Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michael Galchinsky - Chair

Second Advisor

Chris Kocela

Third Advisor

Randy Malamud


The genre of comics has had a tumultuous career throughout the twentieth century: it has careened from wildly popular to being perceived as the source of society’s ills. Despite having been relegated to the lowest rung of the artistic ladder for the better part of the twentieth century, comics has been gaining in quality and respectability over the last couple of decades. My introductory chapter provides a broad, basic introduction to the genre of comics––its historical development, its different forms, and a survey of comics criticism over the last thirty years. In chapter two I clarify the nature of comics by comparing it to literature, film, and pictorial art, thereby highlighting its hybrid nature. It has elements in common with all of these, and yet it is a distinct genre. My primary focus is on Chris Ware, whom I introduce in chapter three, a brilliant creator who has garnered widespread recognition and respect. His magnum opus is Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, the story of four generations of Corrigan men, most of whom have been negligent in raising their children. Jimmy Corrigan, as a result, is an introverted, insecure thirty–something–year–old man. Among comics creators Ware is unusual in that his story does not address socio–political issues, like most of his peers, which I discuss in chapter four. Jimmy Corrigan is an isolated tale with a very specific focus. Ware’s narrative is somewhat like those of William Faulkner, whose stories have a narrow focus, revolving around the lives of the inhabitants of Yoknapatawpha county, rather than encompassing the vast landscape of national socio–political concerns. Also, in chapter five I explore the intriguing combination of realist and Gothic elements––normally at opposite ends of the generic continuum––that Ware merges in Jimmy Corrigan. This feature is especially interesting because it is another way that his work explores aspects of hybridity. Finally, in my conclusion I examine the current state of comics in American culture and its future prospects for development and success, as well as the potential for future comics criticism.