” in some way, whether by gender identity, sexuality, ability, religion, race, class, ethnicity, age, or a combination of these and other categories. These bodily expressions of outsider identity both resist traditional categorization and stereotypes, and sometimes harness and employ those stereotypes for the purposes of parody or social critique. The language of comics affords a unique opportunity for complex representation of these disparate women’s bodies, especially when comics artists use the full range of tools at their disposal, such as style, materials, narrative direction, the space of the gutter, and the friction between word and image.

This is an a timely and important intervention suitable for researchers and students in comics studies, gender studies, literature and queer studies.

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Jessica Baldanzi is professor and chair of English at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, where she teaches comics and graphic novels, as well as American literature, media and popular culture, creative writing, critical theory, and composition. Her most recent publication is the essay collection Ms. Marvel’s America: No Normal, co-edited with Hussein Rashid, to which she also contributed the essay, “’I Would Rather Be a Cyborg: Both/And Technoculture and the New Ms. Marvel.” Her comics review blog Commons Comics helps promote comics for a general readership, and she has also written about comics pedagogy for the edited collection Lessons Drawn, edited by David Seelow. Jessica also writes in multiple genres, including memoir, flash memoir, fiction, screenplay, and poetry.