David Brauner’s top five graphic novels.

Professor David Brauner recently wrote for the online magazine ‘The Conversation’ about his favourite graphic novels.

Here he writes for us an expanded article on his top give graphic novels. Student readers might wish to note that David teaches all the texts featured in this piece on his third-year module ‘American Graphic Novels’. So enjoy!

Compiling an all-time top five of graphic novels is challenging not just in the way that any such list is – i.e. the difficulties of deciding which criteria to use, the agonising decisions over which favourites to exclude etc. – but also because it raises the tricky question of what counts as a graphic novel and what doesn’t. There are anomalies in every medium — novels written in verse and prose-poems, for example — but most people can agree on what a poem or a novel look like. With graphic novels things are rather fuzzier. That the term refers not just to fiction but to all sorts of life-writing is accepted, but beyond that there is little consensus. If a comicbook was originally published in serial instalments and only collected in one volume retrospectively, is it a graphic novel? If there are multiple volumes (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or the Hernandez brothers’ Love and Rockets series), should the whole series be counted as one epic graphic novel, or should only individual volumes be eligible for consideration? And what about a book like Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2002), which tells the story of an authorial alter-ego, Minnie, through a combination of prose diary entries, illustrations with captions, comic-strip narratives, letters, poems and photographs? Or Joe Sacco’s comic-strip documentary journalism? Or Lynda Barry’s mash-ups of essays, sketches, collages and workbooks? Or Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening (2015), which is based on his PhD thesis and is part philosophical essay, part scholarly history, part experimental artwork? For the purposes of this exercise, I have chosen five books that I (and many others) regard as central to the graphic-novel canon. They are all richly-textured, powerful, nuanced books that are immediately arresting but also reward repeated rereading.

  1. Watchmen (1987), Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. A book that works on so many levels — it is, among other things, a whodunnit, a love story, a commentary on Cold War politics and an exploration of fundamental philosophical and ethical questions — Watchmen is both an homage to, and a deconstruction of, the classic superhero comic-strip narrative, which in turn has inspired numerous subsequent revisions of the genre, from Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) to the Marvel Comics (and later MCU’s) Avengers civil war storyline. Shifting points of view, disrupting chronology, layering texts within texts, Watchmen is a hugely ambitious narrative that discloses new details (visual as well as literary) with every fresh reading. It’s also a real page-turner.
  2. Maus (1991), Art Spiegelman. Maus probably did more than any other graphic novel to make readers and critics take graphic novels seriously as an art-form (though Spiegelman, like Moore, dislikes the term graphic novel). It’s the story of the author’s father, Vladek, who survived Auschwitz; the story of Spiegelman’s relationship with him; and (in the second volume) the story of the ramifications of the success of the first volume. Controversially representing Jews as people with mouse-heads (and sometimes tails), preyed upon by German cat-people and often betrayed by Polish pig-people, Maus nevertheless resists stereotypes, representing both its author and his father as flawed, complex individuals who struggle in different ways to deal with the legacy of a trauma that makes itself felt in every aspect of their lives.
  3. Ghost World (1997), Daniel Clowes. Ghost World is the shortest, and at first glance the most straightforward, of my choices. It is a bittersweet tale of the friendship, and gradual estrangement, of Enid and Becky, two young women (recent high-school graduates) on the cusp of adulthood. Cynical and vulnerable, with a sardonic sense of humour and a nostalgic streak, Enid is, in part, a portrait of the artist as a young girl grappling with her sexuality, ethnicity and her conflicting expectations of herself. But Ghost World is also a powerful evocation of what it is like to drift, ghost-like, through a nondescript, soulless urban environment that it is itself ghostly. Full of quirky characters and memorable images, Ghost World manages, paradoxically, to represent boredom and ennui vividly and entertainingly.
  4. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (2000), Chris Ware. The publication of Jimmy Corrigan was a landmark moment for the graphic novel. It was the first graphic novel to be awarded major literary prizes on both sides of the Atlantic — the American Book Award and The Guardian First Book Award – and has been hugely influential in the field, for example on Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (2019), the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Like Watchmen, Jimmy Corrigan has a complex, non-linear structure and subverts conventional notions of (super-) heroism; like Maus, it is a book about fathers and sons; like Ghost World, it has a protagonist who is drifting aimlessly through life, alienated from the world around him. Yet it is visually and formally more radical than any of the other books on this list. Ware’s dark palette and landscape format and his use of diagrams, instructions and definitions make the book, as an object and text, highly unusual. Narratively, too, Ware is a great innovator: the absence of exposition and page numbering, the abrupt transitions back and forth between a historical narrative focusing on Jimmy’s grandfather and the present-day narrative focusing on Jimmy, the use of surreal dream-sequences, and the disruption of conventional panel sequencing all make Jimmy Corrigan quite difficult to read (and to teach). But it’s well worth the effort. It is a beautiful, heart-breaking story that has been much imitated but never bettered.
  5. Fun Home (2006), Alison Bechdel. Through its adaptation as an award-winning musical, Bechdel’s work has reached an audience that might never have encountered her graphic novel, or indeed anyone else’s (though the book itself was a bestseller). Fun though Fun Home the musical is, in common with the film adaptations of Watchmen and Ghost World, it can’t quite do justice to the complexity of the original. Fun Home the book is a coming-of-age and a coming-out story, a self-consciously literary Bildungsroman that pays homage to James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde, among others. It is also a moving memoir about the author’s relationship with her father, whose queer sexuality finds an echo in her own lesbianism, and whose (possible) suicide haunts the book. I might also have included Bechdel’s sequel, Are You My Mother? (2012): if the later book can’t quite match the emotional power and fierce intelligence of Fun Home, Bechdel can console herself with the knowledge that few other graphic novels, or novels of any sort for that matter, can.

And this is the point that I hope a reading of these titles will demonstrate to any newcomers: these are not just great graphic novels but great works of art. The term graphic novel was initially deployed in order to confer intellectual credibility on what had been previously seen as a trivial form of entertainment aimed primarily at children, but the works listed above (and many others) rival anything done in the novel form over the same period, and right now some of the most innovative and exciting work in fiction and life-writing is being done in the graphic novel form.

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DEL Island Discs Episode 1: Dr Faustus

Welcome to the first episode in a new series of DEL Island Discs!

In this series, literary characters are cast away on a distant desert island, located somewhere on the enigmatic fourth floor of the Edith Morley building. Each week we will hear the musical choices of a new castaway, presented by one of their fans from the Department of English Literature.

Our castaway today is a true Renaissance man: a scholar of considerable erudition, learning and intellect. However, he notoriously passed up the opportunity to live a godly life and chose instead an infernal pact with the devil, sacrificing his own soul in the process. Probably he’d welcome an eternity on a desert island in comparison to burning in the fires of hell for all eternity, but unfortunately, that’s not a choice he ever got to make.

Today’s castaway is Doctor Faustus from Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, presented by Chloe Houston.

Dr Faustus is Marlowe’s version of the cautionary tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil in return for knowledge and worldly pleasures – a bargain which he comes to regret. Marlowe’s play begins with Dr Faustus listing all the subjects he’s mastered. Despite having read every authority of human learning, he yearns for something more, and turns to “necromantic books” to help him. With the assistance of his friends Valdes and Cornelius, he learns enough black magic to summon a devil, Mephistophilis, and contracts to sell his soul to Lucifer in return for twenty four years of service from Mephistophilis. He questions this decision several times during the action of the play but ends it convinced that he is going to hell and cannot be redeemed. The action finishes with him descending into a hell-mouth onstage, and his scattered limbs being found by the scholars whom he leaves behind.

There is a fair amount of music and dancing in the play of Dr Faustus, but who knows what it actually sounded like, so for this list we’ve allowed Faustus to make a wider selection …

Disc One – ‘I’m Bored’, Iggy Pop (1979)
The video for ‘I’m Bored’, with Iggy Pop lounging around moodily, is a fitting version of Faustus as the play starts, frustrated with his reading and looking for trouble…

Disc Two – ‘The Magic Number’, De La Soul (1989)
With Valdes and Cornelius, Faustus learns the arts of magic. Like De La Soul, he is also looking for the magic number and how to be the best at what he does, but unfortunately Faustus chooses to summon the devil instead of create a hip hop masterpiece. Still, it seems worth allowing him one happy song when he’s on the up, and he can dance to this one while he works on some new spells.

Disc Three – ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’, Stevie Wonder (1970)
Faustus signs his pact with the devil in his own blood after cutting his arm. Although the clotting of his blood nearly prevents him from finishing the job – he should have paid attention to what his body was saying, maybe – Faustus eventually manages to sign, seal and deliver his soul to Lucifer.

Disc Four – ‘Losing My Religion’, REM (1991)
This one is self-explanatory. Faustus says he will “Despair in God, and trust in Beelzebub”.

Disc Five – ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’, The Charlie Daniels Band (1979)
This is the classic country tale of what happens when the devil comes looking for trouble, leading to a violin battle between him and a mere mortal. The outcome of this song would have been a happy ending for Faustus; in this version, the human wins.


Disc Six – ‘Go To Hell’, Megadeth (1995)

You can’t have a hell-inspired playlist without some heavy metal, and Faustus might appreciate this classic of the genre, which also, trivia-fans may care to know, featured on the soundtrack of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Faustus can nod along to the lyrics: “much too late I realize […] It’s true you reap what you sow”.

Disc Seven – ‘Everything Goes to Hell’, Tom Waits (2002)
Tom’s message is simple: you can’t trust anyone and hell waits for us all.

Disc Eight – ‘Pandaemonium’ from ‘La Damnation de Faust’, Hector Berlioz (1846), Op.24/Part 4, Scène 19
If Faustus wants to hear some other works of art about his story, he could do worse than listening to Berlioz. Berlioz’s music was inspired by Goethe’s poem Faust and his imagination of hell is full of fury; a review of the 1892 revival of Berlioz’s Faust commented that “when all pandemonium opens, and the infernal chorus breaks forth, the music becomes an unspeakable horror: it screams with agony, it buffets us with the sounds of orgy, it exults in the triumph of hell”. A nice, relaxing listen for the beach.

Doctor Faustus’ book
Doctor Faustus is allowed to take the Bible and Shakespeare to his desert island, but he might not want the Bible for obvious reasons, and few of Shakespeare’s plays had been performed by 1592, so he’d probably choose his necromantic books instead. Good luck, doctor, and thank you for being our desert island castaway.

Doctor Faustus’ luxury
“pleasant fruits and princely delicates”

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UROP 2020: Tracing the Nigerian Civil War in the archives of Heinemann’s African Writers Series

Dr Sue Walsh is looking to recruit a student in the middle year(s) of their undergraduate degree (second year, or third year of four year degree) to work on a project working on the archives of Heinemann’s African Writers Series, which published Chinua Achebe’s famous novel Things Fall Apart as the first novel in the series. A full description of the project can be found here:


The African Writers Series was particularly significant for the development of postcolonial literature in Africa; one reason for this was that Chinua Achebe acted as its editorial adviser and as well as being credited as the father of modern African literature he is also an influence on contemporary writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. When the series was first established in 1962, Nigerian authors were among its most significant contributors, many being from the south-east (including Achebe); but in 1967 civil war broke out when the south-eastern part of Nigeria attempted to secede from the rest of the country.

The focus of the project will be to conduct initial research to see where and how the civil war is referenced in the archives relating to particular authors who wrote about the war or were based in the south-east. Since Heinemann was in the difficult position of being a British company (Britain supported Nigeria during the war) publishing a significant number of authors from the secessionist side of the conflict whilst trying to maintain its offices in Nigeria, you will also research into where and how the civil war is discussed in the papers of the publishers during this period (1967-70). You will be responsible for writing a blog on your research to be hosted on the Special Collections website, and in collaboration with me (Dr Sue Walsh), and you will write an article supported by an online exhibition of material curated from the archives to be launched in Black History Month, October 2020.

The project involves:

Original research on the African Writers Series in the Heinemann archives: tracing references to, and discussions of, the Nigerian civil war and its impacts both on individuals and on Heinemann’s publishing ventures in Nigeria. Identifying relevant materials within the archives to examine, document, and write about (in blog posts for the Special Collections website) in relation to the issues above. Research on archive materials relating to selected Nigerian authors who wrote about the civil war, and on selected uncatalogued papers. Co-authorship of an online article and co-curation of online exhibition material for the new Special Collections website promoting the AWS archives to be published at the beginning of Black History Month, October 2020. Research for project (50%) Blogging about the research (20%) Co-authorship of article with co-curated exhibition (30%).

I welcome applications from students who have a willingness and ability to work independently and think critically and have an interest in post-colonial literature.

The project will be for the equivalent of 6 weeks at 30 hours per week paid at the rate of £220/week. I am aiming for the placement to by mid-to late June but pre-booked holidays and other commitments can be accommodated.

To apply for the project please check out the full details of the project at the link above, and send your CV, with details of two referees, and a brief cover letter/email explaining why you are interested in this specific opportunity to Dr Sue Walsh (s.a.b.walsh@reading.ac.uk) by end of day (5pm) on 3rd April 2020.

Interviews are currently planned to be held in the first week of summer term 2020.
UROP 2020: a chance to complete a research project, get paid and boost your employability! For more information  see: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/UROP/ForStudents/For_students.aspx


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Centre for Health Humanities: (Dis)ability at the Centre

Join us to explore the experiences and representations of (dis)ability
past and present, through different media, in and outside of

3 February, 12-1.30pm, Chancellors G13
Dr Kai Syng Tan (Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University)
‘Neurodiversity in Higher Education Research Network?’

24 February, 12-1.30pm, Chancellors G13
Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt (Modern Languages, University of Reading)
‘Learning to live with visible facial differences: the reintegration of facially injured
servicemen in post-WW1 Great Britain’

9 March, 12-1.30pm, Chancellors G13
Professor Hannah Thompson (Centre for Visual Cultures, RHUL)
Title tbc

23 March, 12-2pm, Chancellors G13
Nicole Brown (UCL), in conversation with representatives of the Staff Disability Network
‘Ableism in academia: the lived experiences of disabled, chronically ill and/or
neurodiverse staff in higher education’

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Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies spring term seminars

Thursday  30 January, 4.30pm, Edith Morley 124

Myra Bom (Royal Holloway, University of London)
‘Agency and Divorce. The Case of Constance of France (1165).’

Thursday  19 March, 4.30pm, Edith Morley 124 

Christa Gray (University of Reading)
‘Dead body problems: burials in Jerome’s Lives of Holy Men.’ 

Thursday  26 March, 4.30pm, Edith Morley 124 

Megan Leitch (University of Cardiff)
‘Sleep and its Spaces in Middle English Literature: Emotions, Ethics, Dreams’. 

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Early Modern Research Centre spring term seminars

Monday 10 February, 1 pm, Edith Morley 181

Dr. Gillian Woods (Birkbeck),’ “Go make your liuely battel”: representing violence on the Renaissance stage’.

Monday 24 February, 1 pm, Edith Morley 181

Dr. Alanna Skuse (Reading), ‘Biting one’s tongue: glossotomy and gesture in The Spanish Tragedy

Monday 9 March, 1pm, Edith Morley 181

Dr. Lauren Working (Oxford, TIDE project),  ‘Coming of Age with Empire: Performing Colonization at the Inns of Court’


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University of Reading’s 2019 Beckett week, 6-9 November

We are delighted to welcome you to the University of Reading’s 2019 Beckett week, 6-9 November in the Minghella Studios, Whiteknights campus, Shinfield Road RG6 6BT.

Events include:

A conference on Beckett and Italy on 7th-8th November, 9.30am onwards. Minghella Cinema. You can book and find the fees and schedule here:

This link also allows you to book for the free performances on the evenings of Wednesday 6th, Thursday 7th and Friday 8th as below:

Wednesday 6th November 7.30pm. BULMERSHE Theatre Minghella Studios: Staged reading of Creative Fellow Robert McCrum’s play about Samuel Beckett and PG Wodehouse in Paris at the end of WW II directed by Michael Hoffman with David Horowitch and David Threlfall. Followed by Q &A

Thursday 7th November 7.30pm. BULMERSHE Theatre Minghella Studios:. Premiere of Creative Fellow Tim Parkinson’s string quartet followed by Q&A

Friday 8th November 6pm. BOB KAYLEY Theatre Minghella Studios: Public performance of ‘This Here: An exploration of fragility and embodiment amongst stroke survivors’, inspired by Beckett’s work, created and performed by Rosetta Life, a company that works with stroke survivors. Followed by Q&A

On Saturday 9th November we will be holding the 2019 Beckett International Foundation seminar from 10.30 – 17.30. You can find the schedule, fees and book by following the link below.

Please register by 2pm on Friday 1 November:

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The English Society reports on the English Literature Department Research Evening.

Last week The English Society and other students attended a research evening hosted by some of the staff from the English Literature department, Karin Lesnik-Oberstein and David Brauner. It was a very informative and enjoyable evening, giving students an interesting glimpse into pathways to follow for a potential career, one that many hadn’t considered. We have gained an insight into how our lecturers have developed their careers and come to find their specialist subjects, something that a lot of students have wondered about during their time at the university. Something the English Literature department has been lacking is a stronger relationship between the students and the staff and this event definitely started to bridge the gap. It was a nice chance to speak to our lecturers outside of lectures and seminars in an informal and personal setting. David’s specialist subject of ​graphic novels was interesting to learn about, hearing stories of how this had come from reading his older brothers comic books, eventually leading to a job as a lecturer in an English Literature department. Karin’s story was slightly different as she doesn’t have a set specialist subject. Despite this, it was just as interesting to hear about the ways in which she can apply literature to other departments such as maths and science, considering how reading can be applied to these things. We also enjoyed hearing about the favourite authors of the two lecturers; with David stressing his love for Leo Tolstoy, and Karin surprisingly yet interestingly labelling Freud as her favourite. The setting of this first research evening was perfect. It was such an intimate group, so everyone was able to ask the questions they had and got detailed and informative answers. Alongside the enlightening evening, we also had a selection of crisps and cakes – something that was appreciated by all.

We are all looking forward to the next evening in November with Nicola Wilson.

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Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies Seminars Autumn 2019

Seminars will be held on Thursdays at 4.30 pm in Edith Morley 124 unless otherwise stated.

11 October FRIDAY, 4.30pm Edith Morley 124

Helen Nicholson (University of Cardiff), ‘Queen Sybil of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade’

14 November

Stenton Lecture: 6.30pm in the Van Emden lecture theatre.

Ronald Hutton (University of Bristol), ‘Reconsidering the Question of Pagan Survivals in the Christian Middle Ages’.

The lecture will be proceeded by a colloquium in the afternoon – more details to follow

28  November

Jonathan Harris (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘The late Byzantine aristocracy and the mystery of the Perivleptos’

12 December

Carole Hillenbrand (University of Edinburgh)  ‘Odd men out?  The Turks in twelfth-century Syria’


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“From Switzerland” by Peter Robinson published by LONGITŪDINĒS

On 1 October, “From Switzerland”, Peter Robinson’s new sequence of poems, appeared on the LONGITŪDINĒS website, the first publication of this new founded magazine.

LONGITŪDINĒS is an arts and literature magazine, with annual print editions and online content. It is conceived as an arts and literary platform that gathers in one place the work of the most interesting writers and artists based in Europe. Its aim is the promotion and the dissemination of a European Art and Literature, at a time in which local politics seems to push towards the construction of walls and closure of borders. Its name LONGITŪDINĒS reflects this intention to cross boundaries.

The print edition includes the original texts alongside their English translation. Translations into other languages are published on the website when they become available.

LONGITŪDINĒS recognises the fundamental role covered by translation in the dissemination of culture and aims to make it an integral part of its project and to give translators a too often unrecognised credit. Translators who would like to collaborate are invited to get in touch with the editors at editors@longitudines.com.


LONGITŪDINĒS is now inviting submissions for its First Issue, due to be published in Autumn 2020. They are looking for artworks, and short prose, poetry and drama written in any European language.

Submitted artworks and texts must be previously unpublished. Multiple submissions are acceptable as long as we are notified immediately if they are accepted for publication elsewhere. Print quality artworks and texts in PDF must be submitted by 1 January 2020 to submissions@longitudines.com. All submissions must be accompanied by a short bio of the author. Texts should not exceed the following specifications:

Prose: 6,000 words

Poetry: 150 lines

Drama: 3,000 words

Submissions will be acknowledged. Authors will be notified of editorial decisions.

For queries contact us at info@longitudines.com or visit www.longitudines.com.

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