Spirits in the Gutters: The British Invasion and the Haunting of the Twentieth Century

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In this dissertation, I analyze the significant artistic and literary shifts initiated in mainstream US superhero comics by the British Invasion authors Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis (among others), and argue that their restless curiosity in exploring how the comics page can come to make meaning is part of a tradition of literary production whose roots run back through the disruptive US/UK modernisms of the early twentieth century, the fragmented spiritual affects of Romanticism, and the dissonant overcomplications of Baroque art. I argue that that the impact of this group of writers instigated a sea change of generational proportions in the direction of American comics writing from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. This change began with an increased focus on textuality and the tropes of literary storytelling (such as unreliable narrators, non-linear narratives, and biting political allegory) but was always accompanied by and generative of an innovative and experimental approach to the mechanics of visual storytelling in terms of the manipulation of layouts, panelling, guttering, and other concrete elements of the comics page. US superhero comics written and illustrated by US creators published subsequent to the British Invasion and up to the present day, continue to reflect the deep shifts in aesthetic and literary preoccupations inaugurated by the authors of the British Invasion, with Moore, Morrison, and Ellis chief among them. At stake in this sea change is the figure of the unreconstructed, all-American superhero as a symbol of hope, justice, morality, and honour. I argue that the British Invasion authors brought a critical, intellectualized cynicism to their own superhero writing, which worked to create and sustain new audiences of more mature comics readers whose taste for overtly political or philosophical comics remains a powerful market force in the comics industry today. The Invasion writers changed the way that stories could be told in superhero comics, and while they may not have been successful in recouping the radical potential of the superhero as a figure of collective liberation, they heralded an enduring shift in the kinds of stories that mainstream comics were allowed to tell.
Comics, Graphic Narrative, Baroque, Modernism, Post-structuralism, Otherness, American Literature, English Literature
Sewel, T. (2023). Spirits in the gutters: the British invasion and the haunting of the twentieth century (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.