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Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form

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In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima's Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Ar In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima's Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document the disasters of war. Hillary L. Chute traces how comics inherited graphic print traditions and innovations from the seventeenth century and later, pointing out that at every turn new forms of visual-verbal representation have arisen in response to the turmoil of war. Modern nonfiction comics emerged from the shattering experience of World War II, developing in the 1970s with Art Spiegelman's first "Maus" story about his immigrant family's survival of Nazi death camps and with Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa's inaugural work of "atomic bomb manga," the comic book Ore Wa Mita ("I Saw It")--a title that alludes to Goya's famous Disasters of War etchings. Chute explains how the form of comics--its collection of frames--lends itself to historical narrative. By interlacing multiple temporalities over the space of the page or panel, comics can place pressure on conventional notions of causality. Aggregating and accumulating frames of information, comics calls attention to itself as evidence. Disaster Drawn demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness.


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In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima's Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Ar In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima's Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document the disasters of war. Hillary L. Chute traces how comics inherited graphic print traditions and innovations from the seventeenth century and later, pointing out that at every turn new forms of visual-verbal representation have arisen in response to the turmoil of war. Modern nonfiction comics emerged from the shattering experience of World War II, developing in the 1970s with Art Spiegelman's first "Maus" story about his immigrant family's survival of Nazi death camps and with Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa's inaugural work of "atomic bomb manga," the comic book Ore Wa Mita ("I Saw It")--a title that alludes to Goya's famous Disasters of War etchings. Chute explains how the form of comics--its collection of frames--lends itself to historical narrative. By interlacing multiple temporalities over the space of the page or panel, comics can place pressure on conventional notions of causality. Aggregating and accumulating frames of information, comics calls attention to itself as evidence. Disaster Drawn demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness.

57 review for Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Honestly, I had trouble getting through this. It wasn't because of harrowing subject matter or anything like that, but simply the sheer density of Chute's prose. The book seems intended more for academics than mainstream audiences. There are footnotes galore, exhaustive research ... if I had more than simply a casual interest in the subject, I'd probably have been more into this book. She does do an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the works of Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Keiji Naka Honestly, I had trouble getting through this. It wasn't because of harrowing subject matter or anything like that, but simply the sheer density of Chute's prose. The book seems intended more for academics than mainstream audiences. There are footnotes galore, exhaustive research ... if I had more than simply a casual interest in the subject, I'd probably have been more into this book. She does do an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the works of Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, and Keiji Nakazawa, as well as showing foreshadowing in the works of Goya, Callott, and others. To an art historian, to a comics scholar, this should be a fascinating book. To comics fans like myself, though, while it may be of interest, it can be decidedly heavy going.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    "Disaster Drawn" may be too theory-heavy for some people (don't expect light reading when picking up), but I found it to be a very compelling exploration of the use of a visual form like comics, or graphic literature (as it is sometimes more formally called), in offering witness to the suffering and atrocities of war. The medium opens up possibilities for the use of motion, time, and space that can bring an acute sense of reality (and pain, and confusion, and speed, etc., etc.) The comics form e "Disaster Drawn" may be too theory-heavy for some people (don't expect light reading when picking up), but I found it to be a very compelling exploration of the use of a visual form like comics, or graphic literature (as it is sometimes more formally called), in offering witness to the suffering and atrocities of war. The medium opens up possibilities for the use of motion, time, and space that can bring an acute sense of reality (and pain, and confusion, and speed, etc., etc.) The comics form enables an author to do certain things that other media (whether book or film) might constrain. Chute focuses on the works of Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco. The works of the first two deal with World War II (but from different perspectives), and appeared in the early 1970s. Sacco's work, which in some cases moves more from "memoir" to "reporting," focuses on wars of the Middle East and Eastern Europe (particularly those involving religious-ethnic conflict). Chute provides some historical context to the use of drawing to capture the events of war (Goya may come to mind to many) and concludes by teasing out some of the questions that the medium raises about representation in the twenty-first century.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I read Why Comics before coming to this work, so Disaster Drawn ended up feeling like an expanded version of some of the chapters from Why Comics. That means there's more information, of course, but it didn't feel as new to me - which I can't say is either good or bad. I had similarly ambivalent feelings about the descriptions of excerpts of graphic novels - at times it felt redundant, while other times it called new details to my attention. I was certainly introduced to many other works, which I read Why Comics before coming to this work, so Disaster Drawn ended up feeling like an expanded version of some of the chapters from Why Comics. That means there's more information, of course, but it didn't feel as new to me - which I can't say is either good or bad. I had similarly ambivalent feelings about the descriptions of excerpts of graphic novels - at times it felt redundant, while other times it called new details to my attention. I was certainly introduced to many other works, which I appreciate. And, it might be obvious, but this book is truly depressing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicolette

    An academic discussion of role of comics as a medium for exploring, documenting and communicating traumatic experience and events in history. It is not light reading. It isn't intended to be. Instead it is deeply thoughtful and thought provoking. It deals with heavy content with equal seriousness. And does and excellent work of examining how comic "cartoons" have been and can be a deeply serious medium.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marissa Patterson

    I think it just wasn't what I expected

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul O'Leary

    Comics have always been controversial in American culture. So controversial in fact they're mostly known now as graphic novels. A little name change to throw persecutors and prosecutors alike off their trail. In 1954 Dr Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent which accused comic books, and their creators, of promoting violence, crime and immorality in its readers. The comic book indeed had ample enemies to run from. The questions still remain for our age: Who is being seduced by whom? an Comics have always been controversial in American culture. So controversial in fact they're mostly known now as graphic novels. A little name change to throw persecutors and prosecutors alike off their trail. In 1954 Dr Wertham published The Seduction of the Innocent which accused comic books, and their creators, of promoting violence, crime and immorality in its readers. The comic book indeed had ample enemies to run from. The questions still remain for our age: Who is being seduced by whom? and Who is the innocent? Hillary Chute in her book Disaster Drawn focuses on comics from an equally controversial position which recognizes in comics their unique ability to serve as vehicles in expressing experienced human trauma and bearing its witness to others. Rather than promoting violence and immorality, artists and their comics promote through hand drawn depictions an ethical uncovering of inhumane violence and its victims by trauma witnessed, then rendered as markings on a document page. This is Chute's amazing contribution to the comic controversy. The "ten cent menace" as an archive of/by/for the victims of the unspeakable, unrepresentable, and irremediable. Traditionally, documents of trauma are thought to be written descriptions of horrific acts; or photographs displaying actions or the results of traumatic events upon victims. Chute states these documents are quite inferior to the witness comics provide. Written descriptions are too antiseptic to offer true witness. Photos provide a glimpse of the real and offer basically just that. A bare glimpse. Photos taken of holocaust survivors as they were discovered at concentration camps during the end of the second world war offer raw visible proof of trauma; true, but only of that moment. Buried and invisible on the photo or written page are the accumulated emotional horrors and their historical narrative that give trauma's voice its authentic expression as testimony. Witness has no place in a photo, Chute seems to say. No story is allowed to unfold. Witness as story of trauma experienced finds home in comics, uniquely so, because expressed emotion, suffering, and horror find their way to its surface through testimonial hand markings. Comics display that rawness of the real as well as the horror which lies underneath it through story told and images elaborated. In this way, images and words are allied in comics and find creative, emotive expression in ways impossible for mere written pages and photos. Frame sets in comics, their positioning, and borders maintained, or not, unfurl a creative temporal sequence that allows a reader to descend into the world of the hand drawn witness. Individual frames contain assemblages of items, word bubbles, iand artifacts that allow their unsettling juxtaposition to prompt a reader away from secure linear consumption. The reader, although, is allowed to consume at a personal proper pace dictated by his/her individual need and ability. Witness is not forced upon the reader, therefore this record of trauma by comics is appropriately sensitive against infliction in turn. Delivery of witness often reflects the artist's experience of trauma. Ironic, yet bitter, detachment, such as the drawing of Naji al-Ali, stand alongside the personally inspired and traumatically saturated drawings of Henry Drager. The first cartoonist chronicled the daily atrocities committed in the Middle East through the POV of a poor child; the latter constructed a fantasy world inspired by his hard experiences growing up as a state-institutionalized and lonely youth. Both suffered, both drew, both gave image and voice to perceived societal injustice. Chute does a great job narrating the pedigree of image bearing witness by offering Hogarth and Goya as precursors to Nakazawa, Spiegelman & Sacco. Disasters of War prefaces Maus and I Saw It. The author's treatment of underground comics in the 60s is quite interesting. More often than not, comics have been thought to cater to a low-brow or unintelligent audience. Chute rectifies this misinterpretation with aplomb. Chute's narrative is very readable and shouldn't pose a problem for the average intelligent reader. Colored illustrations included copiously throughout the text enhance the reading experience immensely. The ending of the book glances at the most recent scare motivated by the power & danger of the drawn image. Here the reader is confronted with the evidence that what the cartoonist personally contributes, more so than writing or photography, gives value, positive as well as negative, to the bit of reality he/she depicts. As value is personally added as art, so the cartoon artist becomes more personally accountable and vulnerable to so many. The Danish and French assassinations due to drawn depictions of Mohammed force a rethinking of the questions as to who is seduced and who is innocent when cartoonists are murdered because of their creative imagery, their hand and voice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mari

  8. 5 out of 5

    katherine

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  10. 5 out of 5

    Eszter Szép

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Dibble Harris

  12. 4 out of 5

    Madelon Wentink

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dorian Alexander

  14. 5 out of 5

    clumped

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nevena

  16. 4 out of 5

    Felipe Souza

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eric Harrington

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ellis

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sabine

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  21. 5 out of 5

    Walter Scharrer

  22. 4 out of 5

    J

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kaarina

  24. 4 out of 5

    Regina

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scoutaccount

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chuchuchu

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ishita Mondal

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jada

  31. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  32. 5 out of 5

    Angus

  33. 5 out of 5

    Yoomi

  34. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  35. 4 out of 5

    Brad

  36. 5 out of 5

    Lorianne DiSabato

  37. 4 out of 5

    Lynn DiFerdinando

  38. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  39. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  40. 4 out of 5

    Ramzi

  41. 4 out of 5

    John C. Polles

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sammy

  43. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  44. 4 out of 5

    Rūta Kazlauskaitė

  45. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Shapiro

  46. 5 out of 5

    John

  47. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  48. 4 out of 5

    Oglesby Public Library District

  49. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  50. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie McGarrah

  51. 4 out of 5

    Francesca

  52. 5 out of 5

    Leigh

  53. 4 out of 5

    Andrei MacDonald

  54. 5 out of 5

    Isabel

  55. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  56. 4 out of 5

    Casey

  57. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

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