Ramzi Fawaz

Position title: Associate Professor

Email: fawaz@wisc.edu

7161 Helen C. White Hall

Queer Theory, American Cultural Studies, Twentieth Century U.S. Media and Popular Culture, Comics Studies and Sequential Art, Visual Studies, Contemporary Feminist and LGBTQ Literature, Feminist Theory, Social Movements and Cultural Politics, Speculative Fiction and Fantasy

Full CV

Selected Publications


Queer Forms (Forthcoming Fall 2022; NYU Press)

The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (New York: NYU Press, January 2016).

Selected Articles and Book Chapters

“‘An Open Mesh of Possibilities’: The Necessity of Eve Sedgwick in Dark Times.” Introduction
to Reading Sedgwick, ed. Lauren Berlant (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). Available here.

“Legions of Superheroes: Diversity, Multiplicity, and Collective Action Against Genocide in
the Superhero Comic Book,” Social Text 36.4 (December 2018): 21-55. Available here.

“A Queer Sequence: Comics as a Disruptive Medium,” Theories and Methodologies section,
forum on Hillary Chute’s Why Comics? PMLA 134.3 (May 2019): 588-594. Available here.

“Introduction: Queer About Comics,” a special issue of American Literature 90.2 (June 2018), edited by Ramzi Fawaz and Darieck Scott. Available here.

“‘I Cherish My Bile Duct as Much as Any Other Organ’: Political Disgust and the Digestive Life of AIDS in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America,” Special Issue On the Visceral, edited by Marcia Ochoa, Sharon Holland, and Kyla Wazana Tompkins. GLQ 21.1 (2015): 121-152. Available here.

“‘Where no X-man has Gone Before!’ Mutant Superheroes and the Cultural Politics of Popular Fantasy in Postwar America.” Special Issue on Speculative Fictions, ed. Priscilla Wald and Gerry Canavan. American Literature 83.2 (Summer 2011): 355-388.

Interviews and Media Coverage

“Against Murderous Passivity, or Reading Hannah Arendt Under Lockdown,” LA Review of Books Blogs, The Philosophical Salon (June 11, 2020).
(Available here: http://thephilosophicalsalon.com/against-murderous-passivity-or-reading-hannah-arendt-under-lockdown/)

“Notes on Wonder Woman,” Op-ed for Avidly, the LA Review of Books blog. (available here: http://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2017/07/16/notes-on-wonder-woman/)

Ramzi Fawaz and Phil Jimenez in conversation at The Strand Bookstore for the launch of The New MutantsYouTube link.

Personal Statement

In my research and writing, I explore the relationship between popular culture and radical social movements in the modern US. I am especially interested in the ways that movements for women’s and gay liberation, Black power, AIDS activism, and the third world left have used literature, film, and visual media as vehicles for giving voice to commonly marginalized groups like people of color, women, sexual and gender outlaws, and the differently abled. I am drawn to the question of how cultural production—the making and telling of stories in various creative mediums and genres—has been used by these groups to participate in US political life when other avenues of civic engagement have been denied them. In other words, my work asks how reading and writing books, making and watching movies, drawing and interacting with comics and visual art among countless other cultural activities become ways for people to participate in democracy and envision the kind of social and political world they desire, and perhaps might one day bring into being.

My first book, The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics, examines how the American superhero became a cultural embodiment of the political aspirations of sexual, gendered, and racial minorities in the post-WWII period. Specifically, I argue that the transformation of the superhero from an icon of white masculinity in the 1940s and 1950s to a social and species outcast, or “mutant,” in the early 1960s, enabled comic book writers and artists to articulate the figure to a variety of left-wing political ideals that celebrated the lives and worldviews of those most excluded from the US social order. In an early review of the book, Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz wrote that The New Mutants is “A powerhouse one-of-a-kind book! By charting the radical transformations of the comic book superhero in the post-war period, Fawaz brings to light the extraordinary secret history of American Otherness. Truly fantastic.”

In my new book Queer Forms, I explore how the central values of 1970s movements for women’s and gay liberation—including consciousness-raising, separatism, and coming out of the closet—were translated into a range of US popular culture forms. Throughout this period, feminist and gay activists fought social and political battles to expand, transform, or wholly explode definitions of so-called “normal” gender and sexuality. In doing so, they inspired artists, writers, and filmmakers to invent new ways of formally representing, or giving shape to, non-normative genders and sexualities. Surprisingly, such creative attempts to represent queer gender and sexuality often appeared in a range of traditional, or seemingly generic, popular forms including the sequential format of comic strip serials, the token figures of science fiction genre, the narrative conventions of film melodrama, and the serialized rhythm of installment fiction. Through studies of queer and feminist cultural productions including Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (1970), Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (1976-1983), Lizzy Borden’s Born in Flames (1983), and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1989-1991), I show how artists innovated in many popular mediums and genres to make the experience of gender and sexual non-conformity recognizable to mass audiences in the modern US. Ultimately, Queer Forms tells the pre-history of the contemporary renaissance in feminist and LGBTQ political cultures by developing a genealogy of late twentieth-century artifacts that projected images of gender and sexual rebellion, which came to infuse the US popular imagination in the 1970s and after. Queer Forms is forthcoming from NYU Press in Fall 2022.

Recent Books

  • The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics cover

    In 1964, noted literary critic Leslie Fiedler described American youth as “new mutants,” social rebels severing their attachments to American culture to remake themselves in their own image. 1960s comic book creators, anticipating Fiedler, began to morph American superheroes from icons of nationalism and white masculinity into actual mutant outcasts, defined by their genetic difference from ordinary humanity. These powerful misfits and “freaks” soon came to embody the social and political aspirations of America’s most marginalized groups, including women, racial and sexual minorities, and the working classes.

    In The New Mutants, Ramzi Fawaz draws upon queer theory to tell the story of these monstrous fantasy figures and how they grapple with radical politics from Civil Rights and The New Left to Women’s and Gay Liberation Movements. Through a series of comic book case studies – including The Justice League of America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and The New Mutants –alongside late 20th century fan writing, cultural criticism, and political documents, Fawaz reveals how the American superhero modeled new forms of social belonging that counterculture youth would embrace in the 1960s and after. The New Mutants provides the first full-length study to consider the relationship between comic book fantasy and radical politics in the modern United States.

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  • Fawaz (Co-editor), Ramzi. Keywords for Comics Studies. NYU Press, 2021. Print.

    Across more than fifty original essays, Keywords for Comics Studies provides a rich, interdisciplinary vocabulary for comics and sequential art. The essays also identify new avenues of research into one of the most popular and diverse visual media of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Keywords for Comics Studies presents an array of inventive analyses of terms central to the study of comics and sequential art that are traditionally siloed in distinct lexicons: these include creative and aesthetic terms like Ink, Creator, Border, and Panel; conceptual terms such as Trans*, Disability, Universe, and Fantasy; genre terms like Zine, Pornography, Superhero, and Manga; and canonical terms like X-Men, Archie, Watchmen, and Love and Rockets.

    This volume ties each specific comic studies keyword to the larger context of the term within the humanities. Essays demonstrate how scholars, cultural critics, and comics artists from a range of fields take up sequential art as both an object of analysis and a medium for developing new theories about embodiment, identity, literacy, audience reception, genre, cultural politics, and more. Keywords for Comics Studies revivifies the fantasy and magic of reading comics in its kaleidoscopic view of the field’s most compelling and imaginative ideas.

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