Comics as Theory: Bodily Vulnerability and Resilience in Lissa: an ethnoGRAPHIC novel

By Sherine Hamdy
Submitted to Session P4938 (Gendering the Body in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Graphic novels and comics illustration have been a new focus in theorizing the body. Juxtaposing patients’ lived experiences of disease, pain, illness, and loss against social norms and clinical understandings of bodies, graphic memoirs are powerful records of visual corporeal experience and transformation. The juxtaposition of text and image in comics—as well as the ability to manipulate both time and space into a series of panels -- allows for more complicated representations of bodily vulnerability, pain, and psychic interiority. This paper focuses on Lissa which debuted as a piece of graphic “ethno-fiction.” Lissa tells the story of Anna, the daughter of an American oil company executive living in Cairo, who has a family history of breast cancer. She forms an unlikely friendship with Layla, the daughter of the bawab of Anna’s apartment building, who grows to become a resolute physician struggling for better public health justice and rights in Egypt.

Following the women’s journey into adulthood as they grapple with difficult medical decisions, the paper problematizes the medicalization of feminine bodies and experiences of illness. It explores the variety of people’s experiences of illness and mortality against the backdrop of political, economic, and environmental crises. Through a story of friendship, loss, and medical promise, it illuminates multiple forces that make bodies both vulnerable and resistant to forces such as political corruption, gender norms, state violence, toxicity, disease, and the commodification of bodies and health care.