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Call for Papers: ‘Beyond the Graphic’ – Considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics

Special blog series – US Studies Online
Edited by Dr Harriet Earle

Since the 1970s, the comics form has skyrocketed in popularity and the types of comics we are reading – and how we are engaging with them – has changed dramatically. This new and developing type of comic is often referred to as a ‘graphic novel’, a term that is not universally accepted but allows readers to understand the ways in which the form is being used to tell multifaceted stories.

However, it is a problematic term because it is so often applied to comics that are not fictional (as most novels are) and the word ‘graphic’ comes with a host of connotations related to sex, violence, swearing and ‘mature themes’. Additionally, despite a growing academic interest and a huge number of critically acclaimed comics being published each year, the reputation of the form has not developed accordingly; for some, comics is still a cheap, ‘pop’ form that does not engage with authentic social history and intricate narratives and themes.

In truth, the comics form is ideally suited to the retelling of complex, nuanced stories and to the effective and affective representations of sex and violence. Rather than disposable, needlessly ‘graphic’ stories of no value, a vast number of comics narratives are finely constructed, rather than straight-up debased, providing a platform for the telling of ‘difficult tales’, of which there is no shortage in America!

This blog series aims to provide a side-long look at comics and the ways in which the form engages with both traditionally ‘graphic’ narrative themes and arcs, and also its own ignominious past. Comics studies is a multi- and inter-disciplinary field that incorporates aspects of comics history, publications & media history, textual & visual analysis, questions of reception & reader response, sociological theory, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism & theory.

We invite contributions from researchers and academics in any field within the remit of comics studies. Suggested topics for posts may include:

• Physical violence on the comics page
• Violence and social comment
• Crime comics
• Sexual violence and rape
• Swearing, ‘obscenity’ and the ‘grawlix’
• The history and development of comics as a form for ‘difficult stories’ (especially the rise of autographics and historical conflict narratives)
• Representing sex and intimacy
• Porn comics and Tijuana Bibles
• Controversial texts and debates around reception (e.g. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent or the Murderdome debacle)

Please refer to the USSO submission guidelines for further information on style:

c. 250 word abstracts should be sent to by 31st October 2016.

The series is due to be published in March 2017.

Publication schedule:
Submission of abstracts: 31st October 2016
Notification of abstract acceptance: 13th November 2016
Submission of full posts: 31st January 2016
Publication date: March 2017