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Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War

Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War

By Harriet E. H. Earle
Hardcover : 9781496812469, 248 pages, 14 b&w illustrations; 2 tables, June 2017
Paperback : 9781496825636, 246 pages, 14 b&w illustrations; 2 tables, October 2019

A study of the distinctive manner in which comics portray trauma and war


Conflict and trauma remain among the most prevalent themes in film and literature. Comics has never avoided such narratives, and comics artists are writing them in ways that are both different from and complementary to literature and film. Harriet E. H. Earle brings together two distinct areas of research—trauma studies and comics studies—to provide a new interpretation of a long-standing theme. Focusing on representations of conflict in American comics after the Vietnam War, Earle claims that the comics form is uniquely able to show traumatic experience by representing events as viscerally as possible.

Using texts from across the form and placing mainstream superhero comics alongside alternative and art comics, Earle suggests that comics are the ideal artistic representation of trauma. Because comics bridge the gap between the visual and the written, they represent such complicated narratives as loss and trauma in unique ways, particularly through the manipulation of time and experience. Comics can fold time and confront traumatic events, be they personal or shared, through a myriad of both literary and visual devices. As a result, comics can represent trauma in ways that are unavailable to other narrative and artistic forms.

With themes such as dreams and mourning, Earle concentrates on trauma in American comics after the Vietnam War. Examples include Alissa Torres’s American Widow, Doug Murray’s The ’Nam, and Art Spiegelman’s much-lauded Maus. These works pair with ideas from a wide range of thinkers, including Sigmund Freud, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Fredric Jameson, as well as contemporary trauma theory and clinical psychology. Through these examples and others, Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War proves that comics open up new avenues to explore personal and public trauma in extraordinary, necessary ways.


"A refreshing, resourceful investigation of American comics since the Vietnam War, Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War charts the form's representational possibilities across a diverse expanse of genres, styles, and issues. Deftly braiding methodologies—classic psychoanalysis, contemporary trauma theory, art history—Earle both broadens and refines our understanding of the comics medium and its innovative practitioners."

- Hillary L. Chute, author of Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form