Pastiche and Family Strife in Contemporary American Women's Graphic Memoirs: Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel

  • Olga Michael

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines pastiche in contemporary American women's graphic memoirs. It investigates how the visual/verbal combination of the genre performs the contemporary women artists' engagement with the male literary and artistic canon towards feminist reparative ends. Taking Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel's works as representative examples of the genre, I argue that pastiche reacts against the injuries inflicted on their autobiographical subjects by abusive parents, as well as the injuries inflicted on women artists by the marginalisation of their art. Chapter 1 examines Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic memoirs A Child's Life and Other Stories and The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures. It demonstrates how the girl protagonist is formed through the visual/verbal medium and allusions to previous texts, both of which negotiate the status of the female body - underage and adult - as a passive sexual spectacle under the authoritative male gaze. In addition, it shows that, while referencing those texts, Gloeckner's graphic memoirs simultaneously undo and challenge their meanings towards the autobiographical subject's reparation and the feminist reconfiguration of the female spectacle. Chapter 2 considers Lynda Barry's One! Hundred! Demons! and What It Is in relation to canonical verbal/visual texts that engage with the subject of gender ambiguity and maternal monstrosity. It analyses how previous meanings and formal characteristics are repeated and revised in Barry's works for the formulation of the autobiographical subject as reunited with the maternal body. It also demonstrates how Barry's texts perform a feminist deconstruction of the boundaries between high and low art in a way that foregrounds the significance of everyday domestic artistic production. Chapter 3 investigates how Alison Bechdel's engagement with the male homosexual literary canon in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic allows the Oedipal reunion of the lesbian daughter with the closeted homosexual father. By showing how the canonical literary past is translated into the verbal/visual register of comics, this chapter introduces the potential of the medium for the performance of denaturalised and complex formations of gender and sexuality that repair the autobiographical subject's injuries and underscore the cultural significance of the artistic daughter's work. The conclusion draws my arguments together and underlines the function of pastiche as reparation and the cultural significance of American women's graphic memoirs. It also briefly refers to two examples that demonstrate the continuity and variations of pastiche in contemporary texts, which call for academic attention and foreground the availability of comics to perform complex subject formations and a productive engagement with past traditions.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMonica Pearl (Supervisor) & Michael Bibler (Supervisor)

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