CFP: Young Lives in Crisis: Precariousness in Contemporary Graphic Narratives

Collective Volume
Editors, Dr. María Porras and Dr. Gerardo
Stichtag: 30.06.2020

Precariousness and precarity are the aftereffects of a world in crisis. Precarious employment, economic uncertainty and social vulnerability plague a malfunctioning welfare state (Hessel, 2011; Bauman, 2017; Butler, 2004 & 2012; Sotelo Valencia, 2015). Such precarious life also has evident negative effects on intellectual and creative activity (Butler, 2004; Han, 2015; Moruno, 2018; López Alós, 2019), so authors need to continuously redefine their space in society and negotiate their identities within a world in crisis.

Precariousness is reflected in comics through a triple dimension: economic, thematic and formal. For many comics authors, regardless of their background, precarity is a mark of their work. Young authors and women fare even more poorly within the sector. Regarding the thematic dimension, they illustrate how precariousness affects them and their generation, portraying their vulnerability to extreme circumstances such as migration, unemployment, homelessness, precarization, marginality, identity crisis, or neurological disorders. At a formal level, comics and webcomics partake of an aesthetics of liquid modernity characterized by “fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change” (Bauman, 2013, p. viii). Such unstable nature may be illustrated through formal sparsity, as well as through the use of grotesque and graphic distortion, but also through the ephemeral nature of many comics (limited self-editions, zines, temporary websites). In fact, strategies such as self-edition and visibility on social media, with no direct inference of the comics market, show that vulnerability can also be the site of resistance, action, and agency, as Butler, Gambetti and Sabsay (2016) suggest.

As mass media, comics have dealt with poverty and precariousness since their beginnings. With Richard F. Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley (1895-1898), marginal figures became frequent in comics, especially the hobo —Happy Hooligan (1900-1932) by Frederick Burr Opper, Pete the Tramp (1932-1963) by Clarence D. Russell and even the Spanish Carpanta (1947-1982) by Josep Escobar— and the orphan —Little Orphan Annie (1924-2010) by Harold Gray. In spite of the existence of certain implicit criticism, those comics used to expose precariousness with comical purposes. It was with the rise of adult comics in the sixties that precariousness and poverty appeared in a serious, critical context. This is noticeable in Japanese Gekiga and American underground comix scene, with authors such as Robert Crumb, Trina Robbins or Aline Kominsky. Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (1971-1997) started a great tradition of humorous portraits of the youngest generation in comics, followed by Peter Bagge’s Hate (1990-1998), Simon Hanselmann’s Megg, Moog & Owl (2013-) or Roberta Vázquez’s Bob y amigos (2014-).

However, the most significant contribution of underground cartoonists was the incorporation of autobiography and nonfiction to the medium. As García has pointed out, autobiography became the “antigenre,” in opposition to traditional genres such as superheroes narratives (García, 2010, p. 190). That paved the way to nonfiction narratives about precariousness and crisis, first through intimate or ironical autobiographical stories—Eddie Campbell’s Alec (1978-2012), Joe Matt’s Peepshow (1992-), Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte (1991-1998)—, in which the authors frequently drew a landscape of being young with no money nor job, and later through documentaries and essays in comic format—Aleix Saló Simiocracia (2012), Jorge Carrión and Sagar Fornies’ Los vagabundos de la chatarra (2015). There is something in comic language that seems to be especially suitable to deal with those topics, which is related to its graphic nature: “Comics makes a reader access the unfolding of evidence in the movement of its basic grammar, by aggregating and accumulating frames of information” (Chute, 2016, p. 2).

Forced to cope with uncertainty, vulnerability, and super-exploitation, Generation Y and, especially Generation Z are “born liquid” into a modernity that fails to fulfill the expectations placed upon them by their parents (Bauman and Leoncini, 2018; Bauman, 2017; López Alós, 2019). Since the global crisis of 2008, precariousness has become an inherent part of young lives, so autobiographies by young artists show this reality through different strategies: as a narrative background for humorous stories—Ana Oncina’s Los f*cking 30 (2019), Bea Tormo’s Eva hace lo que puede (2020)—or dramatic ones—Nadar’s El mundo a tus pies (2015), María Luque’s Casa transparente (2018). In Japan, Inio Asano has focused on the consequences of the lack of expectations about their future for young people, while Polish cartoonist Daria Bogdanska exposes the workplace abuse suffered by young migrants in Wage Slaves (2019). Migration is also the main topic in Nacha Vollenweider’s Fussnoten (2017), which tells about the problems of an Argentinian migrant in Germany. Other cartoonists highlight the psychological consequences of precariousness for young people: it is the case of Spanish Antonio Hitos’ Inercia (2014) or Italian Zerocalcare’s La profezia dell’armadillo (2012). Even the traditional narrative genres can be a vehicle for social criticism and the analysis of the economic situation.

We invite chapters that explore the representation(s) of precariousness and crisis in comics, mostly, but not exclusively, in contemporary authors from different comics traditions and cultural backgrounds. Themes may include (but are not limited to):

  • Representation(s) of precarious youth in graphic narratives
  •  The young self in crisis in autobiographic comics
  • Crisis of identity and values in contemporary graphic narratives
  • Transitory formats in comics and webcomics: fanzines, ephemera, temporary websites, social media
  • Grotesque and distortion in the formal representation of young lives
  • Formal sparsity in life writing
  • Young authors, precarity and the publishing sector
  • Survival biographies and autobiographies
  • Spaces of vulnerability
  • Labor and financial insecurity in graphic narratives
  • Migrant youth and vulnerability
  • Diaspora and precariousness
  • Sorority and solidarity against precariousness
  • Crisis in traditional narrative genres
  • Politics and youth in comics

Deadline for submission of 200-250 words abstracts and a short author note (100 words): June 30.

This collective volume will be a proposal to a top-ranked British publishing house. Chapters should be 6,000 words maximum, including notes and bibliography. We will ask that all authors follow the Harvard referencing guide, and use British English. First chapter drafts will be due March 15, 2021. Please note that contributions should be previously unpublished.

Please send your abstracts and enquiries to the editors, Dr. María Porras ( and Dr. Gerardo Vilches (

Dr. María Porras Sánchez (she/hers)
Department of English Studies
Universidad Complutense de Madrid

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