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English and Creative Writing

Photo of Professor Paul Williams

Professor Paul Williams

Associate Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature and Culture


01392 724257


Room 322, Queen's Building

My research is centrally concerned with comics and graphic novels and my latest book, The US Graphic Novel (2022), explores the history of US graphic novels from the 1910s to the present, with an emphasis on contexts of production, distribution, and reception. Throughout the book I show how the graphic novel is the site of formal exchange between comics and other media such as silent film, the poster, and digital screens. 

My previous monograph Dreaming the Graphic Novel: The Novelization of Comics (2020) broke new ground by explaining how graphic novels were published, circulated, and discussed in North America between the mid-1960s and 1980. Dreaming the Graphic Novel won the 2020 Book Prize in the Comics History Awards presented by the Grand Comics Database and was recognised by the Research Society of American Periodicals with an Honourable Mention in their 2019-20 Book Prize. 

I am keen to develop my research in dialogue with public engagement and in 2016 I co-curated the exhibition The Great British Graphic Novel at the Cartoon Museum in London. This show was seen by over 10,000 people.

I have many additional research interests, such as:

  • Critical theories of race and ethnicity (my book on Paul Gilroy was published in the Routledge Critical Thinkers series in 2012)
  • Post-apocalyptic fiction (the subject of my 2011 monograph Race, Ethnicity, and Nuclear War)
  • Writers connected to the South-West, especially John Betjeman, Laurie Lee, and Margaret Halsey
  • The history of Cultural Studies
  • The cultural and political impact of 1970s alternative psychotherapies
  • American Studies - I belong to Exeter's North American and Atlantic Research Group

I teach across many modules, often lecturing on comics, critical theory (Sianne Ngai and the Frankfurt School are particular favourites), and North American literature and culture. I welcome inquiries from potential PhD students on these and related topics.

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Dreaming the Graphic Novel

My main research interests are comics and graphic novels. I am interested in these forms across the centuries and around the world, but I am best known for my work on North American comics between the 1960s and the 1980s. One of my current projects examines the presence of underground comix and creators in mainstream and ground-level publishing institutions, ranging across Lee Marrs's contributions to Star*Reach Productions, the Denis Kitchen-edited Comix Book (1974-76), Shary Flenniken's editorship at National Lampoon magazine, and the late 1960s trade press editions of comix. I have also started to explore minicomics and photocopying and 1990s British alternative comics in detail and I am in the process of writing a book provisionally entitled Mini Thoughts on Minicomics: A Fantasia.   I have written a number of chapters, articles, and monographs examining how long comics narratives were imagined as novels in the United States. My book Dreaming the Graphic Novel: The Novelization of Comics (Rutgers UP, 2020) investigated the graphic novel as a phrase, a concept, and a product brought to market during the turbulent economic conditions of the late 1960s and 1970s, when stakeholders in the US comics world regularly declared the ‘death of the comic book’. One or two graphic novels from the period are well known, but Dreaming the Graphic Novel underscored the wide range and volume of graphic novel publishing, showing how they were produced by established comics companies, the new independents, underground comix publishers, and major trade presses. Furthermore, this project examined the various desires and anxieties bound up with calling a comic a 'novel' and what that said about US comics in the long 1970s.  

The US Graphic NovelOne of my articles on 1970s graphic novels, "Jules Feiffer's Tantrum at the End of Narcissism's Decade," was published in Studies in the Novel and awarded the Javier Coy Biennial Research Award for Best Journal Article 2017-18 by the Spanish Association for American Studies.

The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts eBook :  Williams, Paul, Lyons, James: Books

My latest book is The US Graphic Novel (Edinburgh UP, 2022), which tracks the history of graphic novels in the United States from the 1910s to the twenty-first century: how they were published, where they were sold, and who was reading them. The US Graphic Novel underlines the intermediality of the comics created, marketed, and read as novels, occupying as they do an unstable zone between various cultural forms and in dialogue with media such as the poster, the 'zine, and the computer screen. 

All of this builds on earlier research I conducted into comics, materiality, and literariness: in 2010 I coedited the essay collection The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts (UP of Mississippi) with my colleague Professor James Lyons.

Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War - Paul Williams - Oxford University PressI have often published books, articles, and chapters on cultural constructions of race, ethnicity and national identity. My work asks: what role does literature, film and popular culture play in producing or fracturing those subject formations? During the early stages of my career, this question was posed in relation to the Cold War, but I have also published on how Hollywood film and hip-hop staged debates about the racial politics of the War on Terror. My 2011 book Race, Ethnicity and Nuclear War, published by Liverpool UP, is available as an Open Access monograph on their website.   

Paul Gilroy - 1st Edition - Paul Williams - Robert Eaglestone - Rout

One of the enduring touchstones of this research is the critical theorist Paul Gilroy, whose work I find perennially rewarding to revisit. In 2012 I wrote an introduction to Gilroy’s thought in the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, which (amongst other things) tracked how his theories have been challenged and appropriated by scholars working in his wake. This book contained a brief glimmer of a project I hope to pursue at a future point: a critical account of the singer-songwriter Sam Cooke and his position in the US music industry at mid-century, standing at the crossroads of gospel, Black nationalism, and the protest tradition.

I have also produced, with Dr Brian Edgar, a series of articles on radical psychotherapies of the 1970s and their global legacies. These articles are typically centred on Primal Therapy and the activists, musicians, dramatists, and fiction writers that it inspired, though we also consider Nude Therapy, est, the Synanon ‘Game,’ and various types of rebirthing in our research. We think about the relationship between alternative psychotherapies and radical politics: some therapeutic practitioners saw themselves doing revolutionary work that would contribute to the downfall of capitalism. The therapies we discuss are closely associated with California, but they travelled widely around the world, from the squatters’ community on London’s Villa Road to the coast of County Donegal, and from an ashram in Pune to the Colombian jungle.

Finally, I have a long-standing interest in literature and the South-West, notably three writers at the edge of the literary canon. Two of them are often cast as witty elegists for a vanishing England but I reframe these writers as figures engaged with some of the biggest social and political questions of the twentieth century. I contend that John Betjeman used poetry and broadcast media to foster a public debate about the forms of community enabled or prohibited by the built environment. Having consulted Laurie Lee’s unpublished diaries, I argue that his observations as he travelled across the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus) were shaped by his interest in left-wing politics, and Lee should be seen as a writer grappling with the UK’s changing relationship with the world during the rise of nationalist dictators in the 1920s-30s and the decline of the British Empire after 1945. As part of this, I want to shift attention to Lee’s poetry, drama, and multifaceted cultural practices, such as his work for the GPO Film Unit during World War Two or as Curator of Eccentricities during the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The third writer is the US essayist and novelist Margaret Halsey, whose reputation was built on With Malice Toward Some (1938), a book based on Halsey's experiences of Devon and the University College of the South West (now the University of Exeter). Halsey had a significant literary career and regularly turned her stylish wit to progressive causes (not least in a series of book-length essays) but her left-liberal views meant she faced hostility during the era of McCarthyism. 

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I invite inquiries from potential PhD students regarding the following subjects:

  • Comics and Graphic Novels (especially creators such as Shary Flenniken, Lee Marrs, Samuel R. Delany, and Roberta Gregory, and companies such as Eclipse, Rip Off Press, and Star*Reach)
  • US Literature and Culture (especially 1960s-1980s)
  • Alternative Psychotherapies and their Cultural Influence
  • Sam Cooke
  • Literature and the South-West (especially Laurie Lee and John Betjeman)
  • Paul Gilroy
  • Post-Apocalyptic Representations and Future-War Fiction

If you are interested in doctoral study, please include a brief outline of your project and a copy of your CV with your initial inquiry.

Research students

I have supervised one PhD student to completion as first supervisor, Dr Robert Yeates, who is now Senior Assistant Professor (kōshi) in American Literature at Okayama University (Japan). Dr Yeates’s thesis examined representations of the post-apocalyptic city in emerging media; the book that emerged out of this research, American Cities in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction, was published in 2021 by UCL Press.

I was second supervisor to Dr Sarah Daw, who is Lecturer in English Literature (Literature and the Environment) at Cardiff University. A version of Dr Daw’s thesis was published as Writing Nature in Cold War American Literature by Edinburgh UP in 2018.

I am currently first supervisor on a postgraduate research project exploring the art and design of the comics published by Fantagraphics and I also supervise projects on UK hip-hop, comics and shame, and Mary Borden.

Previously I have second-supervised / co-supervised PhDs on

  • Reading manga in translation
  • Toni Morrison’s Beloved
  • Contemporary British poetry and Objectivism
  • Cultural representations of psychiatrists and psychotherapists
  • Tea and Chinese American identity in twentieth-century US literature
  • Defensive white male privilege in the novels of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and John Updike
  • The Horned God and environmentalism in fantasy literature and live action role-playing

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2016 | 2014 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2005 |



  • Keramidas M-A. (2022) Reclaiming White Privilege: The Crisis of White Masculinity in Post-World War II American Literature.


  • Woodroffe G. (2021) Brewing Discontent: Tea and Chinese American Identity in U.S. Literature, 1900 – 2020.
  • Williams P. (2021) “Making Graphic Novels in the Early Direct Market: Eclipse Enterprises and Steve Gerber’s Stewart the Rat (1980).”, The Other 1980s: Reframing Comics’ Crucial Decade, Louisiana State UP, 89-104.





  • Williams PG, Emerson H. (2016) The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition 'underground map'. [PDF]


  • Williams PG, Murray C, Green M, Chan D. (2014) "The Academic Study of Comics within Degree Programmes in English Literature.", Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, volume 5, pages 211-228.


  • Williams PG. (2010) “Class, Nostalgia and Newcastle: Contested Space in The Likely Lads.”, Don’t Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s, Intellect, 187-198.


  • Williams PG. (2009) “Starship Troopers, the War on Terror, and the Spectacle of Censorship.”, Science Fiction Film and Television, volume 2, no. 1, pages 25-44.
  • Williams PG. (2009) "‘I Could Smell the Dawn of Armageddon when this Dick was Elected’: Hip-Hop's Oppositional Voices in the War on Terror.", The War on Terror and American Popular Culture: September 11 and Beyond, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 222-238.
  • Williams PG. (2009) “Nuclear Criticism.”, The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, Routledge, 246-255.


  • Williams PG, Edgar B. (2008) “Up Against the Wall: Primal Therapy and 'the Sixties'.”, European Journal of American Studies. [PDF]
  • Williams PG. (2008) “Physics Made Simple: The Image of Nuclear Weapons in the Writing of Langston Hughes.”, Journal of Transatlantic Studies, volume 6, no. 2, pages 131-141.
  • Williams PG. (2008) “Twenty-First-Century Jeremiad: Hip Hop and American Tradition.”, European Journal of American Culture, volume 27, no. 2, pages 111-132.
  • Williams PG. (2008) “Bodies on the Margins? African America and the War on Terror.”, The War Body on Screen, Continuum, 182-198.


  • Williams PG. (2007) "Nuclear Families and Nuclear Catastrophe in Alain Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour.", Florida Atlantic Comparative Studies, volume 9, pages 53-70.


  • Williams PG. (2005) “Beyond Mad Max III: Race, Empire, and Heroism on Post-Apocalyptic Terrain.”, Science Fiction Studies, volume 32, no. 2, pages 301-315.

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External impact and engagement

Between 2014 and 2016 I was an AHRC ECR Leadership Fellow, supported by a grant of £144,000. During this time I wrote a monthly blog and co-curated The Great British Graphic Novel (Apr.-July 2016) at the Cartoon Museum in London; this exhibition was seen by over 10,000 people and received international attention from the media. The exhibition was promoted with a 'tube map' of the history of the British graphic novel that I devised and which was brought to life by the eminent underground comix artist Hunt Emerson; this historical tube map was republished in the Flemish-language comics magazine Stripgids in June 2022.

As a result of The Great British Graphic Novel, the Cartoon Museum was able to add original art from notable comics creators to its collections. The variety of artwork in the show was well captured by Rich Johnston's review on the Bleeding Cool website, and the exhibition received strong reviews, not least in The Spectator. I held follow-up workshops at three schools. 


In Jan. 2010 I wrote a webpage for BBC Wiltshire entitled “Betjeman and Wiltshire.”

I have written several online essays on comics and graphic novels, such as my 1970s Graphic Novel Blog and the article “Literary Impressionism and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000),” which was published on the Comics Forum website (Oct. 2013).

My online essays on comics were included on The Hooded Utilitarian website’s list of “Best Online Comics Criticism” for 2013 and 2014.

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I teach on a wide variety of modules, typically on courses that focus on critical theory, US literature, or twentieth-century and contemporary literature.

I have won or been nominated for various teaching awards at the University of Exeter:


Shortlisted (top five in the University) for ‘Best Research-Led Teaching’ at the Student Guild Teaching Awards.


Winner of the category ‘Most Supportive Member of Staff’ in the Department of English in the Student Guild Teaching Awards.


Winner of the category ‘Best All-Round Lecturer’ in the Department of English in the Student Guild Teaching Awards.


Winner of the categories ‘Tutor of the Year’ and ‘Feedbacker of the Year’ in the Department of English in the Student Guild Teaching Awards. Placed second for ‘Feedbacker of the Year’ and in the top ten for ‘Tutor of the Year’ in the University of Exeter-wide awards.

Modules taught

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I attended Malmesbury Comprehensive School 1991-98 and I completed my BA, MA, and PhD at the University of Exeter between 1998 and 2005. From 2005 to 2008 I undertook myriad teaching duties at Plymouth University, including the role of Lecturer in American Studies. I returned to the University of Exeter in 2008, working as a Teaching Fellow (2008-10), Lecturer (2010-14), Senior Lecturer (2014-20), and now Associate Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature and Culture (2020-).

I was awarded an AHRC Early Career Research Fellowship (£144,000) in 2014 for my research project Reframing the Graphic Novel.

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