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AVAR-archaeology-poster-comicThis year, I’m doing something slightly different for November 11th. It’s a comics project – but not about commemoration. Rather, it’s about military veterans, and the physical and mental therapy potential of archaeology. A year or so ago I began talking with a colleague, Stephen Humphreys, who had put together a programme that offered military veterans the opportunity to learn archaeological skills. Building on similar projects that had been started in the UK, the programme was based on the idea that working in archaeology could offer therapeutic benefits to veterans as part of medical rehabilitation programmes, or who needed help re-integrating into civilian life.

This programme evolved into American Veterans Archaeological Recovery:

American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) integrates military veterans with physical or mental disabilities into a community of archaeological researchers that supports their rehabilitation through goal-oriented, team-centered excavations. The social bonding and shared experiences of participants are an important feature of American Veterans Archaeological Recovery. Participants share their new experiences in archaeology with others from the community of veterans, and will make new connections in the community of academic and professional archaeologists working to discover and preserve the physical evidence of our common cultural heritage.

AVAR has run excavations at the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Scremby, Lincolnshire – in partnership with the University of Sheffield; at the Roman site of Beth She’arim in Israel – in partnership with the University of Haifa; and at the Darrow School Shaker Settlement, Mount Lebanon, New York – a project funded by the National Geographic Society. In May next year, AVAR will be start work on excavations in Saratoga, New York – details will be posted on the AVAR website – where there is also comprehensive information about the organisation and how to take part in their projects.

AVAR does great work not only in supporting veterans, their friends and their families through providing opportunities for them to participate in archaeological fieldwork, they also do great work in highlighting the physical and psychological benefits of archaeological fieldwork – something perhaps those of us lucky enough to work as archaeologists take for granted.

I’ve very much enjoyed putting this comic together. It’s up on their website now, and will be used as part of an awareness-raising campaign throughout the coming year. It’s been really rewarding getting to know a new kind of archaeological community, and I look forward to collaborating more with the organisation in the future.

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ASOR Article .pdf

shulgi_of_girsuA few people have been having trouble printing the ASOR article I wrote on comics and Near Eastern archaeology. Here’s a link to a .pdf.

Hope this helps!

Chamberlain at Laydeez

cabinet_room_1

The Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street – a panel-in-progress from Ben Dickson’s graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain which I’m illustrating.

This month marks the start – in earnest – of work on the graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain. The book has been written by Ben Dickson – whose latest graphic novel, A New Jerusalem, is out now. This project is only my second big graphic work  – the first being Something Different About Dad several  years ago. And with a script clocking in at about 200 pages, it’s certainly the longest work I’ve ever done on a historical or archaeological subject.

It’s a fascinating time-period and a gripping story. Ben’s script is a biography of Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister – from May 1937 to May 1940. But it’s also the story of Neville Chamberlain’s childhood, his political career, his marriage, his friends – and his rivals. Ben’s script challenges – as several other historians have done – the notion that Chamberlain was “a guilty man”, whose policy of appeasement was a thin disguise for cowardice. Instead, Ben paints a picture of a man who understood how unprepared Britain was for another war – not just economically and militarily, but psychologically.

It’s a story full of high drama, something which is overshadowed by our contemporary focus on the action of the war which we know is inevitable. When I first read Ben’s script I just couldn’t put it down: reading the story as a interplay of characters and situations, not just of dates and facts, brought home how tense and unpredictable this pre-war period actually was. It’s interesting how Ben’s Chamberlain comes across as someone who understands these complexities, and is willing to sacrifice his political reputation in order to steer the country on a safe course through them.

I’m going to be talking about the project at Laydeez do Comics in Leeds, this Monday evening – you’re all invited! (Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, LS2 7EQ, 6:30pm. Entry: £1.50 – no need to book. Wharf Chambers is wheelchair accessible). I’m going to talk about the book itself, and about how I’m approaching the artwork – specifically historical locations and people. And I’m also going to talk a bit about what it means to work collaboratively with an author, and what it means to work on such a large-scale project like this one.

Hopefully see you in Leeds on Monday evening!

Reception of Nineveh sculptures at the British Museum, Illustrated London News, 1852. 

I’ve just had an article published in “The Ancient Near East Today”, which is the online news journal of the Friends of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The article – Comics, Narrative and the Archaeology of the Near East – is about comics and archaeology, and the it they can bring something “new” to information about a very “old” part of the archaeological world.

Most of my comics and archaeology projects have been based in the “New World” – and have dealt almost exclusively with new sites, new projects and new data. It’s easy to do something “new” about archaeology which itself is mostly “new”. Not only is there a fairly shallow depth to the information – coming as it does from one a few seasons, but there is also a fairly contained context to the information – a single team, often operating on a restricted number of research threads. It’s not too difficult a job, therefore, to present that information to a non-archaeological audience.

But in the Near East, this is not the case. Research and excavation may be “new”, but it takes place within a context of archaeological work that goes back centuries, and within a complex network of cultures and civilisations that goes back millennia. It’s hard to talk about a small Bronze Age site in eastern Turkey without needing to talk about the Bronze Age as a whole across most of the eastern Mediterranean. And it’s almost impossible to talk about a Neo-Persian fortified site without talking about the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire, Sassanian kings, etc., etc. Indeed, in outreach about Near Eastern archaeology, it often boils down to trying to decide what you aren’t going to talk about, more than what you are. Our archaeological stories deal with this great depth of complexity and context by sticking to time-honoured boundaries and limits – quickly making those narratives feel “overly-familiar”. Despite decades of new and interesting research, most archaeological explanations of Near Eastern archaeology conform to recognisable patterns because it’s simply too difficult to tell such stories any other way within the narrative restrictions imposed by a museum interpretation panel or a site guide book.

My argument in this ASOR article is that using comics as a medium for presenting such complex, multi-threaded and multi-layered information offers us a unique opportunity to do three things: (1) To re-present the archaeological stories of “old” sites, cultures and monuments in a way that actively addresses the complexity and connectedness inherent in Near Eastern archaeology, and in doing so (2) to look anew at the way we traditionally break down these stories along well-worn – even traditional – geographical, cultural and temporal lines, and in doing so (3) start to talk about the “overly-familiar” archaeology of the Near East in new – and perhaps unexpected – ways that more accurately reflects new research and scholarship.

I grew up with the archaeology of the Near East, studied it at University, and worked out there for over a decade as illustrator at Çatalhöyük. I know this world, and I know first-hand some of the issues facing public outreach in such places. But I also know that, with comics, the medium can make us think differently about our message – the form can suggest new ways to shape and present content.  This is, I think, something that “old” archaeology might need – and this is why I think comics can bring something new and invigorating to our archaeological stories of the ancient Near East.

chamberlain_1This week, I begin in earnest on my big project for 2018-2019: illustrating a graphic biography of Neville Chamberlain, written by Ben Dickson – author of New Jerusalem (out now from Myriad).

It’s a biography which re-examines the role that Chamberlain’s policy of “appeasement” played in buying time for the UK to re-arm, and in convincing the United States to enter the war. Much of Ben’s position is based on revisionist histories which have looked more closely at the events leading up to World War II, and at his own analysis of his aims and objectives as Prime Minister.

The day may come when my much cursed visit to Munich will be understood. Neither we nor the French were prepared for war. I am not responsible for this lack of preparation…It would be rash to prophesy the verdict of history, but if full access is obtained to all the records it will be seen that I realized from the beginning our military weakness and did my best to postpone if I could not avert the war.

It is all too easy to judge people with the benefit of hindsight. For us, World War II is a fact of history – for Chamberlain, it was only a possibility, and one that he had a chance to avoid. He appears to be a far more complex historical character than the “Guilty Man” he was painted during and immediately after the war. Ben’s script shows him as someone grappling with a country still traumatised by the consequences of the Great War, and ill-prepared – and ill-equipped – to engage in another. In many ways, the script demonstrates Chamberlain’s understanding of the coming 1939-45 war as “The World War – Part II”: for both victor and vanquished, a consequence of unfinished business left over from 1914-18 – “The World War – Part I”, as it were. This longer, entangled view of the two European wars of the Twentieth Century is something we are only beginning to fully appreciate.

I am drawing the book in a ligne claire style that strongly echoes comics artwork of the 1930s and 1940s – particularly that of Hergé, which, I am sure, will come as no surprise to anyone already familiar with my work! The style will suit the time-period of the book, of course.

I’ve started already – doing research this morning on the layout of the Downing Street Cabinet Offices, c. 1937, and drawing various views of an Austin 10. Lots of more that to come over the next nine months!

Arcology

Ruined Arcologies c. 2320 (Illustration for “Dreams of a Low Carbon Future II”, 2016)

One of the events I’ve been to recently was the latest low-carbon workshop organised by James McKay at the University of Leeds. I’ve been involved in some of James’ low-carbon projects in the past – producing illustrations for Dreams of  Low Carbon Future II and being 1/5 of the team that drew the Supergen Bioenergy comic. This time, it was less about drawing and more about brainstorming. The event was organised with funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s INGENIOUS project. It brought together a diverse range of academics, climate scientists and researchers, people from local government and community organisations, students from the North Huddersfield Trust School and even artists and illustrators like myself to think, talk and pull ideas together for a positive vision of a low-carbon future.

The idea – as summed up by Jonathon Porritt, who gave an inspirational keynote talk at the end of the event – was to move away from apocalyptic doom-mongering about the future, which often ended up undercutting people’s sense of agency. Why should I bother to do anything about the future? It’s clearly already too screwed up and so we’re all doomed anyway… James stressed at the beginning of the event that we should focus on what people could do, what people can do, and what people are already doing to make a positive impact on our carbon future.

So we spent the whole day workshopping around that idea: using maps, drawings, short stories and discussion exercises to think big, think bold and think positive about what a low-carbon future in the north of England could look like. And we came up with some really interesting ideas: from small-scale things like how to cope with unpredictable weather, to big infrastructure projects like Leeds’ community heating schemes, to even bigger ideas like creating massive wetland buffer zones against storms and sea-level rise in coastal and lowland areas of Yorkshire.

It was a really interesting and exciting day – with so many ideas buzzing around that it was hard to keep track of them at times. James now has the unenviable task of pulling all our brainstorming together and producing a kind of reference or resource document for the next stage in the project. Building on this event, there are going to be art and creativity competitions and various other public events – and I’m looking forward to helping visualise some of these ideas with James and the rest of the art team.

Drawing on the Past

Related imageI’m heading to the “Drawing on the Past” comic at UCL tomorrow – a conference about comics and the pre-modern world. There are some excellent papers lined up from people like Glynnis Fawkes and Sonya Nevin. I’ll be doing a poster presentation on depicting the “other-ness” of prehistory in community heritage comics, looking at examples from the Oswestry Heritage Comics, comics about Offa’s Dyke and my recent comics work on Yap. And on Monday afternoon, Hannah Sackett and I will also be leading a short workshop on making archaeological comics.

It looks to be a really interesting conference for anyone interested in the way in which our shared past is, can or could be represented in comics – and some of the potentials and pitfalls involved in the use of the medium.

UCL Senate House, London 10-11th September 2018, room G22/26

Registration via Eventbrite

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