Comparing Stitches and Spinning

TraumaTrauma is an experience that is difficult to grapple with because it is very problematic and therefore the details are repressed which could lead to gaps in memory. Stitches by David Small and Spinning by Tillie Walden are two graphic narratives that try to convey the trauma experienced by each artist. Through the lens of Hillary Chute’s essay, it is clear that the medium of these two books makes them better at grappling with trauma than other narratives. Unlike narratives, trauma is present and is represented by comics because trauma cannot be represented with only words. Another distinction that makes these two graphic narratives exceptionally good at dealing with trauma is that, unlike narratives, which are coherent by definition, every comic is constantly full of gaps in memory (the gutters) and trauma is full of gaps in memory.  Chute also makes the claim that comics give the reader control over the pacing of the narrative and how to observe the moments of trauma. While that is true to some extent, it is obvious that Walden and Small have influence over how long the audience would spend on certain panels as seen in each of their books.



In her essay, Chute talks about how “there is a new aesthetics around self-representation” (2). The new aesthetics, comics, “is apt for expressing that difficult register [trauma].” Chute argues that “against a valorization of absence and aporia [she is talking about narratives], graphic narrative asserts the value of presence, however complex and contingent.” Having read Spinning and Stitches, it is safe to claim that the artists conveyed the trauma they had been through in an exceptional way that could not have been possible without comics as the medium. The reason being is that the two artists resurfaced the issue of trauma and expressed them in different ways than conventional writing. Conventional literature that deals with trauma does a poor job of doing so because words cannot grapple with what is absent; what cannot be represented in words.  When trauma happens, it is an intrusion into a narrative and it simply cannot be contained in a narrative. What these two authors do is different; they show pictures. As a comic artist representing a narrative of trauma, pictures of it have to be represented because comics are a representational medium. In these memoir narratives, in particular, Walden or Small has to represent her of himself in the narrative. The fact that the two artists must draw themselves in moments of trauma and destruction is what makes them that much more credible and better at representing the “unrepresentable.”



Also, what gives Spinning and Stitches the ability to present trauma to the audience in a more effective way is that they have something that no other medium of writing has; the gutter (“the rich empty space between the selective moments that direct our interpretations”).  Chute quotes Scott McCloud who says that “what is between the panels is the only element of comic that is not duplicated in any other mean.” It technically exists in film, but the illusion of film is such that it erases the fact that our eyes are stitching together those images faster than our brains can quite pick up what we are doing. Film hides the fact that we are filling in the gap. In contrast, Chute says that the effect of the gutter is that it lets the reader “project causality in these gaps that exist between functional moments of the frames.” The reader views selected moments by the comic artist and it is up to the reader to respectively draw the cause-effect relationship between the panels. Trauma is problematic and therefore details are repressed or there are gaps in the memory which is a problem that films and narratives, which are coherent by definition, face when trying to grapple with comics. For comics, it is also a problem that needs to be addressed, but comics are especially good at dealing with the problems of gaps in memory because every comic is constantly full of gaps in memory. There are gutter spaces in every comic and the reader is constantly filling gaps even if the graphic narrative is not about trauma; the gutters are everywhere. That is what these two books do; they show moments of trauma with gaps in between them and trauma is moments with gaps in between them. This is one way in which comics are particular apt for addressing the problems that come from trauma.



Another trait of the two graphic narratives that makes them exceptional for conveying trauma to the readers is the nature of the medium of these two narratives. What comics do, which is what we see in the two graphic narratives, is that they eliminate the fourth dimension (time) giving the reader the ability to circle back to the moments of trauma and view them for as long as they wish. Chute argues that comics give the reader control over when and how to observe moments of trauma. She points to film, which could gloss over trauma. For example, if a film is being made about the Holocaust and there is a scene in which the camera sits on the image of bodies at a mass grave, then the audience might think that the filmmaker is ghoulishly lingering on horrific details taking advantage of the image by sitting on it for a long time. On the contrary, if the film sweeps over the image, then the audience might think that the filmmaker is glossing over the horror and pain and only briefly giving it notice and moving right past. Therefore, the filmmaker is in control of how long the reader gets to look at that image. For Spinning and Stitches, that is not true. There is the image of trauma and the reader can sit on the image for however long seems appropriate. They can move on, they can circle back to it, they can go around and around that image, they can read on another ten pages and then come back to it providing for a different kind of experience and allowing for a different kind of interaction with trauma and recovery from trauma.

While Chute’s opinion is valid to an extent, comic artists still have control on how long the reader might look at that image. For instance, in Stitches, when the therapist tells Small that “your mother doesn’t love you,” Small collapses onto his therapist’s feet and cries (255). Then, Small includes seven pages of rain, which leaves the reader with no choice but to stop and spend more time on these pages although none of the seven pages had any words on them. In Spinning, Walden uses a different style to control the pace of how the reader goes through the panels. On page 331, when Walden says “start the fucking music” until 334 where she says “get me off this fucking ice” after she was done with her dance, the panels were very small and not very descriptive leading the reader to intuitively gloss over these panels.


Walden and Small relied on the medium of comics to convey trauma to the reader and ensure its presence in their memoirs in the most optimal way.






Works Cited

Chute, Hillary L. Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics. , 2010. Print.

Walden, Tillie. Spinning. First Second, 2017.

Small, David. Stitches: A Memoir. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2009. Print.