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Ariela Freedman

Comics may seem like the last place to think seriously about pain. But in recent years both artists and critics have increasingly turned towards the representation of pain, illness and trauma through the medium. The turn of graphic narrative, journalism and memoir, towards the representation of pain and trauma in history and private life has significant aesthetic, narrative and therapeutic implications and should be understood in medium-specific terms. My primary concern in this essay is a palpable shift in the representation of pain that occurs in the 1970s and that has a significant effect on both the content and form of comics. Comics after the 1970s mobilised a historically dense and sophisticated vocabulary for pain language, both synaesthetic and defined as much through its absences and exclusions as through what it represents. I want to suggest that contemporary comics transform the pain-language developed through the medium in accordance with discursive possibilities of pain, its overflow of our usual modalities of representation, and serve as new and ethically powerful modes of testimony.