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Surrealism, Science Fiction and Comics$
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Gavin Parkinson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781781381434

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781381434.001.0001

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date: 18 October 2018

The Comic Book Conditions of Chicago Surrealism

The Comic Book Conditions of Chicago Surrealism

(p.129) 6. The Comic Book Conditions of Chicago Surrealism
Surrealism, Science Fiction and Comics

Joanna Pawlik

Liverpool University Press

‘Without comics,’ wrote Franklin Rosemont, ‘Surrealism would be very different from what it is in the US today,’ indicating the privileged role of the genre in Chicago Surrealism’s narrative of its past and future. This chapter shows that its turn to popular culture generally and comics specifically was key to the Chicago group’s strategy to transpose Surrealism into an American idiom and to render it combative in late capitalist America. Seeking to construct a pantheon of indigenous Surrealist precursors, the group frequently cites the influence of Krazy Kat or Bugs Bunny as being on a par with that of Marx or Freud. This chapter is the first attempt to analyse US Surrealism’s politics of the comic book. The comic book sources of Chicago Surrealism are varied and range from the mainstream animations of Tex Avery to the vernacular tradition epitomised by Joe Hill or Ernest Reib’s contributions to the International Workers of the World visual campaigns. Either by retrieving neglected currents of radicalism and labour activism, or by identifying subversive potential within the culture industry itself, Chicago Surrealism’s recourse to comics is implicated in its aim to retell America’s cultural history, displacing affirmative, hegemonic accounts and instating Surrealism at its centre. This chapter demonstrates that the group’s rigorously dialectical approach to cultural production ensures that comics not only constituted a radical past for Surrealism to harness, but played a crucial role in envisaging a transformed future. Subjecting comics to a distinctly Surrealist hermeneutic, the Chicago group argued that the medium’s ability to suspend normality and entertain the marvellous serves to index class conflict and heighten class consciousness. According to Franklin Rosemont, to the extent to which comics puncture ideological illusion and address ‘primordial innocence’, they ‘express our deepest aspiration.’

Keywords:   Chicago Surrealism IWW dialectics Marx Freud comics

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