Drawing as Protest in The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Petr Sís – Abstract

I am looking forward to the 2021 conference of the Comics Studies Society. The topic this year is Re/Building Community. Here is my abstract.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain is Petr Sís’s multiple award-winning graphic memoir about his childhood in what is now the Czech Republic and what used to be Czechoslovakia. In my presentation I argue that contrasting public space – a space of politics, social pressure, and danger – and private space – hidden and small places of creative self-expression – is a central topic of the memoir. Sís’s narrative successfully mobilizes page design, that is, the distribution of drawn elements in space, in order to illustrate and demonstrate the spatial tensions of life under Communism. I will study the visual metaphors that playfully represent the persistent revolt of a community.

I show that the narrative can be interpreted as a creative protest against intellectual, political, and physical walls and borders: on each page, Sís reinterprets the revolt against the wall as a symbol and as a physical presence. In The Wall, the creative individual cannot be limited by walls imposed upon it and the walls isolating the individual from the community. Art is shown as self-expression and as a link between people, but also as a dangerous activity threatening the artists themselves in a system of surveillance. Art – be it drawing on a canvas or on a wall or playing in a band – is shown in the pictures as indispensable to bringing the wall down. At the same time, the textual layer drags these almost idealistic scenarios down to earth by providing details about the political and cultural contexts of Communism.


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