Murphy ’23 Exploring Embodiment Art Technique – News

As Fiona Murphy ’23 creates her comics, she draws her mental state into the physical world. Each blurred line or harsh impression is intentional, constructed to evoke a certain psychological experience: gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia or sleep deprivation.

When line drawing is not enough, she places her anxieties in bodily monsters. The faceless figure, Baghead, mimics a Catholic altar server as a way to embody the anonymity and loss of self that Murphy experienced in his conservative, religious neighborhood. This artistic technique of transforming the mental into something physical is known as embodiment and is the central theme of Emerson’s research project, “Comic as Body: An Art Historical Approach to Graphic Narrative”.

“That term, embodiment, spawned this whole project,” Murphy said. “I literally embody my feelings in art, and it’s been kind of a relief to finally express them, viscerally.”

Fiona Murphy ’23 is working on her comic. Photo: Kevin Waldron

Prior to creating his own incarnation-focused comics, Murphy spent five weeks reading and analyzing over a dozen comic books and graphic novels. She hoped to learn what art techniques brought brain experiences to life. by Al Davidson The Spiral Cage introduced the mental heaviness that could be achieved with a black background. In The biggest of Marlys, cartoonist Lynda Barry used a messy art style to embody the voice and struggles of a child. It was this book that first exposed Murphy to the artistic technique of embodiment. She read it in the Contemporary Graphic Narratives course taught by Associate Professor of Literature Benjamin Widiss.

“Some of my classmates said they couldn’t finish Barry’s work because they didn’t like his art style,” Murphy said. “But it was intentionally childish and added something to the narrative.”

As a course offered in the Department of Literature and Creative Writing, Contemporary graphic novels primarily focus on the literary elements of graphic novels as opposed to the artistic elements. Although Murphy enjoyed the class, it left her wanting more. She became increasingly interested in how artistic techniques might affect the development of the story – something that is understudied compared to the literary elements of works.

Graphic novels are often thought of as stories with guiding art, but good graphic novels have art that drives the story, Murphy said. Instead of repeating text, the images create a distinct yet connected line of thought, adding new layers and depth to story development. Murphy wanted to acknowledge and emphasize this artistic significance. After reading each graphic novel featuring Incarnation, she used the interpretive language of art to analyze artistic techniques. These analyzes are presented on his blog, Comix as Art History.

Major: Art
Hometown: Chicago
High School: Marist High School

“When you’re talking about art history pieces, you’re using an interpretative language of art, and that puts the piece on this pedestal that graphic novels were never really allowed on,” Murphy said. “I wanted to speak intellectually about comics and call them things like ‘visceral’ because that’s what they are and that’s what they deserve.”

Having completed weeks of researching his Emerson, Murphy is now focused on making four to five of his own comics that feature the incarnation. With the help of her advisor William Salzillo, art teacher Kevin W. Kennedy, she plans to showcase the pieces online or at an in-person gallery event this fall.