History 403B (101) Seminar in the History of International Relations: The Middle East in Graphic Novels




Course Level





The Middle East in Graphic Novels: History, Politics and the Tragic Comic: Once thought of as juvenile and immaterial to politics, society and culture, graphic novels are today frequently considered art forms, political satires and/or intellectual compositions fundamental to the health of our polities as well as our imaginings of past and present. This course will explore graphic novels with a focus on their representation of Middle Eastern history, politics and peoples. Reading such works as Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Craig Thompson’s Habibi, Brian K. Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad and several others, we will discuss the evolution of the medium, the fraught history of visually representing the Middle East, as well as the challenges and opportunities graphic novels present for understanding the region. On this latter note, particular attention will be paid to the contentious use of graphic novels as works of journalism, oral history, and autobiography as well as to fundamental questions on the ethics of graphically representing tragic episodes from Middle Eastern pasts. Second, given recent events associated with cartooning (i.e. the Charlie Hebdo massacre) we will also seek to grapple with such divisive issues as Islamophobia, Orientalism, free speech, and the uses and limits of satire. Finally, students should note that some of the texts we study contain graphic content (no pun intended), including depictions of mass murder and sexual violence. The artist's choice to visually represent such crimes will be a significant and recurring topic of discussion, as will the nature and quality of their depictions..