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Disaster Drawn

Disaster Drawn

Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form

Hillary L. Chute

ISBN 9780674504516

Publication date: 01/12/2016

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In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshima’s Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document the disasters of war.

Hillary L. Chute traces how comics inherited graphic print traditions and innovations from the seventeenth century and later, pointing out that at every turn new forms of visual-verbal representation have arisen in response to the turmoil of war. Modern nonfiction comics emerged from the shattering experience of World War II, developing in the 1970s with Art Spiegelman’s first “Maus” story about his immigrant family’s survival of Nazi death camps and with Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa’s inaugural work of “atomic bomb manga,” the comic book Ore Wa Mita (“I Saw It”)—a title that alludes to Goya’s famous Disasters of War etchings.

Chute explains how the form of comics—its collection of frames—lends itself to historical narrative. By interlacing multiple temporalities over the space of the page or panel, comics can place pressure on conventional notions of causality. Aggregating and accumulating frames of information, comics calls attention to itself as evidence. Disaster Drawn demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness.


  • The provocative idea at the heart of Hillary Chute’s Disaster Drawn is that comics should be accepted as a true testament of war in the same way historical writings, documentary films and still photographs have been. She traces the lineage of the artist-reporterback to printmaker Jacques Callot in the 17th century and ends with Coco Wang’s web comics from China, which document catastrophic earthquakes almost before the ground beneath the artist’s feet has stopped reverberating. Meticulously researched and handsomely illustrated with full-color examples of the work under discussion, Chute makes a compelling case…The great strength of comics is the ability to tell in simple, intimate terms what it is to bear witness. Chute has given us a great resource on this history.

    —Dmitry Samarov, Chicago Tribune


  • Hillary L. Chute is Professor of English at Northeastern University.

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press