By Elise Harmon, news editor
Hillary Chute is a scholar of subjects outside the traditional realm of literature studies, focusing on graphic novels, comic books and manga as opposed to Gothic romance and poetry. Her new book, “Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics and Documentary Form,” examines how comics and graphic novels can document tragedies and is the subject of a presentation she will give Thursday as a part of the Barrs Lecture Series.
Chute is a professor in the departments of English and visual arts at the University of Chicago and will give her lecture at 5 p.m. on Thursday in 472 Holmes Hall. The event is primarily intended for graduate students, but interested undergraduates are welcome to attend.
Initial advertising for the event incorrectly stated that Chute would be reading from Art Spiegeleman and Keiji Nakazawa’s works. Instead, Chute will be discussing this work but not doing a reading of graphic novels.
“I’m just giving a straight-up talk about the subject, which I hope will be as interesting as a straight-up reading,” Chute said.
Chute became interested in comics when she was earning her Ph.D. at Rutgers University. There, in a contemporary literature class, she read “Maus,” a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman that depicts scenes from his father’s experience during the Holocaust.
“I got so interested in ‘Maus’ and how it worked as a narrative, especially how comics work as a form for expressing certain types of historical realities, specifically traumatic ones,” Chute said. “I kept asking why this medium works so well for this kind of story.”
At the lecture, Chute will discuss how graphic novels work as documentary, nonfiction and history.
Graphic novels, she said, are a unique way to view tragedy.
“They’re an object that a person can pick up and consume at his or her own pace, which I think is really important for traumatic images,” she said. “It gives you frames on the page that the reader then has to figure out the connections between, so the reader is doing the animation in his or her own mind. And the reader can just put the book down, or linger on a page.”
Belinda Walzer, an English professor at Northeastern, said she’s not surprised Chute was invited to speak.
“She’s a major scholar in the field and has really defined the use of the graphic narrative in the study of humanities,” Walzer, whose work also includes the study of visual texts and comics, said.
According to Walzer, Chute is the scholar who defined the critique of comics from a humanities standpoint.
“People were doing this kind of critique of popular culture, and Hillary Chute kind of brought analyzing comics into a serious academic realm,” Walzer said.
Theo Davis, an English professor who helped to organize the event, said the Barrs Lecture Series is intended to help students learn about scholarship at other institutions, as well as at Northeastern. Chute, she said, is an exciting scholar because she was one of the first in her field.
“She’s working at the forefront, asking where a graphic novel fits into the history of the novel,” Davis said. “It’s an opportunity to rethink what reading comics is for and also what the boundaries of the novel are.”
Tickets are not required.
Photo courtesy Hillary Chute