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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 13, Issue 2 (June 2015) : 337-358
Chris Ware’s Epiphanic Comics

Ariela Freedman
Rubric A: Literature and the Visual Arts
Rubric B: Then and Now



This paper reads Chris Ware’s Building Stories in light of his many references to art and literature, especially to Cornell, Courbet, Duchamp, and James Joyce. The author argues that Building Stories requires intermedial reading, knowledge of both the “high” canon of modernist literature and art and the history and iconology of twentieth and twenty-first century comics. In Building Stories Ware incorporates the work and ideas of canonical art history through an allusive play that is hybrid, layered and subversive. The paper claims that Ware’s citation of Duchamp and Courbet reframes a dissociated and dissociating trope, the dismembered female nude, in a story critical of the objectification of women, the mask of femininity, and the traps of gender. Ware ultimately does so in the service of a sentimental and redemptive narrative frame the paper calls the epiphanic mode. As used by Ware, the epiphanic mode marries one of the most sacred and revered concepts of modernism, the epiphany, to the formal device of the comics capsule as used by Bil Keane, one of the most maligned and popular comics artists of the last fifty years. The turn towards a devalued device — the Bil Keane capsule, or epiphanic circle, and a devalued experience — the domestic, rejects the internal hierarchies not only of the art world but also of the comics world, which is so often associated with masculine and public models of heroism.

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