CfP: Know Thine Enemy - Antagonistic Dynamics in Graphic Narratives

deadline for submissions: 
February 27, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
ICLA Research Committee on Comics Studies and Graphic Narrative

This is a Call for Papers for a proposed panel to be held as part of the 22nd General Congress of ICLA, which will take place from July 29 to Aug 2, 2019 at the University of Macau, themed: Literature of the World and the Future of Comparative Literature.
The panel is sponsored by the ICLA Research Committee on Comics Studies and Graphic Narrative
Organisers: Stefan Buchenberger, Hiraishi Noriko, Lea Pao, Anna-Sophie Juergens
The deadline for paper submission is February 27, 2019.


“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

What would a story be without its antagonisms? A God without a Devil, David Copperfield without Edward Murdstone, Jean Valjean without Inspector Javert, Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty, Liu Bei without Cao Cao—the antagonistic dynamic between protagonists propels story and plot, their rivalry becoming our pleasure as readers. Graphic fiction emphasizes antagonistic relationships perhaps more than any other genre. Think about the long history of superhero comics: a protagonist without a gallery of colorful adversaries would have no villain to beat and no humanity to save. Our superheroes would indeed be bland figures were it not for the Joker’s sadistic humor, Lex Luthor’s technological prowess, and Dr. Octopus’s mad scientific inventions.

 In addition to these iconic adversarial relationships, in which the enemy is necessary to define the hero, other historical forms of antagonistic dynamics at the heart of graphic fiction have been paid less attention to:

  • The enemy rather than an antagonist can be “the other” or the unknown, as portrayed in postcolonial literature and first defined in Edward Said’s Orientalism. More recent postcolonial readings of graphic fiction and comics have made them an urgent and worthwhile topic of postcolonial studies, as for example re-readings of Herge’s Tintin in the Congo or The Blue Lotus show.
  • The enemy might also lurk within oneself, either conscious or unconscious, waiting to manifest itself in different ways. Sometimes one’s “evil twin” can take actual physical form as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or in the figure of The Incredible Hulk, which is, after all, based on Stevenson’s novella. In the case of Batman’s arch enemy Two-Face, the two sides of his character are even manifested in the same body. Or the lurking enemy might be a fatal flaw in the protagonist’s own character, which makes them their own worst enemy like Shakespeare’s eponymous tragic heroes Hamlet, Lear, and Macbeth. Graphic fiction can be a powerful medium to negotiate and navigate struggles with oneself and with one’s identity, body, or powers.
  • Dichotomies between outward appearance and inner self–costume and character–are given not only verbal but visual space in in graphic fiction. A villain who looks like a cheery and harmless entertainer, for example, might in reality be a vicious and homicidal criminal–such as the Joker, a psychotic mass murderer in the guise of a clown. This might lead to a discussion of the various shapes that the confrontation of humor and violence takes on in graphic narratives and comics.
  • The enemy might also once have been originally an ally, switching sides by means of betrayal or necessity, or may become an ally after they first were an enemy, finally understanding the righteous course of their former antagonist. Many characters in super hero comics have switched sides, from good to evil or from evil to good, but sometimes remain ambivalent about their role, like the feral mutant killer Sabretooth. Antagonisms, graphic fiction teaches us, often involves complexity underneath the surface of rivalry and a “good versus evil” plotline.  
  • Antagonism in everyday life as opposed to superhuman conflicts, like depicted in the various relationships in the tenement building in Will Eisner’s A Contract with God.
  • Conflicts between fiction and reality, like in Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, in which the fictional character meets his real-life creator.
  • Conflicts with nature, like in Josh Neufeld’s A.D. 2000 After the Deluge, in which the real-life struggles during and after Hurricane Katrina are depicted, or in Brian K. Vaughn’s Pride of Baghdad, which chronicle the lives and death of a pride of lions in the city of Baghdad, destroyed by war. 
  • Conflicts between races or species, both human and alien, like in The Walking Dead, Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, or Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan.  
  • Conflicts of gender, or generations. Female comics developed in Japan and other Asian countries, for example, have always focused on these issues. How do they deal with the conflicts, sometimes using the genre’s imagination such as BL?   
  • Antagonistic dynamics at the human-technology interface that explore, for instance, threats and desires in relation to Frankensteinian creations, machines versus humans, Artificial Intelligence, cyborgs, androids, or robots that become human.

We welcome papers about any kind, form, expression, or criticism of antagonistic relationships in graphic fictions and comics both historical and contemporary. This proposed symposium for the International Comparative Literature Association 2019 intends to analyze these different forms of antagonistic dynamics across different scholarly disciplines and from different cultural perspectives, to bring together scholars who may otherwise not be in conversation, and to create new insights into the narratology and visuality of antagonistic dynamics in graphic fiction.

Contact Info: 

Please send your proposal by Wednesday 27 February 2019 to Stefan

If you have any questions or would like to reach out before submitting your abstract, please contact:
Stefan Buchenberger (Kanagawa University):
Hiraishi Noriko (Tsukuba University):
Lea Pao (Stanford University):