Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel and literary scholar Hillary Chute work out terms for a new critical language with which to engage nonfiction comics.


The collaboration between field-defining cartoonist Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and Are You My Mother? (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) and Hillary Chute, author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010) aimed to be a template-setting model for intellectual inquiry in an area of word-and-image inquiry that is rapidly becoming a part of university study at all levels. As a cartoonist, and as a scholar of contemporary comics, both Bechdel and Chute work in fields that are in flux, and in which the critical language, indeed, the entire critical apparatus is open to debate and discussion. 

This fellowship aimed to open the lines of conversation between cartoonists and scholars in a way that would enrich discourse in their respective fields and create new languages for talking about the field of literature today.  We’re at a moment now in which there is public interest in comics, and yet a deficient critical vocabulary; people don’t know how to talk about contemporary comics narratives historically or formally. This collaboration aspired to be a significant opportunity to fill a critical gap.

Project Inventory

  • a team-taught course for undergraduate and graduate students entitled Lines of Transmission: Comics and Autobiography run through the English Department and situated in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality;
  • a co-curated exhibition at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality: Fevered Archives: 30 Years of Comics from the Not So Mixed Up Files of Alison Bechdel, April 5-June 7, 2012;
  • the international conference Comics: Philosophy & Comics (May 18-20, 2012);
  • a co-presented workshop at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality: First Person Graphic: Comics in Theory and Practice (April 2012); 
  • a joint presentation of research, On Comics and Autobiography, for college faculty advisers at the Advisers Faculty Breakfast series (April 2012); 
  • a reading and presentation of Bechdel's Are You My Mother? sponsored by Creative Writing (April 2012);
  • a joint presentation at the School of the Art Institute, Department of Visual and Critical Studies entitled Comics and Autobiography (April 2012);
  • Bechdel reading from Are You My Mother? (released May 2012) at Women and Children First and other local venues, Chicago (May 2012);
  • A video interview of Bechdel (by Chute) for the Critical Inquiry website (December 2011); and
  • related press coverage, including a piece in The New Yorker by Judith Thurman,  and co-authorship of a cover story in the Chicago Tribune Printers Row literary journal (May 20, 2012).