Cancer Comics: Narrating Cancer through Sequential Art

Martha Stoddard Holmes, California State University, San Marcos
Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), 147-162

Comics may seem like a surprising place in which to theorize breast cancer, but visualized embodiment has always been a distinctive element of the aesthetics of comics, and comics are an apt medium for the dynamic of bodily change shared by otherwise diverse cancer experiences. Recent graphic cancer narratives, particularly breast cancer narratives by Miriam Engelberg and Marisa Acocella Marchetto, create a rich intermediate space between the academic and the popular. A theory of graphic body studies offers new frameworks for regarding twenty-first century graphic narratives of cancer as aesthetic and sociopolitical agents and for articulating comics’ potential to transform cancer’s cultural position. Graphic cancer narratives use a minimalist, figural style of representing people; articulate the self as a morphing, visually dynamic, multiple entity; blur the visual and the verbal; and create a distinctive time-space relationship for the reader. These features make graphic cancer narratives more politically and socially provocative than purely verbal cancer stories. Graphic cancer comics enact the unspeakable and unseeable, supplementing, transforming, querying, and queering the visible culture of cancer so often dominated by biomedicine.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]