Illness and (Hyper)Masculinity in ‘HIMM’ Ccomics from the USA

Article Summary by Paul Mitchell

In “Illness and (Hyper)Masculinity in HIMM Comics from the USA”, I explore how three cartoonists graphically depict their personal experiences of illness. The texts that I analyse, My Degeneration (Peter Dunlap-Shohl), Relatively Indolent but Relentless (Matt Freedman) and The Hospital Suite (John Porcellino) deal with diverse health problems, from Parkinson’s Disease to adenoidal cystic carcinoma and an abdominal tumour. But they also display a notable degree of commonality in the way that these men respond to their symptoms, medical diagnoses, and treatment. While the field of graphic medicine has grown exponentially in recent years, I believe that the motif of masculinity in autobiographical illness comics is still an undeveloped area of academic enquiry. For this reason, I refer to the texts in my study as ‘HIMM’ comics because they provide illuminating examples of the interconnection between health, illness, men, and masculinities. In particular, my analysis examines how hypermasculinity—that is, the stereotypical conception of men as physically robust, invulnerable, and emotional distant—is challenged by the graphic texts I discuss, which explore men’s experiences of debility, passivity, and dependency. In addition, rather than reinforcing the help-seeking avoidance that typifies men’s response to becoming ill, a behaviour that has been well documented in the literature on the sociology of health, Dunlap-Shohl, Freedman and Porcellino depict the benefits of seeking out early diagnosis and medical treatment. In this way, the HIMM comics in my study offer valuable insights into how (hyper)masculinity influences men with health problems in the early twenty-first century.

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Portrait of Paul MitchellPaul Mitchell is associate professor of English at the Universidad Católica de Valencia San Vicente Mártir (UCV) in Spain. He is the author of Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Negativity (Universitat de Valéncia 2011), as well as other academic essays about the literary and cinematic motifs of monstrosity, deformity, trauma, and masculinity. As a member of the research project Figuras de mal: marginalidad, dominación y transgresión”, he has published on the representation of the Creature in contemporary screen versions of Frankenstein, as well as the themes of trauma and dissociative identity disorder in the Australian film The Babadook (2014). His currently research focuses on depictions of illness in autobiographical comics, particularly with an emphasis on how social constructions of gender influence graphic texts about personal illness experiences.


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