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Comics as Heterotopic Medium: Lucy Knisley’s Graphic Memoir Displacement as Exemplar of Heterotopic Comics

By Laura L. Beadling


Heterotopia, evocatively but incompletely theorized by Foucault first in 1967 via a lecture to a group of architects before being published in 1984, refers to a real space that is connected to but separate from all other spaces. This is in contrast to a utopia, which he calls a site “with no real place” that either presents “society itself in a perfected form” or else “society turned upside down” (24). In contrast, Foucault describes heterotopias as “other places” which have a much more complex relationship with space. He describes heterotopias as “something like counter-sites” in which “all the other real sites that can be found within the culture” are simultaneously “represented, contested, and inverted” (24). Many theorists have particularly emphasized the notion of a “counter-site” in order to claim all heterotopias as necessarily marginalized places of resistance, but that is not always the case. Heterotopias are complex and multifaceted spaces of transformation in which contestation and dispute are possible but not necessary or the only form of relation possible.

In his brief but “richly generative” writings on heterotopia, Foucault describes two types of heterotopias: heterotopias of crisis and of deviance (Gordon 463). Heterotopias of crisis occur across the lifespan and are restricted to certain people in crisis, whether menstruating or pregnant women, teenagers coming of age, the elderly, or others in a crisis. The other type of heterotopia is for people who deviate from society’s norms and expectations in some way. It is not always easy, however, to distinguish crisis and deviant heterotopias from each other. For instance, Foucault notes that rest homes and retirement homes are “on the borderline between the heterotopia of crisis and the heterotopia of deviation since, after all, old age is a crisis, but is also a deviation since in our society where leisure is the rule, idleness is a sort of deviation” (25).  Regardless of type, Foucault calls these “privileged or sacred or forbidden places” where transformative experiences happen (24).

Lucy Knisley is known for her graphic memoirs, many of which concern her travels or milestones in her life, from 2000’s French Milk, which chronicles a six-week trip she took with her mother to Paris, to 2020’s Go To Sleep/I Miss You, which documents the early days of her motherhood. Already, then, it should be clear that heterotopia as a concept might be relevant to Knisely’s work inasmuch as most of her memoirs concern either traveling to new places and the transformations that occur in such travel or meditating on milestones in her life. For example, her 2016 graphic memoir Something New is about getting married, and Kid Gloves in 2019 is about becoming pregnant. In particular, Knisley’s memoir in comics, Displacement: A Travelogue, has elements of both types of heterotopia. First, the memoir recounts her week-long cruise spent caretaking her elderly grandparents on what is likely to be their last vacation. As a freelance artist, she is able to take the time for the trip because she had just completed a book on the license of being young and abroad as she contemplates the next phase of her life, which is ushered in by the responsibility of caretaking her grandparents on this trip (3). The events of the memoir not only take place on a ship, which Foucault called the “heterotopia par excellence,” but it is also, in part, a cruise specifically for the elderly, who are both in crisis and deviant, as already noted (27). Thus, Displacement has several overt connections to heterotopias as theorized by Foucault and elaborated on by many other critics. Not only does this particular memoir in comics depict a heterotopic trip on a cruise ship but it also demonstrates how comics themselves can be a heterotopic medium.

While there has been scholarly work that connects Foucault’s idea of heterotopia to comics, the connection is not fully worked out, particularly as regards graphic memoirs, which Charles Hatfield asserts have “emerged as the nonfiction comic’s most familiar and accessible guise” (111). Janek Scholz notes the relevance of heterotopia to comics depicting sea travels, as Knisley’s does, in his article examining the role water plays in the representation of space in Portuguese and Brazilian comics in particular, although his work is more concerned with the symbolic functions of various forms of water (274). Maaheen Ahmed’s book on the concept of openness in comics examines how “the mixed nature of comics, besides providing possible visual pleasure, also contains the potential for greater reader participation in construing and reconstruing the narrative” (4). Ahmed’s interest in how the juxtaposition of words and images can create spaces in which the reader can intervene in the creation of narrative meaning and significance also intersects with heterotopic notions of the importance of juxtaposed spaces in the creation of subjectivity, which is relevant to Knisley as her text is open in this way. Rikke Platz Cortsen and Erin La Cour likewise examine how the structure of comics can engage in breaking down binary opposites in order to examine the construction of power and identity—as well as create a space for analyzing those structures. They use the concept of a “Thirdspace,” related to heterotopia in that each is invested in spatial structures that discipline and attempt to normalize those who don’t conform to societal expectations, including those like Knisley’s grandparents who are elderly and who are experience mental and physical health issues. Cortsen and La Cour do this to demonstrate how comics can open up a space for individuals to critique the social structures in which they are imbricated (114-15). Heterotopia and comics are connected in various and important ways, and this essay seeks to expand the connections between heterotopia and comics by both examining how Knisley’s graphic memoir is an exemplar of a heterotopic comic as well as commenting on the overall connections between Foucault’s concept and the comics form itself.

Grandparents as Deviant and in Crisis

As already noted, Foucault asserted that old age is capable of producing a heterotopia of crisis and of deviance, both of which happen to Knisley’s grandparents, before and on this trip.  Old age in general can be seen as a heterotopia of crisis, occurring as part of the life span and restricted to only certain people. Elderly people can also be subjected to numerous types of crises throughout old age. As such, the concept of crisis heterotopia is particularly relevant to Knisley’s grandparents especially while on the cruise ship. The cruise, or at least a certain segment of it, is reserved for a group of elderly travelers, including Knisley’s grandparents. However, even within this group, Knisley’s relatives stand out as being particularly in crisis. Even though the first image Knisley provides of the group of travelers includes at least one person in a wheelchair and one person in an electric scooter, Knisley shows how her grandparents are less mobile and less able to enjoy what the cruise offers than the other travelers.

A comics page in pastel colors with borderless panels.
Figure 1. Page 36 of Knisley’s Displacement, in which the central part of the page depicts a group of travelers, including at least 3 with gray hair and the bottom part of the page depicts three specific travelers, two of whom are using mobility devices.

When Knisley arrives at the retirement home to pick her grandparents up, she notes that, since their move from Ohio to the home in Connecticut, their “mental and physical health has declined rapidly” and that even “conversation is difficult for them” (24). While her grandmother “isn’t really aware of where she is or who anyone is,” her grandfather is “a bit better” but “he can’t see or hear or walk well” (25). Just getting them to and back home from the boat are ordeals that take up many pages of the memoir and, once on the boat, her grandparents are unable to leave because they are too weak. They spend the week largely in their room or slowly walking around the ship. In fact, although vacations, and especially cruises, are supposed to emphasize travel to different locations and different activities, Knisley’s grandparents do not leave the ship. Thinking of things to do with them on the boat becomes one of Lucy’s biggest tasks and frustrations over the course of the cruise.

Despite being worldly, capable professional people, Knisley’s grandparents have become physically limited, even on a cruise ship which is supposed to enable travel to many places. One aspect of heterotopias that Foucault briefly explores is the collapsing of many types of space into one, and Lucy and her grandparents experience this in their week on the boat, which ironically only highlights how physically limited her grandparents are. While they are too weak to get off the boat at any of the various destinations, in addition to all the time they spend in the cabin and on their balcony, they do manage to go to the dining room, the ballroom, the deck, and a small, secluded swimming pool that they find. This is a similar space to the retirement home where they live, in that it too presumably includes a variety of spaces collapsed into one: a dining room, a residence, a hair salon, an exercise venue, etc. Thus, one aspect of the crisis of old age is restriction to a smaller space that offers limited versions of spaces in the outside world. As Foucault notes, heterotopias can be sites that mirror other spaces in the culture, which both the cruise ship and the retirement home do. While not literally prisoners, Knisely’s grandparents are restricted in movement both by their own physical frailty and by the spaces they find themselves in, which both cater to the elderly but also limit them while still offering them versions of other spaces in the culture. By juxtaposing the physical limitation and confinement of old age with the supposed freedom and movement of the cruise ship with its multifaceted space, Knisley explores the notion and precarities of travel for the elderly. There is no vacation from their frail physical bodies, nor from their compromised mental faculties.

In addition to being frailer than the other elderly travelers, Knisley’s grandparents are marked as deviant in other ways too. Although incontinence is common in elderly people—the National Association for Continence estimates that 25 million Americans experience incontinence—Knisley’s grandfather does not seem to acknowledge that he is incontinent, causing Lucy much anger (not at him but at those who stare and judge) and embarrassment over the course of the trip.

A comics page with a single borderless panel surrounded by white space.
Figure 2. Page 29 in Knisley’s Displacement which depicts Knisley’s grandfather with a visible stain on the front of his pants, a passing traveler looking pointedly at it, and Knisley pointedly looking back at him while thinking angry thoughts about the traveler’s judgement of her grandfather.

Knisley specifically references two instances where her grandfather has urine that is very apparent on his clothes. The first incident is on the first day of travel and she comments that it’s actually the second time he’s been visibly incontinent. She notes that he himself “doesn’t seem bothered or all that aware of his situation,” but that “passersby are,” and the drawing on that page shows her literally glaring daggers at a man in business attire making a face at her grandfather (29). Later that evening when she asks if he wants to change his pants, he calmly replies “no” and keeps eating (30). The next morning at breakfast, Knisley points out in the narrative bubble that he’s wearing the same pants with a visible stain; she concludes that page by saying “Yeah, I don’t wanna talk about it” (35). Once on the boat, though, she gently insists that he allow her to wash his pants, and from that point onward in the narrative, Knisley frequently draws herself dealing with his laundry. Again, this marks Knisley’s grandparents as deviant even within the group of elderly travelers that no doubt includes others dealing with the same issue as well as demonstrating their need to have Lucy caretake them, a new role for her. However, Knisley’s grandfather’s lack of awareness of his own troubles in this regard mark him as more impaired than the other travelers.

Knisley’s grandmother is likewise impaired to such an extent that she too is marked deviant even within this already-deviant group of shipmates; in her case, though, the impairment is mental as she suffers from dementia and other cognitive difficulties. Not only does Knisley’s grandmother fail to recognize her granddaughter through most of the trip, she fails to recognize that she is on moving ship, remarking on several occasions “It’s almost as if we’re moving” (51, 54). She becomes convinced that her husband and granddaughter think she’s stolen something and has a meltdown in their room (41-2). She is incapable of packing and keeping track of her own belongings, which is something else that Knisley has to do for her.

While the various crises of her grandparents are the most obvious, Knisley too is at a moment of crisis and transition and the ship becomes a transformative space for her as she navigates the passage from carefree youth to responsibility-laden middle age. Specifically, Knisley moves from carefree young adulthood as chronicled in her previous travel graphic memoir Age of License to being a caretaker responsibility for the safety and well-being of others in Displacement. Furthermore, she is conscious of being in a moment of transition between one stage of life—the freedom and self-centeredness of young adulthood (she is 27 at the time of the trip)—to a more other-focused stage of mature adulthood as she comments on the transition throughout the memoir.

Comics as Heterotopic Medium

In “Of Other Spaces,” Michel Foucault argues that “The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed” (22). In many ways, Foucault’s words describing heterotopia—space, simultaneity, juxtaposition, near and far, side-by-side, etc.—also describe comics. Peter Johnson argues that a close reading of Foucault’s text shows that “heterotopias formulate a complex relationship between time and space,” and, as many comics scholars have shown, so do comics (795). Jason Dittmer asserts that time and space in comic books are “linked in a unique fashion” (222) while Daniel Raeburn argues that “A comic strip is literally a map of time” (Raeburn 2004, 11). Likewise, juxtaposition and simultaneity have been recognized as being central to the definition of comics since Will Eisner and Scott McCloud wrote their foundational texts, Comics and Sequential Art in 1985 and Understanding Comics in 1993 respectively. McCloud defines comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence” (9). While Eisner did not use these exact words, he echoes many similar sentiments, calling comics a “successful crossbreeding of illustration and prose” and as a “montage of both word and image” (2). In his Foreward to the Best American Comics 2019, Bill Kartalopoulos likewise asserts that “Comics is an art form of simultaneity,” and not just in terms of the simultaneity of words and images sharing the same space (vii). He goes on to note that “subtle and complex acts of simultaneity” suffuse comics in “every aspect of their composition” (vii). Images and panels in comics are both aesthetic, in that they have visual qualities resulting from artistic choices that can be appraised and appreciated, and narrative, in that each panel and image includes details relevant to story, character, foreshadowing, and every other narrative feature of a text; therefore, “we simultaneously see and read the images” (vii).  Eisner likewise asserts that the “regimens of art (e.g. perspective, symmetry, line) and the regimens of literature (e.g. grammar, plot, syntax) become superimposed upon each other” (2). Kartalopoulos goes on to point out that each panel is simultaneously an isolated moment in the text as well as one image in a sequence of juxtaposed images. Similarly, each page is simultaneously a collection of panels and images and an “overall visual-narrative composition that has been considered by the artist” (viii). Ahmed likewise asserts that “Comics depend on visual and verbal elements involved in varying degrees of symbiosis. Each panel, with its combination of words and images, is embedded in a network of relationships with other panels and media within and beyond the comic book” (4).

All of these shared aspects between heterotopia and comics can be seen in Knisley’s Displacement. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is how Knisley incorporates parts of her grandfather’s memoir into her own. Referencing Maus, which blends the story of Spiegelman’s fraught relationship with his father alongside Spiegelman’s telling of his father’s story, Elisabeth El Rafaie notes that such blended autobiographical biographies are common and include David B’s Epileptic (which concerns the artist and his brother) and Bechel’s Fun Home (which tells both Bechdel’s own story as well as her father’s) (41). Similarly, Knisley not only blends her own story about caretaking her grandparents on their trip alongside sections from her grandfather’s own autobiography but also frequently compares her life with her grandfather’s life as both memoirs take as their focus experiences that take place in young adulthood. Jason Dittmer argues that comic books hold forth “possibilities of simultaneity and polyphony,” and this can be applied to Displacement as well (223). One of the great ways that comics can showcase simultaneity is through its ability to include other voices and other visual art without losing the voice and art of the comics creator. Knisley both includes other voices and other artists but, because of the medium of comics, she does so in a way that includes the art of someone else while shaping it through her own style and perspective in a way that is unique to comics. Although Bakhtinian ideas of polyphony and heteroglossia might apply to the ways in which Knisley includes long, verbatim passages from her grandfather’s memoir into her own; the fact that it is all drawn by Knisley means that his voice is at least partially merged with her perspective because the artistic style remains constant throughout. In addition, Knisley frequently includes her voice in the sections that are focused on his memoir, such as when she notes that, although she has read his memoir before, she had forgotten that he included what is now considered problematic language—rhetoric that she mentions but doesn’t illustrate. Heterotopia is one space that includes many, and comics allow a creator to include many artists and artworks into the space of the comic in a way that is simultaneously self and other.

Another way in which Knisley fuses other artists and artworks into her comics is by including quotes from other writers. Caroly Kyler discusses the particular power of the graphic memoir specifically, arguing that “The combination of the genre of autobiography with the medium of comics integrates two of the oldest forms of storytelling in human history—pictures and personal narratives—and demands new ways of reading and looking” (2). Knisley encourages such complex reading and looking starting early in the memoir by quoting a line from David Foster Wallace’s famous essay about being on a cruise ship, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Unlike in a written text, Knisley is not limited to only including the quoted words; she can also draw Wallace himself on a cruise ship, standing by himself, staring into space, thinking about the lines being quoted. Ahmed argues that “References to other media can likewise work suggestively. Literary and other imtermedial allusions, while highlighting the medium’s hybridity, also demonstrate its ability to employ a variety of visual and verbal devices to increase its scope of signification” (13-14). Knisley subtly does this when she frames herself very similarly to Wallace later in the memoir while she’s thinking similarly dark thoughts. In her version of Wallace, she also imagines and draws Charlie Brown-style distress squiggles over his head, which she draws over her own head several times as well. In addition to adding to the narrative at the moment Knisley quotes him, by including Wallace in visual form, she connects herself to him in various ways throughout the memoir.

A comics page with three panels blending into each other.
Figure 3. Page 16 in Knisley’s Displacement, which depicts her imagining David Foster Wallace on a cruise ship along with a quote from his essay and distress lines drawn above his head.

In addition to including a quote and drawing of Wallace, Knisley includes another intermedial allusion in the form of an image from the film An Affair to Remember, which was playing one night in her grandparents’ room. As Knisley watches, she imagines her grandparents’ love story and, in the drawing, Knisley draws the characters with her grandparents’ faces.

A single large, borderless panel covering most of a comics page, surrounded by white space.
Figure 4. Page 90 of Knisley’s Displacement which depicts Knisley and her grandparents watching An Affair to Remember in their stateroom with the film characters having her grandparents’ faces.

As a romance film featuring a woman in a wheelchair, it is an interesting choice to include in her memoir of her grandparents whose marriage has endured decades and features both characters experiencing disabilities. Knisley’s drawing connects the characters of her grandparents to the characters in the film both through the words and simultaneously in the drawing, which is another example of the various kinds of simultaneity possible with comics that require new kinds of reading and looking.

Displacement and “Prufrock”

Another interesting example of how comics can complexly represent time and subjectivity via intertexuality comes later in the narrative when she includes lines of poetry across several images that represent a whole day. Knisley’s comics usually avoid overly complex spatial relationships or crowded pages, yet, as Ahmed points out, “An unusual layout is a means of attracting attention to the images and the comic’s construction, as well as slowing the pace of reading” (154). This set of images serves just such a purpose at this point in Knisley’s narrative. The unusual (for her) page layout with the interlinked images and bubbles calls attention to this moment and encourages the reader to linger over this moment. After quoting the poem, she then links it to an earlier time in her life, and the memoir that she drew about that time while using the different word registers to meditate on the meaning of the poem at these different times life.

A two-page spread focusing on Knisley.
Figure 5. Pages 86-87 of Knisley’s Displacement, which depicts Knisley thinking about Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” while taking care of her grandfather, disembarking, and wandering through Curaçao.

This two-page spread shows the preoccupation Knisley has with the poem throughout her day and then, on the second page, links it back to an earlier time in her life, depicted in her earlier memoir An Age of License when her life was more about herself. The poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” however, is definitely more appropriate in this later memoir as it is, in Knisley’s own words, about “aging and death” (87).

It is particularly interesting that Knisley includes Prufrock in her memoir as her work shares many similarities with the poem, not least of which is the concern with time and space that make both relevant to Foucault’s idea of heterotopia. Structurally, this section of Knisley’s memoir is similar to Prufrock in that both represent the thoughts going through the narrating character’s mind over a certain period of time and that period of time is represented in both complexly. Time is a central preoccupation of Eliot—Stephen Spender asserts that Eliot is “obsessed with time” (2)—and, as discussed above, representations of the compression and fragmentation of time and space are central to comics and heterotopias as well. Just as Prufrock muses about his own weak body, mortality, the superficiality of modern culture, and an important but unclear question in a stream of consciousness fashion, Knisley muses about the poem, her life, and her earlier love affair while wandering through the tourist shops of Curaçao.

That is not the only similarity though. Michael North points out that in “Prufrock,” not only is general fragmentation pervasive and obvious, but spatial progress is “diffident or deferred” (76). Nayef Ali Al-Joulan argues that while Eliot’s concern with time is well documented, his concern with space has been overlooked. Al-Joulan asserts that Foucault’s notion of hetertopology is the “interweaving of disjunctive, fragmentary spaces in one impossible space” (14). Likewise, space is fragmented and compartmentalized in comics by the nature of the medium. In comics, space can be complexly represented via the page layout, the relationship between panels, the use or lack of borders, and other visual strategies, as noted above. In this section of the graphic memoir, Knisley is taking a break from the Caribbean cruise to wander through a tourist town while she ruminates on her life. A cruise is of course on a schedule and itinerary, but it is primarily meant to travel through the area for the passengers’ enjoyment by sampling different activities, areas, etc. Knisley gets off the already-wandering boat to wander aimlessly through a town. To show the aimlessness of travel and movement in this section of the memoir, Knisley shows herself facing or moving in a different direction in each of the four panels on page 86. There is no consistent direction of movement or even eye-line from panel to panel; she is not “progressing” towards a goal either on the boat or during her wanderings and the panels show that directionlessness.

North points out that time in “Prufrock,” like space, is subjected to a similar “part to whole” relationship and Al-Joulan refers to “Prufrock’s” discussions of memory as “spatialized time” (15). Displacement likewise explores complex representations of time in this section of the memoir. Certainly, placement on the page matters, especially in terms of how space is related to time. On page 86, none of the four panels have formal borders but, while the top two panels are separated from each other and the bottom two panels with white space, the bottom two are much closer in space—not quite touching, but very close. McCloud describes the role of the space between panels—the gutter—as necessary to the process of closure, which he describes as “observing the parts, but perceiving the whole” (63). Closure not only makes the reader an active participant in meaning-making but also helps create the illusion of time and motion from static images. On page 86, the four panels are loosely framed by shape and color rather than line. While the four panels cover several hours of time, the process of closure helps the reader imagine and fill in the rest of the day as she reflects on the poem and its relationship to her own life. Loose framing and proximity of the panels on this page add to the feeling of amorphousness of the day. The panels almost blend together as does the time spent wandering Curaçao and, as the panels simultaneously participate in the layout of the pages as a whole, the blending becomes more intense as the white space between the panels diminishes.

The panels on the following page represent time and space even more complexly, as befits these pages reflecting on “Prufrock,” which also follows a narrating character who reflects on his life and culture. There is not even an implied, loose grid of panels as there is on the previous page. Instead, the layout is much less regimented. Again, there are not formal borders for most of the images. The memory of Henrik, Knisley’s romantic partner who featured prominently in her previous memoir, is introduced in text at the upper left of the page followed by five images that vary in size. The largest is at the bottom right and represents Knisley in present time in Curaçao gazing towards multi-colored buildings (typical of Curaçao) while thinking about the process of ending her relationship with Henrik. Rather than one discrete moment of rupture, the relationship ended over a course of conversations, ending with Knisley telling him that she “couldn’t handle the distance” (86).

This image is surrounded by smaller, unbounded images recalling a moment during the relationship when they discussed “Prufrock,” which “sounds romantic” but is really about “aging and death” (86). The bottom right image is of Knisley with a big “sigh” over her head. However, the use of various comics techniques and framing devices make this particular page very hard to parse. The image of Knisley in the bottom right of the page has thought bubbles connecting her to the recollections of discussing “Prufrock” with Henrik, however, the large image in the bottom right of Knisley ruminating about the end of the relationship is loosely bordered with a scalloped line that frames the top of the large image and the bottom of one of the images of her and Henrik in bed. Eisner articulates the typical understanding of wavy or scalloped lines indicating material that happened in the past—he notes that this is actually the “most common past time indicator” (33)—but which image is the memory since both are partially bordered with the scalloped line? Which image engenders which? Is the bottom right Knisley remembering both the far past with Henrik and the near-past in Curaçao? What is the temporal relationship between Knisley in the bottom left versus in the bottom right? Unlike the previous page, all five images of Knisley on this page are oriented facing left, which is often spatialized as the past.

The layout and other comics strategies render the temporal relationships illegible as these times and spaces are interwoven. Al-Joulan reads the structure of “Prufrock” as the central figure being “haunted by heterotopic space as he strides along various sites, shifting through and creating multiple forms of spatiality that collide, intermix, and/or contend each other(s)” (15-16). Likewise, all the versions of Knisley on page 86 are imbricated within various times and places, even as the narrative exceeds those multiple representations; Knisley’s recollections of the end of the relationship are not represented visually but take place over many conversations. The issues of time and development may seem clear in comics because of the paneled and sequential nature of the art and Knisley’s sequential memoirs likewise might seem to clearly illustrate her continuing growth and maturation throughout her young adult years. However, like “Prufrock,” the heterotopic aspects of layering while fragmenting both time and space lead to a much more complex representation of subjectivity bounded by time and space than might at first be apparent. By including Eliot’s words, Knisley connects the two memoirs as she transforms from the young woman of the earlier narrative to the caretaker of the second while simultaneously making clear the iterative and amorphous process of memory and identity.


With the exception of Knisley’s memoir of her pregnancy, Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos, none of her other six graphic memoirs have garnered much critical attention. Her style makes her work perhaps seem light, with her bright colors, breezy prose, and gentle humor. However, there is much going on beneath the surface. Displacement could bear much more critical attention than what is offered here with its emphasis on caretaking, aging, and disability. Another worthwhile aspect of the work not touched on here is Knisley’s inclusion and illustration of her grandfather’s unpublished World War II memoir which engages in a rich intertextual relationship with her own memoir of caretaking him and her grandmother. Analysis of her work is just beginning and hopefully it will continue.

Likewise, although heterotopia is a concept that has given rise to a cottage industry of applying it to numerous areas and ideas, the work on comics and heterotopia is thus far surprisingly anemic despite the multi-faceted connections between them. Johnson notes that “the ongoing fascination” of cultural studies for heterotopia shows no signs of slowing down, making it all the more surprising that this connection has not yet been fully explored. While almost any work of comics could be used to illustrate its heterotopic qualities, I think Knisley’s Displacement is a particularly solid jumping off point because her work remains understudied and because of its focus on a cruise for the elderly, both of which (ships and old people) were specifically named by Foucault as interesting case studies for heterotopia.

In many ways, our current moment feels simultaneously more fragmented and more connected than ever before. Such contradictions relate to both comics—with its structural tension between isolated frames that are nonetheless connected to all other frames and pages—and heterotopia, which analyzes the relationship between spaces and those restricted from or confined to those spaces. With such a rich set of resonances, this essay can only hint at the full range of connections between comics and heterotopia. As the concept of heterotopia began as an idea aimed at architects but has continued to grow and expand into ever more areas of study, so too have comics continued to expand in not simply popularity but also reach. Graphic medicine is a relatively new genre of comics and would seem amenable to heterotopic analysis due to its focus on representing those experiencing medical crises to, among others, the medical professionals tasked with caring for them. Likewise, as superhero comics and graphic novels become more diverse in a number of ways, from the rebooted Ms. Marvel featuring a Muslim young woman protagonist to Gene Luan Yang’s The Shadow Hero, to name only two, Foucault’s concept of heterotopia could be helpful in thinking through how those representations engage in complicating discourses of social spaces and the politics of exclusion and assimilation. The work of understanding how heterotopia relates to comics is only beginning.


The author wishes to express her gratitude to the Grace Ruth Memorial Endowment in English for allowing her time to work on this article.

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