Cat Watts: Medieval Expanded Universes: Devotion, Comic Books, and Fandom


9th June 2022

Session: Cat Watts (University of Cambridge): 'Medieval Expanded Universes: Devotion, Comic Books, and Fandom'


It’s become common to compare medieval literature to comic books and fanfiction in our classes - but what does it mean to take this intuitive and entertaining connection seriously? If comic books and fanfiction do resemble medieval works in ways not usually seen in modern literature, what does that mean? What forms of engagement, literature, and community have not yet been explored?

This paper takes two key concepts from the fields of fandom and comic book studies to explore the ways in which medieval French literature, and in particular devotional material, explodes out of the bounds of the page, only to be recuperated by its fans. Fandom and comic books provide us with specific language and sustained analysis to explore the communities around beloved medieval texts in a way that is new to medieval studies.

Firstly, I explore the fandom concept of hyperdiegesis – the idea that any sufficiently beloved fandom object must contain infinite gaps which invite infinitely more material. We author our experiences of these texts – sometimes literally, creating fanfiction and fanart – as we fill in these gaps. How might we think of a devotional expanded universe in the medieval period?

Secondly, I turn to the comic book concept of closure – the idea that it is only through the gaps between panels that we can make sense of the comic book page. Eliding these gaps, connecting the dots, we author a particular version of the text.

Combining these two ideas – gaps as infinite space, gaps as elision – will allow me to explore the ways in which medieval fandom induces artificial closure to steal away disconnected moments from an institutionally owned liturgy, to touch, to preserve, to own, and to share.