Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Heather M. Shirey

Second Advisor

William L. Barnes

Third Advisor

Craig Eliason


This qualifying paper examines comics, made by women, that are either directly
or indirectly autobiographical. To this end, I use the art historical tools of formal analysis, Marxist analysis, and feminist theory to investigate the choices the cartoonists make in depicting themselves. I conduct this analysis by contrasting the work of three prominent cartoonists: Julia Wertz, Deena Mohamed, and Ariel Schrag. Drawing oneself is inevitably an act of asserting one's identity, especially in a narrative work that purports to tell a story about one's life; this paper investigates how these particular women's assertions of their identity were shaped by sociological and economic factors as technology removed traditional gatekeeping structures in comics.
Of particular interest is the notion of deferred decision on the part of the
cartoonists, a sentiment shared among Schrag, Wertz, and Mohamed that telling stories about themselves was more important than carefully considering details of presentation. This unconsidered representation, I argue, makes these autobiographical comics especially revealing, both through their subject matter and through influences and assumptions revealed through subconscious decisions made by the cartoonists during the production process. Further, I examine both the changing landscape of independent comics distribution in the years surrounding the turn of the twenty-first century and the alternate standards of success that apply to independent work. Finally, I examine the nature of feminist empowerment as applied to women using art and narrative to assert their identities through these independent distribution structures.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.