My dissertation project, “More or Less Alive: Labor and Race in Comics’ Vital Aesthetics,” examines the relationship between twenty-first century “indie” comics and the vitalist aesthetic discourse it inherited from the underground tradition and early animation. I describe comics vitalism by two related characteristics:
- a utopian identification with the cartoon form’s exuberant energy and plastic, metamorphic body, and
- a relish for all the “morbid distortions” of disability, transsexuality, and racial caricature that the Comics Code Authority of 1954 named forbidden material.
Drawing on Donna Jones’s critical history of twentieth-century vitalism, I argue that the self-fashioning of “indie” comics through vitalist aesthetics has shaped ideas of creative production around spontaneous acts of pleasure (whose enemy is censorious repression and mechanization) rather than organized processes of labor and circulation (whose enemy, among other things, is exhaustion). Like the vitalisms of the twentieth century, this romantic image of creative production often draws upon racial fantasies of raw, unmediated (re)generative life, obscuring the complicated relations of labor that support it.