Decolonizing Comics: Latinx Graphic Narratives in the U.S.

Cornell College Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Fernanda Díaz-Basteris has introduced a new course on campus, Decolonizing Comics: Latinx Graphic Narratives in the U.S.

Textbooks for the Decolonizing Comics course.
Textbooks for the Decolonizing Comics course.

“The U.S. comic market consumes superheroes nonstop, but nonfiction stories and personal narratives also deserve space in schools, in universities, and on your bookshelf,” says Professor Díaz-Basteris. “We can use the comic form to tell stories that are not fictional, to tell stories that are happening to people.” 

Díaz-Basteris’ course focuses on real stories as told by real people in the emerging literary style of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction. 

The graphic storytellers pose serious questions in their art: what’s it like to be biracial, to cross a country’s border, or to live in one of the marginalized communities in the U.S.? Students read and analyze these personal narratives. 

Díaz-Basteris has spent the past six years reading, researching, and writing about Caribbean and Latinx comics. She wrote her doctoral dissertation about Puerto Rican comics, disaster, and colonialism. 

Cleo Sullivan ’21, a sociology and anthropology major, says studying comics is a different way of taking in information.

“I love seeing Latinx stories and voices being told to a larger audience, especially in such a creative way,” Sullivan says. “Those of us in the class who identify as Latinx have gotten to connect with them on a personal level.”

Students each read two graphic narratives and completed three assignments in which they created characters and produced their own work.

Fernanda Díaz-Basteris
Fernanda Díaz-Basteris

“I think the story-telling part of the class is what they will take with them forever–how we are capable of telling our story and why telling a story of a person matters. It can change someone else’s life. Telling the story makes the voice get a space,” Díaz-Basteris says.

Sullivan is thankful for a new way of engaging in today’s social issues. 

“The biggest thing I have learned from this course is that stories can be told through many different formats, and comics can be used as a way to amplify those stories in an artistic and revolutionary way, especially the voices of those who have been historically marginalized,” Sullivan said. “Before this class, I never would have thought of comics as a method of activism.”