Beyond the By-line: Paratextual Readings of Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

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This paper will examine how the spaces in which newspaper comic strips are published influence their reception. Using Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008) as a case study, this paper will demonstrate how different paratexts influenced the strips’ reception by studying them as they appeared within four different contexts: three different newspapers (one queer, one feminist and a general interest left-wing paper), and the comic book bind-ups in which they were later published.

Expanding on Gerard Gennette’s work in Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997), which explicitly excluded analysis of paratextual practices in serial publications and illustrated works such as comic strips, this paper will argue that paratext is even more significant to consider when analysing newspaper comic strips since they actively use the spaces around panels (the gutter) as a narrative device, and because their paratext is itself text and not framing material. Comic strips can therefore be said to “bleed” into their paratexts, and this paper will posit that consequently, when analysing Dykes – or any serial newspaper comic strip – attention should be paid, not only to the strip’s content and format, but also to its communal context of publication as expressed through various paratexts. To show this, the paper will draw on examples from the strip’s different publication contexts, as well as existing research concerning the influence of paratext in comic books, the cultural production of newspaper comic strips, and the social significance of grassroot periodicals (Daniel Stein, Joy Katzmarzik and Rodger Streitmatter among others).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023

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