Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Reflections on the Boom of Graphic Pathography

The Effects and Affects of Narrating Disability and Illness in Comics

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (1), 57–74.

Abstract

Over the past decade, autobiographical comics that focus on experiences of illness and disability—a genre also known as “graphic pathography”—have not only received increasing recognition from literary critics and scholars but have also sparked an unprecedented interest in comics by health professionals. This article contextualizes and critically reflects on the increasing popularity of autobiographical comics and their frequent engagement with experiences of illness and disability. What effect does the merging of the textual mode and the visual mode have on the affective strategies employed by graphic memoirs of illness and disability? Considering the affective strategies they employ, what cultural work is done by these memoirs? In this article, I problematize some of the cultural assumptions that form the basis for the current popularity of graphic pathographies in the US and their use in medical training. Rather than a mere critique of medical practices, graphic illness, and disability narratives not only reflect but also reinforce medicine’s typical reliance on the visual mode. This analysis sheds light on, among other things, the ocularcentrism that takes effect whenever visual modes of storytelling are privileged in order to create emotional and thus supposedly meaningful responses to disability.

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Wegner, Gesine