Citation: Gray, Brenna. 2018. “Contains Scenes of a Graphic Nature: Sympathy for the Devil. First Response”. Epoiesen. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22215/epoiesen/2018.8
Brenna Clarke Gray is a faculty member in the Department of English at Douglas College. (On Twitter @brennacgray). ORCID ID: 0000-0002-6079-0484.
This piece is a response to Rowe’s Contains Scenes of a Graphic Nature: Sympathy for the Devil
☞A Process of Uncovering
I found Rowe’s discussion of the intersections of creative and scholarly practice illuminating and engaging. It reminded me of the lively historiographic conversation Chester Brown (2006) engages in using the endnotes of his Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (indeed, if Rowe is not familiar with that text she may find it intersects with her own process in productive or at least interesting ways). Reading Louis Riel often frustrates students, who feel when they read about the fictionalization and narrativization process in the endnotes, after responding usually positively to the comic itself, that they have somehow been “tricked” by the practitioner. This echoes on the reader’s side the anxieties Rowe so keenly illuminates throughout the reflection section of this piece. But as Rowe suggests here, this art of representing history as a comic is much more accurately described as a process of uncovering: making explicit the methods by which historical storytelling — whether academic journal or comic book — is always already constructed. My gratitude to Rowe for the notion of historical figures existing in “performance” with and for their storytellers, academic or otherwise.
All history-making is story-telling. As Rowe suggests, everything we know about Moore we know through the narrativization of others. It strikes me that creative projects are useful ways for making this process of construction more open, and I think Rowe does a compelling job of outlining her own process.
I think Rowe comes to an important conclusion in this tension between representing “truth,” would that were even possible, and replicating the continued absence of women from the historical record. If we cannot reframe our scholarly and creative practices to rethink the need for sources that simply do not exist (or at least do not exist unmediated by dominant voices), we will only reenact the same marginalization in our own work. I appreciated Rowe’s reflection that she needs to put aside the “pressure of the archive.” There are many paths to truth.
Another interesting thread in this discussion is the idea of how we narrativize trauma, and the expectations of audiences when they read about it. I’m thinking here of Lilie Chouliaraki’s work on the spectatorship of trauma (2006), which while about mediated representations of trauma in journalism and mass media might have a lot to add to Rowe’s thinking about the representation of historical women’s experiences — especially those that are, as in the case of many historical women, inherently traumatic.
Finally, the comic itself was a pleasure to read. Rowe comments on her rigid panel/gutter structure, but I actually see a lot of storytelling and play here in the places where she does make a choice to subvert norms. I particularly thought the weighting of gutters differently and the use of angled gutters did an effective job of keeping the narrative just slightly off-balance in a way that mirrors some of the questions of historiography in the text. I often had the sense that I was peering at the action of the comic through small cottage windows; the visceral experience of reading this comic is one of voyeurism, which neatly intersects with Rowe’s own anxieties about Moore’s representation being so profoundly mediated by other voices.
Overall, I appreciated this practitioner’s reflection of working through the tensions in historical storytelling. Rowe’s observations are thoughtful, reflective, and should be generative for other scholars and creators.
Brown, Chester. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. 1st edition, Drawn and Quarterly, 2006.
Chouliaraki, Lilie. The Spectatorship of Suffering. 1 edition, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2006.
Cover Image “Image taken from page 80 of ‘Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Broads. By Payne Jennings. With letterpess description by E. R. Suffling. (Third edition.)’” British Library
Masthead Image Rowe, Sympathy for the Devil, pg 4