Contrary to the idea that comics have naturally matured into respectability, Arresting Development offers a new understanding of comics’ history that connects the genre’s difficult past to its unstable present and uncertain future.
Mainstream narratives of the graphic novel’s development describe the form’s “coming of age,” its maturation from pulp infancy to literary adulthood. In Arresting Development, Christopher Pizzino questions these established narratives, arguing that the medium’s history of censorship and marginalization endures in the minds of its present-day readers and, crucially, its authors. Comics and their writers remain burdened by the stigma of literary illegitimacy and the struggles for status that marked their earlier history.
Many graphic novelists are intensely aware of both the medium’s troubled past and their own tenuous status in contemporary culture. Arresting Development presents case studies of four key works—Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Charles Burns’s Black Hole, and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets—exploring how their authors engage the problem of comics’ cultural standing. Pizzino illuminates the separation of high and low culture, art and pulp, and sophisticated appreciation and vulgar consumption as continual influences that determine the limits of literature, the status of readers, and the value of the very act of reading.
- Introduction: From the Basement
- 1. Coming of Age: The Problem of the Bildungsroman
- 2. Autoclastic Icons: Picturing Illegitimacy
- 3. Pop Art Comics: Frank Miller
- 4. The Scandal of Pleasure: Alison Bechdel
- 5. Rolling in the Gutter: Charles Burns
- 6. Blood and Fire: Gilbert Hernandez
- Conclusion: On Becoming a Comics Scholar
- Works Cited
“This extraordinary book is a potential game-changer in comics studies. In brilliant analyses of disparate works—from the Batman of Frank Miller to the literary memoirs of Alison Bechdel—Pizzino reveals an autoclastic and self-questioning tendency in comics and productively challenges the medium’s gentrification. The result is a breathtaking critical synthesis that will spark arguments (of the best kind) and may redraw the very boundaries of the field.”
Charles Hatfield, California State University, Northridge, author of Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby
“Learned, energetic, and wide-ranging. Pizzino is one of the best scholars of comics working today.”
Hillary L. Chute, author of Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form and Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics