The Comic Grotesque: Troubling the Body Politic in American Graphic Satire from World War I to the Great Depression
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation examines the comic grotesque as a strategy of critical engagement within the thriving field of U.S. graphic satire from World War I through the Great Depression. During this period, artists across the political spectrum were using disruptive bodily forms, along with references to pain, vulgar associations and crude techniques, to challenge political authority, undermine attempts to smooth over political turbulence, and address communal anxieties about social tensions and the direction of the nation. Emerging in the context of record unemployment rates, the explosion of political radicalism, dramatic shifts of gender and class power dynamics, and emerging threats of fascism, these iconoclastic, rebellious, or evocative bodies gained popular attention within a thriving publishing industry that maintained much of its readership during the Depression through its graphic satire. I focus on works in the magazines The Masses, New Masses, Daily Worker, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. Through case studies examining such artists as John Sloan, Robert Minor, Henry Glintenkamp, Jacob Burck, Gardner Rea, James Thurber, and William Gropper, I argue that the comic grotesque served as a means of challenging the often totalizing construction of society embedded within many of the debates in the period around recovery and progress. This project draws from the field of disability studies, recent scholarship on eugenics culture, and studies on political citizenship in the U.S., as well as the theories of the grotesque by such early twentieth century figures as Mikhail Bakhtin and Kenneth Burke, to consider the various ways that the comic grotesque was used as a form of sociopolitical activation. The comic grotesque not only served as a metaphorical tool, I argue, but also as a means of challenging viewers' ideological foundations through somatic forms of engagement. At the same time, artists also utilized grotesque racial and gender stereotypes, in the process justifying and reaffirming racial prejudices. This project also situates these works within broader traditions of the comic grotesque that may be traced back to the early modern period, particularly as a tool of critique employed by such artists as British eighteenth-century caricaturist James Gilray, French nineteenth- century artist Honoré Daumier, and U.S. nineteenth century graphic satirist Thomas Nast.
Chair and Committee
Marisa Bass, Elizabeth Childs, Andrea Friedman, Rebecca Wanzo
Campbell, Bryna Rae, "The Comic Grotesque: Troubling the Body Politic in American Graphic Satire from World War I to the Great Depression" (2015). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 471.
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K76D5R41