Eszter Szép Interview

Dr. Szép talks about the importance of the line or the trace, how reading comics is a give and take experience, and reflects on the act of making comics in her own practice. 

Listen to more

The interview audio is available here at the New Books Network podcast.

What we talked about

The concept of “allo-identification,” or identification “by adoption,” in comics (from Marianne Hirsch’s essay Marked by Memory: Feminist Reflections on Trauma and Transmission,” 2002).

Dr. Szép’s methodology: “Instead of studying the plots or the characters of comics, in this book I study acts of interactions with comics as material objects in acts of drawing and in acts of reading.”

How many layers of suffering (“stories are frequently about injustice, illness, trauma, death, war”) are embodied on the page.

About her favorite case studies in the book.

How the suffering of drawing (The Graphic Novel: An Introduction, Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey 
emphasize that often drawing “is an extremely labor-intensive, repetitive, virtually boring, exasperating, and desperately disheartening activity that can lead many artists to extreme states of depression is contextualize with Lynda Barry’s work.

Dr. Szép also discusses her evolution as a comics creator, and elaborates on the comic in her concluding chapter.

About the scholar

Dr. Eszter Szép works for the promotion and advancement of comics in various roles. She teaches comics, and visual culture studies at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, and at the Milestone Institute of Advanced Studies, both in Budapest Hungary. She was the director of the International Comics Festival Budapest between 2019 and 2023 and she often writes about comics for international and Hungarian websites and journals and is the book reviews editor of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. In 2022 she edited two publications of her students’ comics (Igaz volt egyáltalán? “Did I remember it rightly?”  and It Used to Be Easy: Comics about Growth and Change). Most importantly: She believes theory should not be separate from practice. 

About the book

Szép, Eszter. Comics and the Body: Drawing, Reading, and Vulnerability. Ohio State University Press, 2020.

Dr. Eszter Szép’s book Comics and the Body is the first book to examine the roles of the body in both drawing and reading comics within a single framework. Focusing on graphic autobiography and reportage, she argues that the bodily performances of creators and readers produce a dialogue that requires both parties to experience and engage with vulnerability, thus presenting a crucial opportunity for ethical encounters between artist and reader. Dr. Szép considers visceral representations of bulimia, pregnancy, the effects of STIs, the catastrophic injuries of war, and more in the works of Lynda Barry, Ken Dahl, Katie Green, Miriam Katin, and Joe Sacco. She thus extends comics theory into ethical and psychological territory that finds powerful intersections and resonances with the studies of affect, trauma, gender, and reader response. 

She argues that comics are made by expressive lines that mark the unison of movement and thinking, and they are interpreted not simply visually, but also by and via the reader’s body. The ways creators and readers interact with each other via nonfiction comics can be seen as embodied engagement with their own and with others’ vulnerability. Engagement with comics takes place, on the one hand, by the involvement of the drawer’s and reader’s bodies, and on the other hand, by interacting with the materiality of the actual comics that is mediating the interaction. Comics can thus be thought of as a mediated interaction between three bodies: those of the drawer, reader, and object (the actual comic).