MLA 2017 Special Session: Invisible Made Visible: Comics and Mental Illness (DEADLINE: 3/15/16)

full name / name of organization: 
Leah Misemer/ University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jessica Gross/ St. Louis College of Pharmacy
contact email: 

Call for Papers for a proposed roundtable panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention, Jan. 5-8, 2017, in Philadelphia, PA.

The growth of the Graphic Medicine conference (in its sixth year) and the publication of the Graphic Medicine Manifesto mark a recent flourishing of artistic production and critical scholarship in the area of comics and medicine. As a part of this flourishing of medically-themed comics, there has been a great deal of recent interest in comics about mental health. For example, numerous journalists profiled both Allie Brosch's Hyperbole and a Half, which depicts depression, and John Porcellino's Hospital Suite, which depicts the author's struggles with physical health and OCD. Additionally, the 2016 publication of the Comics and Disability collection includes several essays about comics and mental disability.

While these works have been important in drawing attention to comics as a space for depicting mental illness, there has not yet been a focused study on how comics provide unique opportunities for exploring mental illness specifically. This pairing seems paradoxical, given the invisibility of mental illness and the inherent visual nature of comics, yet comics about mental illness, from Alzheimers to depression, from OCD to PTSD, continue to proliferate.

This roundtable invites panelists to explore this paradox and to interrogate how comics make the invisible visible by depicting internal emotional and mental states, as well as how comics draw attention to individuals and communities who feel—or are—invisible within society at large. Papers may answer the following questions:

  • What affordances does the visual vocabulary of comics provide for representing internal mental states?
  • In what ways do comics negotiate the intersections of visibility and mental illness in different cultures?
  • How have comics been, or how can they be, a catalyst for discussions, in person or online, about mental illness?
  • How do comics reinforce, question, or break stigmas regarding mental illness?
  • In what ways do comics trouble the boundaries between those who care for those who are mentally ill, and those who are mentally ill themselves?
  • How do comics question and reflect the culturally and historically constructed definitions of mental illness and mental health?

Send 250 word abstracts and bios to Leah Misemer (lsinsheimer@wisc.edu) and Jessica Gross (jessica.gross@stlcop.edu). The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2016. Submitters will receive notification of results by no later than April 1.

PLEASE NOTE: This CFP is for a proposed, not a guaranteed, session at MLA 2017, meaning it is contingent on approval by the MLA Program Committee (which will make its decisions after April 1). All prospective presenters must be current MLA members by no later than April 7, 2016.