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‘I pledge you!’: Disability, monstrosity and sacrifice in Wytches

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In the introduction to Freakery (1996), editor and disabilities scholar, Rosemarie Garland Thomson, charts a shift in the West’s cultural perception of and relation to ‘freaks’, arguing that the extraordinary body once viewed with wonder became, over the course of the nineteenth century, a site of error. Michel Foucault ([1984] 2010) identifies the same trend on a broader scale, demonstrating that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain populations – the mad, the criminal, the impoverished, the queer – were rewritten as a social disease blighting normative society. This social equation endures to this day; one has only to scan recent blockbusters to identify the monstrous body as evil, the deformed body as deficient and expendable and, by contrast, the able body as the practically un-killable hero. In this context, the thematic achievement of Scott Snyder et al.’s Wytches (2015) is notable for its refusal to adhere to this equation, and further for its articulation of a positive alternative to it. Wytches, a Gothic horror from the first page, inverts the Victorian equation of horror with madness and monstrosity. While the comic’s eponymous antagonists are unquestionably monstrous, inhuman, and child-eating to boot, they are easily escaped and mainly act in response to the vile, selfish morality of the townsfolk they neighbour. This article first reviews theories of difference and othering as articulated by Rosemarie Garland Thomson and Michel Foucault, and expands understandings of ‘freakery’ and difference to include not just the corporeal but also the mental via Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Max Nordau and Roy Porter. It then argues that Wytches’ monstrous use of normative bodies against the dedicated rescue of its neuroatypical protagonist by abled and disabled characters alike, subtly and compellingly re-inscribing the freaked body not only as a heroic body but as a wondrous one, and argues fiercely against the long-standing social equation of difference and innate evil.
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Keywords: Freakery; Wytches; bodies; degeneration; disability; mental illness; the Gothic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Memorial University of Newfoundland

Publication date: December 1, 2017

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  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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