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.
Alice, A and Dorison, X. 1997. Le Troisième Testament, Vol. 1–2. Grafica, Glénat.
Avery-Natale, E. 2013. An Analysis of Embodiment among Six Superheroes in DC Comics. Social Thought and Research, 32: 71–106. DOI: http://doi.org/10.17161/STR.1808.12434
Barbarich, E. 2013. Sister Claire, Vol 1–2. Self-published. https://www.sisterclaire.com/ Last accessed 8.7.2020.
Bechdel, A. 1986. Dykes to Watch Out For #1. Ithaca: Firebrand Books.
Bennett, JM. 1993. Medievalism and Feminism. Speculum, 68: 309–331. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2307/2864555
Bishop, C. 2016. Medievalist Comics and the American Century. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. DOI: http://doi.org/10.14325/mississippi/9781496808509.003.0001
Bloom, C. 1996. Cult Fiction: Popular Reading and Pulp Theory. London: Macmillan Press. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1057/9780230390126
Brand, R, Crumb, R, Jackson, J, “Jaxon,” Rodriguez, S, Ryan, P and Sheridan, D. 1973. Tales from the Leather Nun. Berkley: Last Gasp Eco-Funnies.
Bretécher, C. 2007. La vie passionnée de Thérèse d’Avila, 1st edition 1980. Paris: Dargaud.
Bronfen, E. 1992. Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Brown, JA. 1996. Gender and the Action Heroine: Hardbodies and the “Point of No Return.” Cinema Journal, 35: 52–71. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2307/1225765
Casteras, SP. 1981. Virgin Vows: The Early Victorian Artists’ Portrayal of Nuns and Novices. Victorian Studies, 24: 157–184. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3827358.
Cheney, LDG. 1992. Pre-Raphaelitism and Medievalism in the Arts. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press.
Chute, H. 2010. Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics, Gender and Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chute, H. 2015. The Space of Graphic Narrative: Mapping Bodies, Feminism, and Form. Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions, 194–209. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv8j6sv.14
Cohn, N. 2013. The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. London: Bloomsbury.
Dolan, FE. 2007. Why are Nuns Funny? Huntington Library Quarterly, 70: 509–535. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/hlq.2007.70.4.509
Dunn, B and Nomura, T. 1994. Warrior Nun Areala, 1. San Antonio: Antarctic Press.
Dunn, JA. 1998. Charlotte Dacre and the Feminization of Violence. Nineteenth-Century Literature, 53: 307–327. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.1998.53.3.01p00317
Fawaz, R. 2015. The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics. New York: NYU Press. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9781479814336.001.0001
Griffin, SM. 1996. Awful Disclosures: Women’s Evidence in the Escaped Nun’s Tale. PMLA, 111: 93–107. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2307/463136
Head, T. 2001. Medieval Hagiography. New York: Routledge.
Hirano, K. 1999. Helsing. Tokyo: Young King OURs; Shonen Gahosha.
Hoffman Berman, C. 2000. The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth Century Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. DOI: http://doi.org/10.9783/9780812200799
Horner, S. 1994. Spiritual Truth and Sexual Violence: The Old English ‘Juliana’, Anglo-Saxon Nuns, and the Discourse of Female Monastic Enclosure. Signs, 19: 658–675. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1086/494916
Jackson, D. 2007. Marvellous to Behold: Miracles in Medieval Manuscripts. London: British Library.
Kamachi, K and Kogino, C. 2004. A Certain Magical Index (Toaru Matjusu no Indekkusu). Tokyo: ASCII Mediaworks.
Kelly, HA. 1996. A Neo-Revisionist Look at Chaucer’s Nuns. Chaucer Review, 31: 115–132. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25095967.
Kershner, I and Landler, M. 1991. Hers; The Smurfette Principle. New York Times, Section 6, 8.
Klein, S. 1993. Breaking the Mold with Humor: Images of Women in the Visual Media. Art Education, 46: 60–65. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2307/3193387
La Rosa, D and Cardinali, V. 2013. Suore Ninja. Italy: Star Comics.
Madrid, M. 2009. The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines. Ashland, Or.: Exterminating Angel Press.
McNamara, JA. 1996. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Monk, M. 1835. The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, and Mysteries of a Convent. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson.
Moran, M. 2004. The Art of Looking Dangerously: Victorian Images of Martyrdom. Victorian Literature and Culture, 32: 475–493. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1017/S1060150304000610
Netton, IR. 2018. Islam, Christianity and the Realms of the Miraculous: A Comparative Exploration. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. DOI: http://doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748699063.001.0001
Pagliarini, M. 2007. ‘And the Word Was Made Flesh’: Divining the Female Body in Nineteenth Century American and Catholic Culture. Religion and American Culture, 17: 213–245. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/rac.2007.17.2.213
Polinska, W. 2000. Dangerous Bodies: Women’s Nakedness and Theology. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 16: 45–62. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25002375.
Round, J. 2014. Gothic in Comics and Graphic Novels. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Saudek, K and Weigel, J. 2010. Lips Tullian. Prague: Albatros.
Sullivan, R. 2005. Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism, and American Post-war Popular Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. DOI: http://doi.org/10.3138/9781442683112
Suter, R. 2009. From Jusuheru to Jannu: Girl Knights and Christian Witches in the Work of Miuchi Suzue. Mechademia, 4: 241–256. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1353/mec.0.0085
Top Cow Productions. 2008. The Darkness Compendium, Vol. 1. Berkeley: Image Comics Inc.
Vauchez, A. 1997. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weitzeln, F. 2005. Masque-ulinities: Changing Dress as a Display of Masculinity in the Superhero Genre. Fashion Theory, 9: 229–250. DOI: http://doi.org/10.2752/136270405778051374
Woock, E. 2015. Nuns Having Fun: Popular Graphic Representations of a Historical Issue. Where Is History Today? Olomouc: Palacky University Olomouc. pp. 159–170.