“By exploring a number of books that bring to the fore painful memories of the dictatorial regime in Portugal, or explore the price of the austerity policies in response to the economic crisis of 2008, or the ongoing capitalist assault on cultural diversity, workers' rights, and personal expression, I hope to question many issues that will hopefully contribute to a stronger diversity in Comics Studies.”
Visualising Small Traumas is the first English-language book to deal with Portuguese contemporary comics, exploring how trauma studies can both shed light on the making of comics and be informed by that very same practice. “When we talk about ‘trauma’ in the humanities, we are referring to overwhelming experiences (war, abuse, terrorist attacks) that are accordingly depicted in breathtaking stories. But I'm afraid that discussing only that sort of situations leads to a narrow view of what trauma is,” states author Pedro Moura.
Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.
This book has a very precise scope, both in subject and in disciplinary perspective. Its subject is a number of contemporary Portuguese comics, which can be briefly characterised as “alternative”. The perspective is informed by Trauma Studies.
More often than not, when we talk about “trauma” in the humanities, we are referring to overwhelming experiences (war, abuse, terrorist attacks) that are accordingly depicted in breathtaking stories. But I am afraid that discussing only that sort of situations leads to a narrow view of what trauma is and, more importantly, of who may speak of trauma or even be susceptible to traumatic experiences. So here I am looking at other kinds of situations that may seem pervasive and commonplace, such as economic desperation, lack of political agency, oppressive social norms and the like, which I call “small traumas” that are always mining a person's spirit. The comics I am discussing pay close attention to either historical or contemporary moments that depict this kind of oppressions, and this can help us understand not only the mechanisms of trauma itself, its conditions for its possibility, as well as modes of empathy.
Moreover, instead of only looking at the kinds of comics that have garnered overt critical attention – of the “graphic novel” variety – I also consider one-shot short stories, zine material, experimental and art-object comics, remix material, i.e., a variety of textual practices that can also expand what we mean by “comics”.
So by exploring a number of books that bring to the fore painful memories of the dictatorial regime in Portugal, or investigate the price of the austerity policies in response to the economic crisis of 2008, or the ongoing capitalist assault on cultural diversity, workers' rights, and personal expression, I hope to question many issues that will hopefully contribute to a stronger diversity in Comics Studies.
What or who inspired you to choose this topic?
Like most of us, I have read comic since childhood. And as I grew older, I was lucky enough to not only find new comics that spoke to me in whatever stage of my life or maturity I was in, but also to adapt my professional life and academic pursuits to somehow include comics.
When I finally started my budding life of scholarship, including in international circles, I realised two things, that are complementary to this project. One, that not many people outside Portugal knew much about our tradition, which is quite lively but remains at the periphery. And two, that there are a number of texts that are permanently discussed to the detriment of a broader field of interest (non-book comics, other types of genres, and so on). So throughout my PhD, which this book is based upon, I have tried to create a platform for the consideration of different sorts of production.
Also, I am a huge fan of these comics texts and practices, and have been following these artists very closely, and I hope that this is at least one way of making their work known across borders and language.
Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, ...) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?
To be frank, not really. I mean, there are many books or even blogs you could check out, but they would be in Portuguese. I have a blog in Portuguese since 2004, where I've tried out many of the ideas that would find place in this book, but again, the language is probably a barrier to most people. But with Google translate or deepl... who knows. My blog is www.lerbd.blogspot.com Maybe you can check it out!
That in relation to Portuguese comics... As for the intersection of trauma studies and comics, there is much being done, no doubt about that. Although these came out after I had finished my research, important volumes are Hillary Chute's Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form, Harrier E. H. Earle's Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War, as well as the collective volume Documenting Trauma in Comics, edited by Dominic Davies and Candida Rifkind.
How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?
There were some major hurdles in the beginning. As I am not a native English speaker, I tend to approach writing in a very, very different manner than what is required from English academic writing. I have a preference for long running sentences, side remarks, divergent lines, and footnotes. I'm not sure if I managed to control that, despite the incredible help I had along the way!
But as for the structure, I had thought about it, and even though I had to refrain from adding an additional chapter or two dedicated to different artists/projects, I always wanted to discuss my subject by having wildly different objects under this view. I hope that their difference does not lead to incoherence, but rather to the diverse stances that artists can take towards a given reality.
I have always considered that comics are a mode of thinking with its own particularities, and it is always wonderful to find out that analysis and close study reward us with a fine understanding of why certain artworks are more impactful than others. I hope readers can find that out too!
What would you like readers to remember about your book?
If I can have that honor and pleasure, that it has introduced you to wonderful authors that deserve to be translated, published and read all over the world, and that trauma can be a wider notion than you thought, without losing respect for all situations but rather making you more open and empathetic towards each person's individual experiences.
Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?
I am also a comics scriptwriter, so I am writing constantly, even though I do not publish as much as I would like to. As for academic projects, I do have two ideas that I would like to explore, but I am not affiliated with any institution. Being a “freelance scholar” means not having the time/money/opportunity to dedicate myself 100% to those projects... But let's see! In any case, it will always be related to comics!
Visualising Small Traumas
Contemporary Portuguese Comics at the Intersection of Everyday Trauma