Subjective Selves: Visual Metaphor and the Figure of the Artist in Contemporary Comics

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox

Second Advisor

Dr. Jil C. Larson

Third Advisor

Dr. Jeanne LaHaie

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Katharine Capshaw


Literature, comics, artists, visual metaphor, artist, subjectivity


Sarah Oleksyk’s Ivy, I. Merey’s a+e 4ever, David Small’s Stitches, Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and Ellen Forney’s Marbles are five contemporary U.S. long-form comics that demonstrate what I call branched metaphoric monstration—the presence of illustrations that represent at least two narrative positions that contain visual metaphor. Given that all five of these texts are also semi autobiographical stories and memoirs that focus on the maturation of emerging visual artists, branched metaphoric monstration serves, in each of them, to comment on the developing cognition of young creators. The insights these texts provide individually and collectively shed light on some of the pressures young artists face, the way artists navigate these obstacles, and the relationships between thought, perception, emotion, memory, and visual art. Drawing from cognitive metaphor theory, comics studies, film studies, critical theory, queer theory, and other discourses, I supply literary analyses of these texts with attention to the themes of emptiness and denial in Ivy, gender and sexuality in a+e 4ever, physical illness in Stitches, religious anxiety in Blankets, and mental illness in Marbles. I argue that comics displaying branched metaphoric monstration are helping to usher in a new generation of Künstlerroman narratives, one heavily influenced by postmodern thought that still reveals traces of the genre’s Romantic heritage.

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