Kate Polak

Oct 10, 2023

Ethics in the Gutter

Empathy and Historical Fiction in Comics

Ohio State University Press 2017

Ethics in the Gutter: Empathy and Historical Fiction in Comics (Ohio State UP, 2017) explores an often-overlooked genre of graphic narratives: those that fictionalize historical realities. While autographics, particularly those that place the memoirist in the context of larger cultural conversations, have been the objects of sustained study, fictional graphic narratives that—as Linda Hutcheon has put it—both “enshrine and question” history are also an important area of study. By bringing narratology and psychological theory to bear on a range of graphic narratives, Kate Polak seeks to question how the form utilizes point of view and the gutter as ethical tools that shape the reader’s empathetic reactions to the content.

This book’s most important questions surround how we receive and interpret representations of history, considering the ways in which what we think we know about historical atrocities can be at odds with the convoluted circumstances surrounding violence. Beginning with a new look at Watchmen, and including examinations of such popular series as Scalped and Hellblazer as well as Bayou and Deogratias, the book questions how graphic narratives create an alternative route by which to understand large-scale violence. Ethics in the Gutter explores how graphic narrative representations of violence can teach readers about the possibilities and limitations of empathy and ethics.

Dr. Kate Polak is a writer, artist, performer, and scholar specializing in comics, poetry, 21st century women writers, and the literatures of genocide. She is an instructor and research associate in the English Department at Florida Atlantic University, where she teaches writing and literature, focusing on poetry, the representation of violence, and graphic narrative. Her book, Ethics in the Gutter: Empathy and Historical Fiction in Comics, was nominated for an Eisner Award.

Elizabeth Allyn Woock an assistant professor in the Department of English and American Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic with an interdisciplinary background in history and popular literature. Her specialization falls within the study of comic books and graphic novels.

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Elizabeth Woock

Elizabeth Allyn Woock an assistant professor in the Department of English and American Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic with an interdisciplinary background in history and popular literature. Her specialization falls within the study of comic books and graphic novels.

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