Hillary Chute, “Introduction: Women, Comics, and the Risk of Representation” from Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. 1-27.


“Against a valorization of absence and aporia, graphic narrative asserts the value of presence, however complex and contingent” (2).

Rephrased: While traditional alphabetic texts value the absence of information and doubt in the narrative, graphic narratives value including a detailed understanding of the character’s experience and abstract ideas, even if they’re complicated or can be interpreted in different ways.

Application: Protagonist's emotions, often depicted in abstract interpretive visuals, are included in graphic narratives to better capture the whole of the present situation, even if they can be understood and analyzed differently by audiences. For example, a grey cloud that overlays a panel provides a visual representation of an abstract emotion of gloom, which would otherwise left to be assumed by the reader of a traditional alphabetic text from the subtext.


“The graphic narratives I analyze are not only about events but also, explicitly, about how we frame them. The authors revisit their pasts, retrace events, and literally repicture them” (2).

Paraphrase: When Chute analyzes comics, she isn’t only looking at literal plot, but also the presentation of the story. It is significant that comic authors must picture every detail from their pasts in order to recreate it.

Application: In Tillie Walden’s Spinning she focuses on the moment that she came out to her cello teacher and in that moment she displayed the emotions of that as being memorable and emotional. She focused on the facial features of both herself and Victoria as the event occurred.

Another application: David Small depicted his radiation scenes through his point of view, the point of view of the machine, and the point of view of his father. This is profound because he had to picture the nature of his face in those early experiences as well as what the scene looked like as a whole. This depicts that it wasn’t just about his momentary perception of the procedure, but about what the radiation would mean for him in the larger context of his life.


“For this reason, graphic narrative, invested in the ethics of testimony, assumes what I think of as the risk of representation. The complex visualizing it undertakes suggests that we need to rethink the dominant tropes of unspeakability, invisibility, and inaudibility that have tended to characterize trauma theory as well as our current  censorship-driven culture in general” (3).

Paraphrase: “Comic writers need to reassess the way traditional narratives represent trauma considering invisibility, unspeakability, and inaudibility”

Application: In Spinning, the sexual assault scene is framed from the perspective of Tillie Walden. Little focus is placed on the assaulter, the main character’s emotions center the narrative of the event. It’s not a section that privileges his actions (what he did to her) but a story that centers her experience. It frames ‘what he did to her’ in a way that reads ‘what she went through’; she is victimized in this scenario but not made invisible.


“Graphic narrative establishes what I here, writing about Marjane Satrapi, term an expanded idiom of witness, a manner of testifying that sets a visual language in motion with and against the verbal in order to embody individual and collective experience, to put contingent selves and histories into form” (3).


A work’s visual and verbal languages highlight important ideas, either through corroboration of a particular theme, or contrast, which illuminates a distinct point through their difference. This dual language allows for a narrative that is both deeply personal as well as related to the large whole of human experience.

Application 1: Thi Bui, in describing her family’s adaptation upon arriving in America, presents and image where a passerby spits upon Bô’s face, leaving a pale red mark similar in shape to Viet Nam, the land her family fled. The following panel has Bui remarking, “...there were reasons not to want to be anything OTHER.” The dual languages explain Bui’s claim of a want to be American, not out of the positive benefits of such, but rather for the negatives being from a foreign country acquires then, as it acts, literally and figuratively in the text, as a stain of difference which distinguishes the family negatively as “outsiders” and encourages their badgerment by others. Readers can glean from the visuals the implications of the racist act on her father’s and her perception of America, yet Bui remains in an nonaccussatory perspective on the instance, perhaps in-keeping with the restricted knowledge she, as a child, had on the moment; a younger individual would not be able to comprehend why they would be spit on and would only relate the event to the fact that being “American” would allow them not to be attacked.




“Marjane Satrapi’s account of her youth in Tehran, Persepolis, along with work by a range of American authors, exemplifies how graphic narrative envisions an everyday reality of girls’ and women’s lives, picturing what is often placed outside of public discourse. Unsettling fixed subjectivity, these texts present life narratives with doubled narration that visually and verbally represents the self, often in conflicting registers and different temporalities” (5).

The graphic medium allows authors, especially female creatives, to display the everyday unseen reality of female lives through subjective storytelling. The dual visual and textual narrative of comics gives the authors the tools to present themselves in their youth with the perspective of their current selves, which can exemplify the temporal conflict within the author as they confront their past selves.

This contrast can be seen most clearly in Stitches, when we see David as a young child immerse himself in his drawings to join his mouse-like friends. The inherent nature of Small’s characterization of his childhood like this presents a contrast to how he used art as a child versus how he uses art now. Now he can use his passion not as an escape, but as a method to confront and deal with the reality of his trauma.