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Friday, December 2, 2022

Book Review: Graphic Novels and Comics as World Literature

reviewed by John A. Lent

James Hodapp, ed. Graphic Novels and Comics as World Literature. New York:  Bloomsbury Academic, 2022. 285 pp. US $130.00. ISBN:  978-1-5013-7341-1.

James Hodapp’s introduction, “Global South on Their Own Terms,” plays on needs this reviewer has called for in writings and teachings in the U.S. and abroad since the 1960s--that South mass communications (and, in this case, comics art) should be looked at from their own cultures, not those of the West; that Western-oriented theories, notions, and research methodologies are not appropriate in the South with these countries’ wide-ranging linguistic forms, reading patterns, and visual literacy levels.

Hodapp gets at these points, stating, that comics studies have “lagged considerably in coming to terms with its Eurocentrism and in offering alternative and better paradigms that place non-Western comics on equal footing with their Western peers.” Much of what he finds lacking harkens to the 1960s-1970s’ debates concerning a need for a new world information order, consisting of a free and two-way flow of information, the ending of cultural imperialism, and media that are accessible and affordable to the masses. Hodapp provides as main tasks of his book, to “conceptualize non-reductive ways of reading and understanding Global South comics in and of themselves without prioritizing Western legibility” and to avoid a “Global South one-size-fits-all singularity of theory and method.” These are worthy goals, but, as mass communications studies have shown, they may be a long time in coming.

Graphic Novels and Comics as World Literature itself, an excellent compendium of comics research dealing with 13 countries and the Francophone Africa region, nearly all in the South, makes a start in satisfying what Hodapp seeks, putting comics in frameworks of “south to south exchange, transculturalism, and translocality.” For example, Jasmin Wrobel, while highlighting women as important to South American comics, focuses on the work of Colombian-Ecuadorian Powerpaola (Paola Gaviria), showing how her comics coincide with some Western successes, at the same time, how they differ; Dima Nasser, describing Egypt’s The Apartment in Bab El-Louk as a series of “visual poems,” points out how the book rebukes the graphic novel form, and Jana Fedke analyzes the Western comic Black Panther and its pretensions to represent African cultures.

Other chapters deal with the acceptance of Japanese “boys love manga” in Chile; the statelessness of Palestinian comics; an overview of the comics scene of Francophone Africa; a rundown of the contained-in-Malaysia Reach for the Stars comic; an allegorical study of the South Korean graphic novel, Grass (dealing with comfort women of World War II) and grass vegetation; graphic reportage overwhelmingly about refugee camps, including in Mexico; Indian graphic novels; the Ramayana epic and its comics adaptation, Sita’s Ramayana; an argument for using the storytelling traditions of Yawuru people of Australia to give an indigenous Global South perspective, and a split narration in a graphic memoir about a perplexed Korean-born boy existing in a Belgian adoption setting.

Though a noble effort to look at the non-Western comics through Global South perspectives, Graphic Novels and Comics as World Literature and its contributors cannot resist depending on Eurocentric comics theories (actually, notions that have not even made it to the hypotheses stage) and research techniques, and mostly taking the word of Western writers (e.g., Hillary Chute is cited on at least 17 occasions).

However, delineating the challenges awaiting Global South comics researchers, which this book does, is the first step towards action. For that, and providing fascinating case studies of comics in every region of the world, James Hodapp must be commended as a pioneering voice.

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