I’m going to discuss how comics portray the internal conflict of trauma is demonstrated through the duality of visual and narration in “The best we could do” by Thi Bui, and a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”.
The comics set up visuals dialogue that clash with the narration to illustrate the internal conflict that is inherent in wrestling with trauma.
In this page from The Best We Could Do, Bui looks back on her father’s childhood and her own. Without the captions, the image alone shows a hopeless girl terrified by her father. Bui draws her father in her childhood as she recalls him being, however…
…the overlaid text conveys Bui’s reflection as an adult on her father to the reader. “I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own.”
Looking back on her traumatic childhood, Bui is torn between resenting her father, Bo, for his neglect and sympathizing with him for his unimaginable childhood.
The text in Kindred can be dividing into three categories: dialogue, thought bubbles, and captions. Dialogue work with visuals to convey the events of Dana’s trauma, while thought bubbles and captions show Dana’s reflection and response to the trauma.
With just the illustration and the dialogue, we only see what is happening to Dana and not how she is reacting…
…but when we add in Dana’s narration in the form of the captions, we gain much greater understanding about her processing of the traumatic experience.
In another panel from Kindred, we see the distinction between text in thought bubbles, which show Dana’s reaction in that moment, and the captions, which show her reflection on it looking back. Dana’s two reflections clash, showing her internal conflict.
It is this internal struggle–between their memory of the traumatic event and their reflection—that tortures victims of trauma and leaves them unable to reconcile their experiences with their complex emotions.