Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor(s)

Jean Halley

Subject Categories

Children's and Young Adult Literature | Gender and Sexuality | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other Film and Media Studies | Visual Studies | Women's Studies

Keywords

children's animation, cartoons, comics, underground comix, The Legend of Korra, Nimona, Steven Universe

Abstract

In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud considers “the simplified reality of the cartoon,” establishing a definition and theory for the medium (30). McCloud believes that cartoons possess “a special power” that is tied to their unique ability to “focus our attention on an idea” (31). Put simply, there is something about cartoons that allows for an easy exchange of concepts. Cartoons can teach. Using cartoons, a general term, to refer to both comics and animation, this thesis examines the transformative power of queer world building and intervention in recent children’s cartoons and how it functions, and can be further adapted, as praxis.

In “Theory as Liberatory Practice,” bell hooks advocates “using theory as intervention,” as a way to teach others to “look at the world differently” (59-60). Yet, importantly for hooks, “theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary. It fulfills this function only when we ask that it do so and direct our theorizing towards this end” (61). hooks calls for theory that is accessible, digestible, and transmissible: “any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public” (64). For hooks, theory can only be truly counter-hegemonic when it is communicable and paired with praxis. Ideologies cannot be shattered with words alone. But what if we pair them with images?

At the level of form, cartoons are inherently more comprehensible, capable of transmitting information that, in contrast to theory, can be accessed with little formal training. The discourse of cartoons, then, need not be found within the bounds of academia. Cartoons, as a hybrid medium, constructed with fluidity and motion that can contain multitudinous forms of images, signs, texts, and archives, are uniquely suited to counter-hegemonic teaching.

Imbuing cartoons with accessible theory is, in itself, a form of political practice. Cartoonists do not only imagine, envision, and describe new ontologies, but actively depict them in a way that demands participation; cartoons are a collaborative practice, utterly reliant on our ability to understand and act. In this regard, some of the most important—and impactful—queer praxis of today is occurring within the writing, creation, and production of children’s cartoons.

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