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Holocaust Graphic Narratives: Generation, Trauma, and Memory

Holocaust Graphic Narratives: Generation, Trauma, and Memory

Автором Victoria Aarons

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Holocaust Graphic Narratives: Generation, Trauma, and Memory

Автором Victoria Aarons

437 pages
3 hours
Dec 19, 2019


In Holocaust Graphic Narratives, Victoria Aarons demonstrates the range and fluidity of this richly figured genre. Employing memory as her controlling trope, Aarons analyzes the work of the graphic novelists and illustrators, making clear how they extend the traumatic narrative of the Holocaust into the present and, in doing so, give voice to survival in the wake of unrecoverable loss. In recreating moments of traumatic rupture, dislocation, and disequilibrium, these graphic narratives contribute to the evolving field of Holocaust representation and establish a new canon of visual memory. The intergenerational dialogue established by Aarons’ reading of these narratives speaks to the on-going obligation to bear witness to the Holocaust. Examined together, these intergenerational works bridge the erosions created by time and distance. As a genre of witnessing, these graphic stories, in retracing the traumatic tracks of memory, inscribe the weight of history on generations that follow.
Dec 19, 2019

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Holocaust Graphic Narratives - Victoria Aarons

Holocaust Graphic Narratives

Holocaust Graphic Narratives

Generation, Trauma, and Memory

Victoria Aarons

Rutgers University Press

New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Aarons, Victoria, author.

Title: Holocaust graphic narratives : generation, trauma, and memory / Victoria Aarons.

Description: New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers University Press, [2019] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2019008414 | ISBN 9781978802568 (cloth) | ISBN 9781978802551 (paperback)

Subjects: LCSH: Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945), in literature. | Graphic novels—History and criticism. | Autobiography. | Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Influence. | Literature, Modern—20th century—History and criticism. | Literature, Modern—21st century—History and criticism.

Classification: LCC PN56.H55 A238 2019 | DDC 741.5/358405318—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019008414

A British Cataloging-in-Publication record for this book is available from the British Library.

Copyright © 2020 by Victoria Aarons

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Please contact Rutgers University Press, 106 Somerset Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. The only exception to this prohibition is fair use as defined by U.S. copyright law.


For my sons,

Aaron and Gabriel Salomon,

and in memory of my father,

Zelig Aarons



Introduction: Visual Testimonies of Memory

Chapter 1. The Performance of Memory: Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own, a Child Survivor’s (Auto)Biographical Memoir

Chapter 2. Memory Frames: Mendel’s Daughter, a Second-Generation Perspective

Chapter 3. Replacing Absence with Memory: Bernice Eisenstein’s Graphic Memoir I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

Chapter 4. Flying Couch: A Third-Generation Tapestry of Memory

Chapter 5. Yossel: April 19, 1943: Possible Histories

Chapter 6. Visual Landscapes of Memory: Fracturing Time and Space

Epilogue: An Inheritance of Memory





About the Author


Visual Testimonies of Memory

Pictures that lock the story in our minds.

—Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

When the historians close their books, when the statisticians stop counting, the memorialists and witnesses can no longer remember, then the poet, the novelist, the artist comes and surveys the devastated landscape left by the fire—the ashes. He rummages through the debris in search of a design. For if the essence, the meaning, or the meaninglessness of the Holocaust will survive our sordid history, it will be in works of art.

—Raymond Federman, The Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jewish Writer

Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the first graphic narrative to receive a Pulitzer Prize (1992), established the genre of the graphic novel as a legitimate form of Holocaust representation. Spiegelman’s groundbreaking work created an opening for Holocaust graphic storytelling, legitimizing further experimentation with the graphic form as a meaningful, even provocative genre of literary expression of the Shoah. The success of Maus provided graphic novelists and illustrators a kind of literary license, as graphic artist Miriam Katin put it, permission¹ to enter the space of Holocaust history and memory in order to tell their own and their families’ stories of survival and devastating loss in this unconventional, experimental, and potentially problematical genre. As Leonard Rifas has suggested, Spiegelman’s Maus did more than any other single work to establish comics as a legitimate medium for communicating serious stories.² In doing so, Spiegelman stretched the limits, the range of possibilities, and the definition of the genre, opening the comics medium to a layered, complex expression of both individual and historical trauma. Maus, arguably the world’s most famous work of comics, as Hillary L. Chute proposes, not only introduced a new and richly figured genre of Holocaust testimony but also expanded the reach and possibilities for the medium, forever altering the terrain of comics in America and worldwide.³ Spiegelman implicitly stages his extended, visually and verbally narrated story of a Holocaust survivor’s harrowing experiences and the imprint of the deeply engrained past on the psychic life of the inheritor of that history against generic expectations and incongruities of form and content. In drawing upon both discursive modes of storytelling and visual elements of comics, Spiegelman reconceived the ways in which we envision and narrate the broader strokes of history as they inform and are informed by personal histories. Spiegelman’s work envisions the intimacies of history, providing midrashic—interpretive, expansive, elastic, and performative—moments of exploration and adjudication, extending the narrative of the past into the present and thus reading history responsively. Maus, in many ways, then, created not only an innovative outlet for comics but a new genre for Holocaust expression, new ways of seeing and bearing witness to the Holocaust and its haunting aftermath for generations extending beyond that history.

The genre of the graphic narrative, in the past two decades in particular, has moved from underground to mainstream. Graphic narratives have emerged from the experimental, avant-garde underground to the forefront of literary production and consumption. Once considered an icon of the emergence of pop culture, an extension of the generic mixing implied by the neologism commix, the graphic novel has taken on the dual representational seriousness of the authentically personal and the complexly political. As Ariela Freedman proposes in the introduction to a special issue of Partial Answers devoted to Comics and the Canon, The new respectability of comics has been especially evident over the last three decades, as comics, graphic memoirs, and graphic novels have continued to emerge as literary, artistic, and cultural artifacts of central importance. Comics are no longer seen as outside what we might broadly call a literary and fine-arts ‘canon,’ as objects belonging to low culture rather than high culture, as ephemeral items rather than artworks of lasting and iconic significance, as lesser hybrids of word and image rather than as belonging to a specific demanding medium.⁴ Thus in the decades since the initial publication of Maus, from its original serial distribution in Raw magazine as a countercultural artifact to its two-volume book form (as well as its subsequent iterations in MetaMaus, In the Shadow of No Towers, and Breakdowns), the graphic novel has become a recognized genre of Holocaust literary representation. Since the publication of Maus (volume 1 in book form in 1986, volume 2 in 1991), an array of graphic novelists and illustrators in the United States and abroad have attempted, to varying degrees of success, to give voice to the extended trauma of the Holocaust.

With memory as the controlling trope, these graphic writers and cartoonists, through the juxtaposition of text and image, extend the narrative of the Holocaust into the present, creating a midrashic imperative to reconstruct and reanimate the experience of the Shoah, giving voice to unrecoverable loss. By midrash, in this context, I am referring loosely to an interpretive process of storytelling, a response to those moments of interruption, pauses, and gaps in a narrative that open themselves up to further analysis and commentary. Here we might consider Scott McCloud’s definition of closure in comics as a process of midrashic interpretation. Closure, as McCloud defines it, actively engages the reader/viewer in the phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole.⁵ As we navigate our way among the interstices between panels, the empty spaces on the page abut and leave room for interpretive intervention. We thus perform a midrashic perceptual leap in response to the perceived incompletion of the text. Midrashic practice begins with a primary text open to interpretive possibilities. In the Holocaust graphic narrative, individual eyewitness accounts and experiences form the primary narrative as it extends generationally in this dialectic of part and whole, itself representing the fragments of memory and offering potential responses to rupture.

The popular and critical reception of Maus, then, changed many of our assumptions about the capacity of comics to cross over into a domain of conceptual structures and approaches, taking up, in longer narrative form, those subjects, patterns of narration, literary conceits, and rhetorical tropes conventionally associated with more traditional, discursive literary forms such as the novel, autobiography, memoir, and creative nonfiction. While, to be sure, the comics medium has a long tradition of political cartooning (i.e., political critiques, satires, caricatures) and, more specifically, World War II cartoons circulated for the purposes of both propaganda and censure, the Holocaust as the subject of extended sequential art narratives, as pioneering cartoonist Will Eisner defined the genre, has a more limited and restricted history.⁶ The publication of Maus was largely responsible for the development, over the past twenty years or so, of the art of graphic comics storytelling as a medium for the representation of war and of natural and human-made catastrophe.⁷ These extended graphic narratives engage history in complex representational and perceptual modes of interpretive discovery. These are complicated visual and verbal narratives that, as Martha J. Cutter and Cathy J. Schlund-Vials propose, enable not only recitation of past trauma but also a reevaluation of what is at stake in the envisioning of history itself.⁸ The interplay of distinct moments in history and the reach of the imagination unrestricted by temporal, spatial, and geographical boundaries create urgency and immediacy. Here the reader/viewer and the author/graphic artist are cocollaborators in the movement across time and topography as they enter the muddied borderlands of memory. An intersection of personal and collective histories characterizes these graphic narratives. This intersection produces a sense of historical rupture and disequilibrium, joining potentially an individual’s connection to the past with the cumulative, wide-scale effect of moments in history. In this way, Holocaust graphic narratives create a visual testimony to the past, to devastating loss as well as to survival.

The juxtaposition of image and text fundamental to the graphic narrative emerges through the structural unit of the individual panel and the white spaces (the gutters) between and among the panels. As McCloud suggests, the work of the imagination takes place in the limbo of the gutter, breaks in the unfolding narrative that transport us across significant distances of time and space.⁹ The play of presence and absence that arises with a focus on the individual panels in sequence freezes the frame of history and experience for moments of moral and ethical reckoning. This tension between the spoken and the unspoken, emerging in the spaces among the panels, mediates the representation of trauma. These material, visual spaces, in which time is frozen, not unlike the framed photographic pose that freezes a particular moment temporally and spatially, juxtapose the seen with the unseen. As Chute suggests in Disaster Drawn, an eloquent study of documentary comics, the nonfictional graphic narrative that reimagines historical moments of traumatic rupture is a form of witnessing, an architecture for the expression of individual and collective trauma.¹⁰ Not surprisingly, the idea of a Holocaust graphic novel, at least in its nascent stage, raised the question of appropriateness. Is a comic book an appropriate medium to represent atrocity? Might the very cartoon form unavoidably trivialize the subject or fictionalize the historical reality of the Shoah? Does the form itself distract from the seriousness of the subject? Is the comics structure by necessity reductive, thus threatening to minimize the subjects it illustrates? The design and popular history of the genre as well as common assumptions about the audience for both comics (e.g., infantile, kiddie fare,¹¹ the funnies) and commix (an underground venue for the portrayal of prurient and sexually explicit content, drugs, gratuitous violence, etc.) would seem to suggest that the subject of the Holocaust was untouchable in this art form. Simply put, the argument might look something like this: the reality of the Holocaust is far too complex for comics artists to convey given the formal structures of the genre (i.e., the minimalism and economy required by the cartoon’s balloon of speech, the containment of the panels, spatial representation, caricatured drawings, and so forth). In a medium that, by its very nature, is predisposed, as Joshua Lambert suggests, to stylize and simplify and exaggerate, a comics aesthetic would seem antithetical to the enormity and complexity of a subject such as the Holocaust.¹²

Thus the art of graphic storytelling and graphic narratives in general have, in the past couple of decades, expanded not only their thematic and narratological scope but also their claim to generic seriousness. In this expansion of scope and seriousness, extended novelistic graphic narratives have incorporated diverse modes of graphic storytelling: graphic memoirs, autobiographical graphic narratives (both what Gillian Whitlock refers to autographics or the aesthetics of life narratives¹³), graphic novels, graphic histories, graphic documentaries and journalism, graphic adaptations of traditional literary works, and so forth. This is not to say, however, that issues of the appropriateness of the comics graphic form and the aesthetics of Holocaust representation, in general, are not still debated both in and out of the academy. The cartoon strip still carries with it the residue of previous conceptions regarding the seriousness of the form, a structure more suitable to comic exaggeration and distortion and thus misrepresentation. Indeed, Holocaust humor, and thus its implicit relation to the cartoon strip, continues to be the source of fraught and not so funny dispute.¹⁴ Of course, such a volatile and divided response to the question of whether the Holocaust can ever be the subject of comedy, or parody, or caricature, or lampoon (or any style of entertainment) is more than a matter of taste. The issue of form and function in this regard raises long-standing concerns related to an aesthetic of Holocaust representation as well as a caution against fictionalizing the Holocaust, providing yet another opening for Holocaust denial and antisemitism.

Whether Holocaust comics and graphic novels are, as Philip Roth might have said, good-for-the-Jews or no-good-for-the-Jews¹⁵ or whether even such discussions are productive is not something I intend to take up here. Instead, simply put, no longer the poor stepchild of literary production, graphic novels and nonfictional graphic narratives currently hold their place among traditional literary forms and genres; they are, as Ariela Freedman proposes, in conversation with an established literary and artistic canon and . . . make a claim to cultural centrality and significance.¹⁶ In many ways, graphic narratives speak to the age in which we live. Regardless of one’s reaction to the form and its possible generic limitations, the graphic novel, with its juxtaposition of both the comics structure (panels, gutters, icons, cartoonish figures, speech balloons, etc.) and text, has become increasingly a medium for a serious and complex expression of individual and collective histories.

The genre of the graphic narrative has become a platform for evoking defining and rupturing traumatic moments of history—both individual and collective—and thus for an emerging aesthetics of memory. Especially in the years following the turn of the twenty-first century, the graphic novel has shown itself to be an innovative stage upon which to enact the participatory engagement of storyteller and reader in bringing to life the increasingly remote and inaccessible events of the Holocaust at an important time in history, a time that will witness the end of direct survivor testimony. Through the interplay of visual and textual design, graphic authors and illustrators, ever since Spiegelman, have created, as Baetens and Pylyser have suggested, real and open inquiries that pay great attention to the possible resistance of what it means to be a historical witness and the material resistance of what it means to present the successful or failed encounter between victim, eye or hearsay witness, inquirer, and artist with the help of words and images.¹⁷ The graphic narrative creates the dynamic, elastic conditions for a collaborative effort in bearing witness and sustaining memory. Rather than a static or flat representation of history, the genre generates a graphic performance of individual stories set against the backdrop of the historical period of the Shoah.

In large part because of its juxtaposed elements—the tension between form and subject and the destabilization thus achieved through such antitheses—the comics structure can have a jarring, disturbingly arresting, and engaging effect. Thus the genre can provide a powerful antidote, as Lambert argues, to Holocaust fatigue, to the suspicion that our culture has become saturated with Holocaust paraphernalia—with all things Holocaust—the Holocaust as a current favorite referent in discussions of persecution in contemporary culture. As a result, as in the way of all such terms in the popular lexicon, the Holocaust runs the risk of becoming diluted, diminished by overuse, misuse, and appropriation by rote. That is, Holocaust memorial discourse can play out in unthinking idioms, the great accomplice of indifference and historical amnesia and, as George Orwell famously wrote, of political quietism.¹⁸ Thus as Lambert has proposed, How important, and how powerful, it is for a topic that demands reverence to be treated in a medium that is allergic to it: "Whether it’s humans drawn as animals [Maus] or a young boy’s survival of Auschwitz as a cartoon mutant’s origin story [X-Men: Magneto Testament], there’s something off about these works. And that’s true even of graphic works of simple, straightforward testimony, because rendering speech and historical experience into strips of cartoons involves so much distortion that a reader cannot forget . . . that this is a highly unnatural, profoundly deliberate way of communicating . . . which gives them the power to stop us from feeling like we’ve already seen it all.¹⁹ Whether or not Holocaust fatigue is an accurate assessment of the media-saturated, catastrophe-driven predicament of our age or whether the term itself has simply become fashionable—yet one more trending," commercialized, media-hyped slogan—the telling point here is that the discourses surrounding the Shoah need to be revitalized. Such discussions suggest the need for new forms of Holocaust expression, a reawakening of attention and conscience in the continuing attempt to articulate, to reckon with, and to calculate the defining events of the Shoah and its implications for the future. The graphic narrative defamiliarizes the discourse of Holocaust testimony by transplanting it into this new medium.

Graphic storytelling, especially narratives that return to specific moments in history—both recent and distant—can provide a visual and textual shape to voiced memory. The antithetical, incongruous, and largely experimental nature of the graphic narrative (though no longer as unconventional as it once was) opens up possibilities for further expression, history unfrozen, as the novelist David Grossman puts it.²⁰ The ongoing extension and expression of Holocaust memory is thus in defiance of historical amnesia, of indifference, of silence, of an eliding of the past—of those who, like the narrator of Saul Bellow’s The Bellarosa Connection, would like to forget about remembering.²¹ The genre of the Holocaust graphic narrative, then, provides a means of writing against adversity, a resistance to the sapping of memory, as Edmund de Waal writes in The Hare with Amber Eyes, the story of the inheritance bequeathed intergenerationally to him of the valuable collection of netsukes, the legacy of his extended family hidden during the Nazi appropriation of their home and property.²² Graphic storytelling, then, creates an architecture of memory, a grammar and structure for vivifying and materializing memory in the figurative and literal landscape of the past as it orchestrates the fluid perception of space and time. We thus come into history by way of individual histories, stories that demystify the actualities and the expressibility of that history.

These are very personal stories, counter-narratives of witnessing and testimony, as Jeffrey Clapp puts it,²³ polyphonically voiced in a way that situates individual lives against the backdrop of historical catastrophe. Such graphic narratives that, as Chute suggests, bear witness to authors’ own traumas or to those of others materially retrace inscriptional effacement; they repeat and reconstruct in order to counteract.²⁴ In doing so, the graphic artists I am looking at here reimagine and retrace specific moments and individuals rather than attempt to reproduce or represent a panorama of Holocaust history. The narrating voices in these works are not distanced, omniscient tellers of history. Rather, the guiding voices we hear are deeply invested in the stories they tell, memoirists of the frame. They are immediate, urgent speaking voices. If not direct witnesses to those moments in history, they are, nonetheless, active participants in the stories they tell. These stories thus are narratives of self-identity set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, identities that significantly have been formed by the histories of others, by those whose lives—if belatedly—come to inform the author’s own.

By and large, the stories visually told combine individual and family histories with the larger and extended scope and generational range of Holocaust history. These are participatory works in which the writer/illustrator, whose authorial ethos is complicated at moments when the narrative voice splinters, creates multiple telling voices and reanimates the defining events of the past, defining that past in terms of individual identity and also the shape of history. Thus these graphic narratives attempt to create presence where there is absence. They create a whole out of fragments. The structure of the graphic narrative, as Chute suggests, through the work of marks on the page creates it as a space and substance, gives it a corporeality, a physical shape, the material shape of history but also of traumatic rupture, fragmentation, and loss.²⁵ After all, the image, as Didi-Huberman remarked, is the very attestation of absence.²⁶ That is, the manifestation of the image, the material presence of the image, evokes its absence all the while constructing a material because of its visual connection to the past. As Chute elsewhere proposes, Against a valorization of absence and aporia, graphic narrative asserts the value of presence, however complex and contingent.²⁷ In these graphic narratives of entire communities elided by war, presence is set against a landscape of loss, of absent lives and topographies made present for the moment of discovery and recovery.

The absence that surrounds the Holocaust—that is, the tentacles of loss and those stories that have gone unheard because of a protective or defensive silence, because of belated pursuit or awareness, or simply because there is no one left to tell—is the place of midrashic invention. The graphic artists who write and draw amid the rubble of Holocaust history do so in order to reconstruct, reckon with, and reanimate the past not only to make claims to memory but to visualize and memorialize the lost. Especially for generations increasingly removed from the events of the time, the Holocaust, as Andrea Simon writes in her memoir Bashert: A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Quest, is one big empty hole.²⁸ Thus we find here, as elsewhere in Holocaust narratives, a performative response to the gaps in individual and collective stories of the Holocaust, a process that both shows and tells—that is, a metanarrative that self-consciously comments on the rupture even as it enacts it. Midrashic extension, then, creates a bridge between past and present and extends the memory of the Shoah. Moreover, as we find in the graphic narratives that we will examine here, both visual and textual elements participate in the process of midrashic interpretation; it is at the intersection of text and image (and the spaces in between) that the story is enacted. As with the aperture in the lens of the photographer’s camera, the space through which light passes, here the aperture of narration—the seeing light of narration—clarifies and reframes the experience. The aperture fractures the narration into separate focuses, distinct moments, voices, panels, and images in order to bring them into focus, to reunify the parts—past, present, and future—in an arc of discovery.

The graphic narrative is simultaneously a condensed, elliptical, minimalist form and a dilating one. Literal gaps between panels open themselves to the readerly creation of time, distance, and space. Limitations in language and visual form (limitations on what can actually be represented) distill to compelling materiality the abstractions of loss and its traumatic consequences. The stark economy of the graphic narrative lends itself to the midrashic imperative of Holocaust testimony. Testimony is, as Lawrence Langer suggests, a form of remembering.²⁹ Testimonies are living expressions of both individual and collective history, human documents rather than merely historical ones.³⁰ Through the graphic form, the writer/illustrator gives a human face (indeed, the panel might be considered a kind of face) to the ongoing, participatory act of remembrance. In re-creating moments of traumatic rupture, dislocation, and disequilibrium—primary tropes of Holocaust representation—such graphic narratives contribute to the evolving field of Holocaust literary studies by establishing a visual testimony to memory.

The range of Holocaust graphic narratives (fiction and nonfiction) is considerable. Some of the works that compose the overarching genre include, but are by no means limited to, the following: Joe Kubert’s Yossel: April 19, 1943 (2003); Pascal Croci’s Auschwitz (2004); Bernice Eisenstein’s I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors (2006); Martin Lemelman’s Mendel’s Daughter (2006); Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own (2006) and its sequel, Letting It Go (2013); David Sim’s Judenhauss (2008); Jason Lutes’s Berlin saga (2008); Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s X-Men: Magneto Testament (2008); Polish writer Michael Galek and illustrator Marcin Nowakowski’s Episodes from Auschwitz (2009); Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis’s Resistance trilogy (2010, 2011, 2012); Trina Robbins’s Lily Renée, Escape Artist (2011); Belgium-born Israeli cartoonist Michel Kichka’s Second Generation: The Things I Didn’t Tell My Father (2012); French novelist Jérémie Dres’s We Won’t See Auschwitz (2013); Israeli commix novelist Rutu Modan’s The Property (2013); Reinhard Kleist’s The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft (2014); German graphic novelist Barbara Yelin’s Irmina (2014); Amy Kurzweil’s Flying Couch (2016); and Emil Farris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (2017). Other graphic narratives tangentially refer to the events of the Holocaust, such as Marion Baraitser and Anna Evans’s Home Number One (2006). So too there is an established genre of illustrated children’s books about the Holocaust—including such well-known works as The Search (2009) and A Family Secret (2009) by Eric Heuvel; Good-Bye Marianne by Irene Watts and Marianne E. Shoemaker (2008); and Hidden by Loic Dauvillier, Greg Salsedo, and Marc Lizano (2012)—as well as a number of graphic renditions of the Diary of Anne Frank produced primarily for a young audience. Notably all these publications appeared in the early decades of the twenty-first century, with the exception perhaps of a most curious Japanese series that came out in the late 1990s: Osamu Tezuka’s Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century (1995–1996), which begins in Berlin during the Olympics and follows the lives of four characters, the Japanese Sohei Toge, the German Japanese Adolf Kaufman, the Jewish German Adolf Kamil, and Adolf Hitler. Although, because of its length, not formally a graphic novel per se—that is, an extended work of sequential art—we might include in this list Bernard Krigstein and Al Feldstein’s utterly remarkable eight-page comics strip Master Race, written only a decade after the end of the war (and to which I will return in the final chapter). This list of titles is, by no means, exhaustive, and I include only those graphic works that were either originally written in or translated into English. There are others that I have not included because they refer only briefly or in passing to the events of the Shoah. My focus here is on those graphic narratives that have at their center the events of the Holocaust and that were published primarily in the first two decades of the twenty-first century, a period that has seen an appreciable return to the subject of the Shoah across genres (including a considerable number of novels, memoirs, and films), over half a century since the end of the war and the liberation of the concentration camps, a time defined, in large part, by the end of direct survivor testimony.

Let me return briefly to the related issues of definition and genre as they emerge from any study of graphic sequential storytelling. Both generic definition and generic convention assume the centrality of narrative voice(s) to narration. Graphic novel is the customary catchall generic term for the range of texts that I’m discussing here. That is, graphic novel has become the designation, no doubt in large part for marketing purposes, of a novel-length work in graphic form, its definitional usefulness in distinguishing it from, say, the formal shape of traditional prose fiction but also from comics. The designation graphic novel summons a kind of literary weight that the comics strip lacks. I don’t want to go into the history of the term graphic novel, a subject that has been well covered in the literature.³¹ Part of the categorical problem of what we commonly call the graphic novel stems from its relative growth in production as well as its relative newness in the field of literary studies and its inclusion as part of a developing literary canon. The graphic novel is a hybrid form by its very structure: the intersection and interplay of text and image. Thus it defies categorical simplicity and singularity and draws from both. More to the point, for our purposes, graphic novel does not really get at the complexity, the intricacy, and the relation of modes of narration to the subject of the works I examine here. That is, if novel suggests, descriptively, a work of fiction—crudely put as something that is not true, the stuff of the imagination—then the categorical marker does not adequately reflect the texts that we are looking at. These hybrid works not only merge text and image in complicated ways but bring together and blur a variety of perspectives and positions from which the narrator and the implied author/graphic artist view the subject: fiction, to be sure, but also memoir, autobiography, biography, historical fiction, journalism, and creative nonfiction.

Therefore, while some graphic novels are works of fiction, many are not. And some, of course, are semifictional. Thus while I will refer to the term graphic novel, in particular, when I am referencing specifically the novelist’s craft, I prefer the term graphic narrative, since that seems to me to describe more accurately the kinds of works that define the richly constructed stories of the Holocaust that compose the genre. As Chute rightly explains:

Graphic novel is often a misnomer. Many fascinating works grouped under this umbrella . . . aren’t novels at all: they are rich works of nonfiction; hence my emphasis here on the broader term narrative. (Indeed, the form confronts the default assumption that drawing as a system is inherently more fictional than prose and gives a new cast to what we consider fiction and nonfiction.) In graphic narrative, the substantial length implied by novel remains intact but the term shifts to accommodate modes other than fiction. A graphic narrative is a book-length work in the medium of comics.³²

Significantly, as Chute points out, Graphic narrative suggests that historical accuracy is not the opposite of creative invention.³³ Graphic narrative, thus, is a more apt description of the hybridity of the genre in several interrelated ways: the merging of otherwise distinct genres, the collaboration of and conversation

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