Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Gibson, John

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Elpidorou, Andreas

Committee Member

Elpidorou, Andreas

Committee Member

Omer-Sherman, Ranen

Committee Member

Hagan, Michael

Committee Member

Bartel, Christopher

Author's Keywords

comics; comic books; self; esoteric; occult; visual narrative


In this dissertation, I argue that the typical formal features of American comics over the past century have influenced the types of narrative content that tend to be communicated by said medium. I argue that the types of reader experiences that are afforded by the comics form, in part, shape the types of stories told through comics. The experiences that result from the ways we engage perceptually, cognitively, emotionally, and conceptually with comics imply a certain view of selfhood that is potentially subversive in the context of American cultural religiosity and spirituality. The formal features of comics, and the resulting reader experiences, imply an understanding of selfhood as being conventional, narrativized, and made possible by active interpretation. The view that selves are constituted by narratives also can be found in the work of various philosophers of self. Narrative understandings of selfhood stand in stark contrast to the traditional entrenched Western view that selves consist of the unified and continuous essences of individuals. Because comics’ formal features highlight the actively interpreted and constructed nature of the selves of characters in comics, they are fitting for the communication of narratives that engage with traditions of thought in which selves are considered to be malleable, interpretable, and narrative in nature. This includes many traditions of occultism and esotericism. Chapter one examines readers’ typical perceptual and cognitive engagements with the comics form and expounds the process of “closure” as a means by which readers understand a comic as representing a coherent storyworld. Chapter two offers a theoretical model of emotions as processes, which can best account for the range of emotional affordances offered by comics’ character depictions, artistic and design elements, and the processes that constitute closure. Chapter three illuminates the conceptual implications of the perceptual, cognitive, and emotional affordances of comics, arguing that comics imply a conventional and narrativized understanding of selfhood. Finally, chapter four examines the American cultural history of comics and highlights examples of esoteric and occultist themes and traditions appearing in ways that highlight a narrative understanding of selfhood.

Included in

Aesthetics Commons