II Moving comics from representation to practice
Graphic mobilities: mobile practices, bodies, and landscapes of movement in comics
The representation of movement in comics
In the two chapters composing Part II of this book, I would like to make a step forward in the doing of comics as a research practice in the geohumanities, and move ‘beyond the frame’ in many respects. In Chapter 5, I will present an original geoGraphic novel titled Lines: Moving With Stories of Public Transport in Turku (2021) that I have drawn and written myself, as the main research output of a post-doctoral fellowship for the international research project PUTSPACE. If compared with the preceding Part I, Part II does not present geoGraphic narratives as outputs of collaborations between the geographer and the comics author, or between the geographer- cartoonist and other researchers. On the contrary, this time, the geoGraphic novel was from the very beginning at the centre of an intrinsically geographical project and autonomous research endeavour. Indeed, the entire research process and the fieldwork activities that took place in the city of Turku (Finland), presented in Chapter 5, were completely designed to collect materials for the composition of a space-centred comics story. As I will further explain, by working alone, with no publishing house collaborating in the project’s ideation, I experienced a complete freedom of choice in tracing the research path, organising the fieldwork activities, and choosing the tone, structure, style, content, form, and even the format of the comics story. These aspects will be at the centre of the final chapter in this volume, in order to provide readers with an empirical example of how geographers can profitably embrace the doing of comics as a geoGraphic research practice. In this final section, the doing of comics actually permits me to ‘think geographically through comics’ (Fall 2021), embracing myself the double perspective of a geographer-cartoonist who poses the realisation of a creative output at the centre of her geoGraphic research practice.
Yet, before coming to this account on how to design geoGraphic fieldwork, Chapter 4 moves a step forward from a theoretical perspective as well. Indeed, it suggests thinking of ‘graphic mobilities’ as a still underexplored field of transdis- ciplinary research that arises from the dialogue between mobility studies, literary theory and criticism, comics studies, comic book geographies, the geohumanities, and cultural geography. My suggestion is that, beyond literary mobilities, cultural geographers and social scientists working in mobilities studies, starting from the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ (Sheller and Urry 2006), should also explore the peculiar narrative forms and genres, representations and practices of im/mobilities that emerge from comics. In fact, if scholars in literary mobilities (Berensmeyer and Ehland 2013; Frenay et al. 2019; Mathieson 2012; Merriman 2015) affirm that texts permit us to access unpredicted perspectives on mobilities, embracing a mobile perspective in both their contents and forms (Peterle 2019), I argue the same applies for comics. Furthermore, comics’ peculiar spatial grammar and the immersive spatial experience they provide their reader with are able to suggest new directions to follow for mobilities studies. The mobilities and mobile trajectories traced by comics are not simply represented in the comics page; rather, they are enacted and performed, followed and retraced by authors and readers in their writing/drawing/reading practices. Comics ask for mobile engagements to be read and performed and, thus, they let new mobile perspectives emerge through the entanglements between personal experiences of mobile practices and the fictional ones represented in the comics page.
Mobile stories of travelling, walking, driving, sailing, biking, running, cruising, and riding, to mention only a few, have always been an effective tool to stimulate the emergence of memories, emotions, and practices connected to mobility. Recently, these stories have also been recognised as more than mere objects of research: creative storytelling and the processes of composing, reading, and performing literary texts are now considered valuable methods for doing innovative research within mobility studies. As David McLaughlin affirms, there are ‘a variety of ways in which literary geographers can be attentive to the importance of mobilities in forming relations between literary works and the actual world’ (McLaughlin 2016, p. 126). Observing the representation of mobile practices, landscapes of movement, everyday movements, and lifelong experiential lines of travel, literary geographers have already explored the connection between textual mobilities and the real world and analysed the reciprocal co-production of textual and real space mobilities.
Mobilities in and of literary texts have been at the centre of recent studies by scholars working at the intersection between literary, geographical, cultural, and mobilities research: indeed, not only do texts represent mobilities or activate mobile practices, but also, as objects spatially situated, they circulate themselves, composing mobile lines within literary networks of circulation. As the literary geographical approach also considers the geographies of creation, promotion, circulation, and reception of texts together with the material conditions of writing/ reading practices (Hones 2014, p. 131; Saunders 2010, p. 442), the same happens for a geocritical approach to comic book geographies. In this light, mobilities provide graphic narratives with content, often appearing as central topics of narration; they give birth to specific graphic genres that are constitutively connected to mobile practices, like the travel journals and reportages in comics form. Furthermore, comics themselves move and circulate, and through their mobilities they contribute to the circulation of ideas and meanings of mobility. As we will see in the following sections, there are several reasons for extending the debate within mobility studies to other narrative forms, including comics and graphic narratives in the spectrum of analysis.
Moving with(in) comics
Mobility operates at multiple spatial and temporal scales, comprising ‘a wide range of movements, from the largescale technologies of global travel, to transnational interconnections, to everyday local mobilities - including journeys by foot, road, rail, air, and sea, at local, regional, national and transnational levels’ (Aguiar et al. 2019, p. 2). These ditferent mobilities often penetrate literary representations, otfering narrative sets, mobile practices to animate characters’ experiences, and pathways to organise plotlines. The same also happens in comic books. For example, Jon McNaught’s graphic novel Kingdom (2018) is organised around a very simple story: a mother decides to bring her son Andrew and daughter Suzie to the Kingdom Field Floliday Park (UK), spending a long weekend in a caravan park on the British coast. Apparently, not much happens in this graphic novel, and, likewise, not much is said by the protagonists, whose first dialogue is set in a Burger King placed in a travel plaza many pages after the beginning of the comics story. Yet, this is not by coincidence, since the apparent immobility of the narrative plot, where no big changes happen, no drama is shown, is counterbalanced by the fundamental role played by the condition of mobility and the symbolic travel that the protagonists undergo to reach the coast. Passing through landscapes of movement, such as the congested roads and motorway service stations displayed in Figure 4.1, the two kids also move across time, embracing their own mother’s perspective, as she was a child and used to spend her holidays in the same location. To provide readers with an alternated sense of movement and rest, many pages in McNaught’s graphic novel, like the ones presented in Figure 4.2, are divided into tiny little panels that fragment the passing of time through the constant fragmentation of space. Panels focus on small details of both inorganic and natural elements; they represent immobile billboards, cars, videogames, and smartphone screens; but they show also the slight movements of birds, flies, of blades of grass blowing in the coastal wind. Juliet J. Fall affirms that comics create ‘a world built on gaps and voids’that is nevertheless ‘visible, material, tangible, encountered, seen, felt’ (2021, p. 25): the author of Kingdom plays especially with the narrative possibilities offered by these voids, asking the reader to animate the page by imagining imperceptible movements happening in the white spaces between the frames, or in the gutters that separate one scene from the other.
In this apparently immobile place on the British coast, where the mother herself spent a pleasant time with her brother as she was a little girl, a majestic nature with
FIGURE 4.1 Landscapes of movement in Jon McNaught’s Kingdom. Reproduction by permission of the publishing house. McNaught, J 2018, Kingdom, Nobrow Press, London, p. 3. All rights reserved.
FIGURE 4.2 Reading movement in time through the fragmentation of space in Jon McNaught’s Kingdom. Reproduction by permission of the publishing house. McNaught, J 2018, Kingdom, Nobrow Press, London, p. 5 and p. 19. All rights reserved.
its rhythms, colours, and sounds seems to be the real protagonist of McNaught’s story. Yet, when leaving the city behind, Suzie (the little daughter) seems to experience a sort of epiphany precisely when they are driving along a busy motorway Staring at the landscapes of movement outside the car window, immersed in an endless flow of cars and trucks and motorised vehicles, the little girl perceives herself for the first time as a molecular presence in a broader world. The alternation of mobility and immobilities, of happiness and boredom, of the natural and the inorganic, and the inseparable interconnection between these apparently opposite elements, are at the centre of Kingdom. 'In a comic it is by starting with divisions or fragments that the whole is made’ (Fall 2021, p. 25), and panels are tales of a broader mosaic which gain meaning through their reciprocal relations and associations; likewise, through moving together with other cars, Suzie perceives herself as a small part in a broader constellation. Indeed, both natural and inorganic features, human subjects and non-human objects alternate in the panels, as small parts of a unique whole. Playing on scales of time and space, McNaught uses the alternation of different grids, from splash pages to a structure of three, five, and even eight panels for each line, to provide readers with a sense of changing rhythms, of interchanging mobilities and immobilities. Moving their gazes when leafing throughout the pages of Kingdom, readers somehow replicate these alternating rhythms, sometimes moving quickly along the motorway other times lingering, still and silent, on small natural details. In Kingdom, mobile epiphanies about the meaning of movement and stillness, and their co-existence, emerge through the graphic mobilities represented in and performed through the comics page.
Yet, what are the peculiar mobilities that emerge from comics and geoGraphic narratives if we compare them to other narrative forms? As Marian Aguiar, Charlotte Mathieson, and Lynne Pearce observe in Mobilities, Literature, Culture (2019), the recent ‘humanistic turn’ in mobility studies makes visible the significant role the humanities have been playing for a long time in a field that is too often identified merely with the social sciences (p. 2). In this light, literary and cultural studies among other disciplines, and especially literature and textual materials, provided the social sciences with not just useful representations of movement but especially original understandings, meanings, and metaphors to conceptualise mobilities in past and present times. Moreover, in the Introduction to their volume, Aguiar et al. stress the prolific connection between literary scholars working within mobilities studies and those engaging with spatio-centred and geocritical perspectives, explicitly bringing together the parallel research paths followed by these two critical streams in the last decades. The peculiarities of the spatial grammar of comics provide mobility' scholars with imaginative and original insights of the entanglements between real world’s and narrative spaces, places, and mobilities.
Crossing chronotopes in contemporary graphic narratives
In his seminal volume On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (2006), Tim Cresswell claims that mobility is at the same time experienced and thought; it can be both literal and metaphorical; it involves bodies and embodied practices as much as symbolic representations. According to Cresswell, ‘representations of mobility capture and make sense of it through the production of meanings’ (2006, p. 3); they help us to understand its value and importance in our real lives. The practice of composing ‘mobile stories’ provides us with new understandings of what our mobile practices mean, from walking and driving to dancing, dwelling in, commuting, biking, and riding, to mention only a few. Yet, we should not forget that, in narratives, mobility is represented but also necessarily practiced, experienced, and embodied through the situated spatial events happening when authors and readers meet the text (Cresswell 2006, p. 4). Mobile physical bodies and representations of mobilities are strictly connected, and we cannot separate corporeal materiality from mobile representations in order to interpret mobility. Proposing a focus on graphic mobilities, then, means considering the forms of representation, meanings, and practices of mobility that are connected with comics.
On the one hand, like other representations, comics load mobile practices, experiences, and bodies with new meanings by representing them in the form of a combination of words and images. On the other hand, the writing and reading of comics involve authors and readers in spatial practices that, I argue, are not merely spatial but intrinsically mobile. Through moving from one frame to another, from one site on the page to the other, authors and readers produce a narrative sense
(meaning) as much as they undergo an embodied experience that moves across space and time: here narrative sense is gained through non-linear combinations of meanings and content and built through the physical movement of the gaze through the page. Also, the representations of mobile practices within comics help us to produce new meanings for understanding mobility and the way we conceptualise it: when writing and reading about mobilities in comics form, we are constantly asked to engage with the comics page in a relational way, building bridges between what we see and read on the page and what we see and experience in our ordinary lives. From this perspective, comics are agents that produce mobility, changing our perspective through affective and emotional engagement.
Cresswell further says that ‘if movement is the dynamic equivalent of location, then mobility is the dynamic equivalent of place’ (2006, p. 3): these definitions of mobility and movement are particularly helpful for my aim of applying a relational approach to comic book geographies. Attempting to transpose these conceptualisations of ‘movement’ and ‘mobility’ into the spatio-topical system of comics (Groensteen 2007), I argue that if movement represents the assemblage of all the potential narrative lines that could be followed by comics authors/readers when composing/reading the page, then mobility is the actual trajectory they choose to trace throughout the comics page. The reading trajectory embeds movement with meaning, and an experience of mobility happens ever)' time the author/reader engages with the comics page. It is by authors’ and readers’ mobilities that the space of the page is filled with meaning and becomes a significant place. Not by chance, this reasoning resonates with that of many comics theorists, even if they never explicitly focused on mobility. Indeed, Thierry Groensteen, when exploring and searching for the ‘threshold of narrativity’ in comics, also asks himself:
Immobile images separated by gutters: how do we tell a story with these things? Is the narration in the images? Is it dispersed between each image, or does it emerge from being arranged end to end?
(2007, pp. 103-104)
I know the answer to Groensteen’s question I am proposing here is only partial, because it does not give the coordinates to precisely locate the threshold of narrativity; yet, I suggest that in comics, space and time are intrinsically connected by mobilities, more than in many other narrative forms. It is the movement of the gaze from panel to panel that embeds the apparently static space of the page with narrative time. Reading paths make the virtual plotlines imagined by the author explicit, turning potential narrative movement into actual narrative mobility. Of course, each narrative form implies the correlation of time and space, but, as illustrated in Chapter 3, I argue the peculiar spatial grammar of comics has an intrinsic chronotopic dimension since it permits the construction of different narrative paths (times) that can unfold in non-linear ways when moving through the page (space): this means each panel is a chronotope in the sense that it is a meaningful space embedded with time, where narrative time becomes visible and readable. Comics’ plurivectorial narration does produce a fragmented but also multiscalar, pluridi- mensional, and relational sense of time-space: on the one hand, it permits authors to dictate the pace and set the rhythms by which readers pass through the panels in the sequence; on the other hand, it gives readers the opportunity to dictate their own pace, allowing them to move back and forth, in different directions through the space of the page.
Mobility and immobility alternate in the experience of reading comics. Interruptions of mobility occur when, for example in McNaught’s Kingdom, our gaze lingers on visual details that capture our attention. Even though we can also return to previous pages when reading literary texts, in comics the presence of images often asks authors/readers to embrace multiscalar visions, to rediscover visual clues and associations that were disseminated throughout the narration, from panel to panel, page to page, chapter to chapter. Moreover, when we hold a comic book in our hands to read it, we usually have a first overall vision of the page, and only by then we go back to the beginning of the page (to the first panel) to trace our reading pathway through it: comics work through both simultaneity and braiding (Kuttner et al. 2020, p. 9). This multiscalar understanding of the comics page could be profitably used in geography to think of space from a multiscalar perspective. If comics are a ‘map of time’ (McCloud 2000, p. 220) which attempts to translate temporal events into spatial representations (Jenkins 2017), to orientate ourselves within this chrono-topical structure we have to make both temporal and spatial choices. As Scott McCloud reveals in his prophetic volume Reinventing Comics (2000), the infinite possible time-space combinations and narrative structures offered by the comics page are further multiplied by the new technologies and digital or web comics. I am aware that the reflection on mobility and time could be further explored considering the peculiar mobilities enacted by digital comics: yet, in this book, I am focusing on the comic book as a material product and, more generally, on printed comics. Even the geoGraphic narrative Lines presented in Chapter 5 was imagined from the very beginning as a work to be printed, displayed, and located in material space, and its narrative structure does not exploit the possibilities offered by digital supports. Thus, even if firstly shared online, it is still following printed comics rules, especially in the idea of the page as a narrative unit.
In comics, the structuring of time does not depend only upon the way in which space is fragmented. In fact, given a sequence of panels, the perception of time changes according to how the author decides to fill each single frame with images and words, and to design the alternation of full and empty spaces, of frames of different forms and dimensions. For example, many sequences of Chris Ware’s comics, from Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000) to the experimental work Building Stories (2012) and Rusty Broivn (2019), linger on everyday routines, banal actions, and insignificant gestures through both the fragmentation of space and the representation of small details. Here, the author drastically slows the narrative rhythm down by fragmenting the page, in order to provide readers with a sense of claustrophobia through narrative immobility. Ware himself claims that the style of comics artists is ‘expressed in how their characters move, how time is sculpted’ (Ware quoted in Singer 2010, p. 36). As Marc Singer observes, Ware ‘relies heavily on figurative, analogic descriptions borrowed from music and the plastic arts’, and his emphasis on rhythm, motion, and time suggests that, much like Scott McCloud, he ‘believes the art of comics inheres in its ability' to represent time through the juxtaposition and arrangement of multiple images’ (2010, p. 36). Likewise, as shown in Figure 4.2, in Kingdom the arrangement of multiple images in sequence corresponds to the assemblage of human and non-human gestures, movements, and times. As readers, we are not sure of how much time has passed in the gutter between one panel and the other, because some of the small details represented in the panels could have happened in both Suzie’s present or her mother’s past.
As in Ware’s graphic novels, a ‘pursuit of slowness’ (Banita 2010, p. 177) characterises the works by' two other outstanding contemporary comics authors: namely, Nick Drnaso and Adrian Tomine. Both cartoonists represent contemporary urban and suburban anxieties as well as the contradictions and failures of urban lifestyle through playing with changes in narrative rhythms in their stories. Drnaso and Tomine make use of rigid grids to organise the page in a geometrical structure, giving readers a first glance impression of social order through the choice of a precise graphic layout. Yet, moving panel-to-panel, readers encounter the frictions and fractures of a society that is far from being perfectly structured and organised. Moving across the panels, readers encounter many characters, lives, and personalities that are, indeed, deeply fragmented and often immobile, despite their unceasing movement. In his collection of stories Beverly (2016), Drnaso presents a frustrated and monotonous American life, portraying fast foods and shops placed along empty streets, motorways and cars that seem immobilised in their daily commuting routine, and people stuck in front of their laptops in search of a way to escape their everyday immobilities - the latter becomes the central topic of his latest and successful graphic novel Sabrina (2018). In Beverly, the author explores a precise time-space, namely the contemporary US during the so-called Trump era, and experiments with the possibilities oifered by the comics language to represent monotony through different stylistic choices. For example, beyond the already mentioned geometrical structuring of the space of the page, Drnaso uses a very' thin graphic line that reduces the visual characterisation of each character to a very' few traits, thus making facial expressions more visible through a careful use of‘tilts and curves in the mouths’ and ‘tilts of the eyebrows’ - as he declared in an interview for Vulture magazine.1 Moreover, a repetitive palette of pastel colours provides readers with a sense of existential flattening and boredom in a world where emotions are somehow anaesthetised. This visual poetic seems to be a common graphic voice of authors interested in the representation of the contemporary American way of life: not by chance, his Sabrina was the first-ever comic to make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list, becoming a point of reference for narrators working outside the comics scene, like English writer Zadie Smith.
Many traits of Drnaso s graphic poetics are shared by Adrian Tomine, another contemporary American cartoonist. If in Ware’s comics ‘slowness seems to indicate nothing but trauma’ (Banita 2010, p. 187), I argue the same applies for the six stories collected in Killing and Dying by To mine (2015). His long-standing collaboration as a cover illustrator for the New Yorker makes him not just a well-known graphic voice in the international scene but also an author especially capable of realising single images, often set in urban contexts, that are both contemplative and narrative. In fact, the cover of Killing and Dying brings the reader into a precise spatio-temporal frame as much as into a specific everyday lifestyle and mood, made of the struggles of ordinary lives, of intimate frustration and unrealised dreams of a bored (lower) middle-class: the cover represents a single revealing moment that summarises an entire era. Many stories in the collection are anticlimactic and inconclusive not because the readers are expected to fill in the gap and imagine the possible ends, but rather because the represented plotlines seem to be small extracts from longer immobile lives that always proceed at the same pace, in the same direction. Tomine often gains narrative deceleration by providing huge portraits of urban landscapes, capturing urban everyday life through still frames in his comics as he does in his covers. Despite his figurative precision, by representing the small details of buildings, roads, single houses and apartment buildings, streetlights and shop signs, the author wants readers to experience everything but a sense of being perfectly located. These details represent still and meaningless fragments of an extremely mobile and, thus, paradoxically immobile era.
Before moving to my first-hand experience with the doing of an original mobile geoGraphic novel, I would like to mention another recent example of graphic mobilities that was particularly inspiring for my own work on urban everyday mobilities: namely, Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams (2019). Williams’ work allows me to introduce the genre of the illustrated memoir or graphic autobiography. This self-centred graphic genre permits access to the more intimate, affective, and emotional aspects connected to everyday mobilities, further allowing readers to explore their own emotions through the author’s experience. Similarly, from a researcher-cartoonist perspective, the open declaration of the positionality of the author, often represented as the protagonist or at least as a character in the narration, permits a high degree of reflexivity. Thus, this genre enables significant reflections on our bodies, affects, emotions, perceptions, relations, and gestures during the research process and beyond. As the title highlights, Commute poses at its centre an apparently banal route, Williams’ everyday commuting path from home to work and back again. Within the increasing number of works on women and transport, gender mobilities, and everyday mobile practices experienced by women in urban contexts, ‘the journey-to-work strand of research made a major contribution to urban geography’ (Law 1999, p. 570). As Robin Law affirms, this strand ‘produced a substantial body of highly consistent and well supported evidence showing that women (especially married women) displayed different worktrip patterns relative to men’ (1999, p. 570). The past 20 years, which separate Williams’ graphic memoir from Law’s discussion on gender and mobility, have been enriched by contributions from different disciplinary directions, from transport to feminist geographers and mobility scholars (Hanson 2010).
What emerges is the need to embrace, among others, ‘a gendered time-geography perspective’ where 'bodies are treated as sexed and gendered subjects’ (Scholten et al. 2012, p. 595): there is no single, abstract commuter but thousands of single bodies, whose embodiments produce different perceptions, meanings, affects, and practices connected to mobilities. As Christina Scholten et al. suggest, bodies are at the centre of mobility studies:
mobility requires a bodily presence, because mobility is conducted by bodily movement. It is the own body that is seated in the car, on the bus or on the train. It is the own body that carries bags, children, or both. The body is frequently connected to trolleys, bags, wheelchairs, or other equipment. It is the own body that is sometimes forced to travel standing due to the lack of seats, and that becomes vulnerable, for example, through illness, age, pregnancy or disability. It is the body that risks being assaulted and subjected to violence, which in turn leads women working nightshifts to change their route to work to avoid imagined or real threats. The basis of time-geography is the embodiment; humans and artefacts moving in time and occupying space.
(Scholten et al. 2012, p. 595)
As Williams herself affirms in the pages of her illustrated memoir, ‘the body remembers things that the mind would rather forget’ (Williams 2019, p. 77). Therefore, the situated, sexualised, gendered, violated, frustrated, naked, exposed and hidden, visible and invisible, desired and rejected body is at the centre of Commute. Sometimes, through the repetitive gestures and movements dictated by public transport routines, the author perceives her own body as a cell in a broader urban body: for example, when commuters walk off the train all together and move through the intestine of Grand Central (Williams 2019, pp. 94—95). In public transport, in the streets, ‘women have bodies and take up space, even when it is undesirable’ (Williams 2019, p. 192), and this produces fear, shame, anxiety, a sense of desirability or undesirability, an illusion of power that often turns into a sense of oppression.
In Commute, the narration unfolds in a single day, and the plotline develops along the author’s daily commuting pathway punctuated by the alternation of the chapters: get ready, walk the dog, wait for the train, ride the train, walk to work, take a break, walk back to the station, ride the train, and, finally, home. This apparent simplicity is just a starting point for the author to undergo a journey that moves in both space and time, however, and covers her entire lifetime. In Williams’ comics, daily, almost mechanic motion, first by foot and then by train, turns into a transcalar movement across space and time, along both horizontal and vertical lines. On a horizontal level, Williams’ commuting routine permits us to see through her eyes (and body) the violence, violation, and objectification of female bodies in contemporary urbanscapes: when half-naked bodies on huge billboards accompany her walking path along the streets; when men stare insistently at her in the street,
FIGURE 4.3 The everyday commuting practice activates a process of self-reflection, moving the authors gaze from the story of a daily routine to that of an entire lifetime in Williams’ Commute. From COMMUTE by Erin Williams. Text and illustrations copyright €> 2019 Erin Williams. Used by permission of Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York. All rights reserved.
on the platform, on the train. Along this horizontal line, the author’s commuting route is nothing but isolated, as it replicates the experiences of many women moving in urban space; even if told in first-person, her individual perspective is an invitation to reflect on our own embodiments. Namely, there are moments in which the author openly reveals her connection with the readers’ experiences, directly referring to them:
It’s important that I keep you here, on this commute. I want you to understand what it’s like to be constantly reminded of what you are: desirable + visible or undesirable + invisible. With the first comes a constant + vague sense of threat. With the second comes loneliness. This is what it means to be a woman in public.
(Williams 2019, p. 47)
Beyond this horizontal narrative line, though, there is a vertical line to follow that goes back to the author’s past experiences: all these examples of everyday harassment, in fact, are narrative triggers to explore Williams’ own intimate story of abuse, sexual traumas, and struggle with alcoholism. In the front cover, Williams stands in her underpants on a platform where a train passes by, packed with male passengers staring at her. There is at least a double reason for the author to represent herself almost naked: first, she wants us to empathise with her fragilities and sense of being violated by others’ gazes; second, since the very beginning of her illustrated graphic memoir, through sharing her own story she appears somehow undressed and thus vulnerable in front of the reader. For the same reason, the graphic style of the illustrated memoir resembles that of a personal sketchbook, with an often insecure, thin, black line. By sharing her own perspective through the narrativisation of the trauma, Williams does not simply react on an individual level to the abuses she has experienced, but further participates in other women’s struggles. The therapeutic reflexivity of the comics story functions for both the author speaking in first person and the readers, who can recognise their own bodies, emotions, and practices in the story. Because of this, Williams’ work has been listed among those narrative reactions that were inspired by the #MeToo movement in the US and all around the world, together with the comics anthology' Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival (2019), edited by Diane Noomin and comprising non-fiction comics stories by more than 60 female cartoonists; and the Italian anthology Post-Pink: antologia di fumetto femminista [Post-Pink: Anthology of feminist comics] (2019), collecting stories of sexuality, desire, bodies, and social and cultural taboos, to mention only a few. Whereas Williams’ comics echoes the voices of many other female stories of mobilities, these collections function as polyphonic testimonies of female graphic voices.
Finally, let me come back to the different ways in which Commute engages with mobilities, to give a further example of the potential lines of connection between mobility studies and comic book geographies. First, Williams’ plotline on the move is devoted to a banal urban mobile practice: commuting thus becomes the
FIGURE 4.4 The individual body (on the left) is part of a broader urban body, represented by the crowd of commuters (on the right) i Williams’ Commute. Pages 221 and 78 from COMMUTE by Erin Williams. Text and illustrations copyright © 2019 Erin Williams. Used by permission of Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of ABRAMS, New York. All rights reserved.
narrative trigger of the story and permits the author to bring everyday mobilities to the centre of her graphic memoir. Indeed, the comic book focuses on different spaces, practices, and experiences connected to ordinary urban mobilities. Second, the genre of the illustrated memoir moves readers’ affective reactions, stimulating readers’explorations of personal journeys, mobile experiences, and emotions connected to these mobile practices, and activating a shift from a personal to a plural mobile narrative. Third, since comic book mobilities imply the consideration of both the contents and forms of comics, the genre of the graphic memoir permits engagement with mobilities from a peculiar affective, auto-reflective, and emotional point of view. Fourth, through the interconnection of a horizontal and vertical narrative line, Commute offers a great example of how comics permit us to easily move across space and time, constructing multi-layered representations of space and multiscalar, plurivectorial perceptions of time. My geoGraphic novel, Lines: Moving With Stories of Public Transport in Turku, which I will present in the next chapter, begins precisely at the crossroads of these multiple spatio-temporal layers. Finally, when thinking about graphic mobilities, beyond form and content we should also consider the peculiar movements of comic books as material objects and narratives that have their own circulation. I am sure that the casual encounter between me and Williams’ book, in London, has influenced my own perspective on ordinary mobilities and the composition of my own geoGraphic narrative about the role of women in urban public transport in Turku.