The Power of Graphic Narrative for Dementia Stories: Trauma, Aesthetics and Resilience in Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles (2012) and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s (2013)

by E. Ann Kaplan

10 Aug 2023
Journal of the British Academy
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Abstract: This article has three aims: it first argues that the aesthetics of graphic novels, rarely considered in Humanities dementia research, are especially suited to narratives about traumatic dementia. Second, it argues that, within the graphic narrative genre, both indirection and realism can facilitate dementia representations. Third, it argues that the realism each author uses ‘corrects’ well-meaning, idealising, dementia images aimed at challenging negative stereotypes. In this study of Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles and Dana Walrath’s Aliceheimer’s, I show that each benefits from a particular style of realism that I call, for Tangles, ‘abstract realism’, and for Aliceheimer’s ‘adapted’ or ‘fantastic’ realism. Each graphic realism style opens up for viewers the trauma of dementia for both the dementia subject herself and for those caring for her. Images move beyond stereotypes (while not idealising), furthering, via compassion, empathy and resilience, our understanding of this challenging condition so much a part of life today.

Keywords: dementia; trauma; trauma theory; graphic narrative; aesthetics; realism; resilience

Article posted to the Journal of the British Academy, volume 11, supplementary issue 2 (Narratives of Old Age and Gender: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives)

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