This article in comics form looks at an under-investigated phenomenon of nun characters appearing in contemporary comics as a unified trope. Appearing with a strong degree of uniformity, these stock characters share a unique costume, weaponry, repeated storylines, and most importantly, are couched in medievalism. To explain the development of these characteristics, which can seem wholly contemporary, the comic looks back at the textual and visual representation of nun and religious female characters —such as saints— from their early medieval origins, through their visual recodification in the Victorian era, up to applications of the nun character in the twentieth century. This issue is examined from different perspectives, including the heroism of early Christian saints (McNamara 1996), the shift in attitudes towards nuns in Victorian literature (Griffin 1996) and art (Pagliarini 2007; Moran 2004; Casteras 1981), and how the nun fits into the world of comics (Madrid 2009), action (Brown 1996) and medievalism (Bishop 2016; Bennett 1993). This article argues that despite the presence of nuns in the contemporary world, the stock character in comics is dependent on some degree of medievalization, and maps these characteristics as they evolved over time, finding that, thanks to the medievalization itself, nun stock characters present a unique model of superheroine in comics. Medievalism informs the weaponry of the nun, her miraculous superpowers, her connection to a community, and her character costume.
This topic is given a graphic treatment, rather than a traditional presentation. The spatial organization of the comic serves to structure the argumentation, wherein the presence or lack of frames, the layout of the page, the repetition of symbols or graphic references all serve the purpose of the academic presentation of the subject. What would have appeared in footnotes or as parenthetical details are better integrated as visual elements, and the ability to combine the written and visualized leads to a greater economization of text and maximalization of graphic descriptions. To present this research in comic form was to partly discuss it in its own language. The visual language chosen for the illustrations in this comic are intentionally referential to the visual language of the comics where nun characters appear, while the Socratic dialogue between the subject of inquiry (manifested as the Mini Nun), and the authorial voice (manifested as Arthur) attempts to utilize the unique possibilities of the format. The choice of font, the finishing of the frames and the inclusion of colloquial interjections throughout aim to replicate the narrative ease and amiability often found in academic writing from North America, in contrast to the more sombre, cerebral and strict realism of works like Unflattening (Sousanis 2015).
I am deeply grateful for the insight and suggestions graciously offered by the reviewers. This article is an output from a research project funded by the Student Grant Competition (IGA) at Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic; IGA_FF_2019_037 Literature for young adults in English and American culture: criteria, forms and genres.
This article is a piece of research that underwent double blind peer review by two external reviewers, and it is part of the Graphic Science Special Collection edited by Nicolas Labarre and Ernesto Priego. Our gratitude to the peer reviewers. Parts of the medieval history overview on pages 6 and 8, and the escape stories on page 10 of the comic appeared with a different treatment in Woock 2015: 159–170.
The author has no competing interests to declare.
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