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SDCC panelIt’s been a great honour this week to have been invited to participate in the “Recovering Indigenous History Through Comics” panel at San Diego Comic Con. A huge thank you to Comic Con International for organising the panel and supporting this kind of work – and a particular thank you to Comic Con co-founder Mike Towry for facilitating the involvement of myself, Jen Shannon and Elijah Benson. Without Mike’s personal involvement it’s hard to imagine this panel happening at all.

This panel has been significant for several reasons. Firstly, because it confirms the alignment of comics – a historically outsider, vernacular medium – with indigenous voices and marginalised perspectives. And not just “comics”, but “Comic Con International” – the largest comics convention organisation with a global presence and a community numbering in the millions. Although this was just a single, hour-long panel with 200 attendees, Comic Con’s support has given those of us who work in this area the kind of visibility that’s hard to get elsewhere. And this support and visibility in turn reinforces my own sense – and that of many of us involved more broadly with applied comics – that non-fiction, informational comics have an increasingly important role to play with regards outreach and education. And lastly, I think it points towards the growing recognition that the medium has not yet reached its full potential – that there are still subjects waiting to be explored where comics can do an excellent job of raising awareness, providing information and context, enabling new voices, etc. For me, this means history, archaeology and heritage – but there was a lot of mention both in the discussion after our panel and throughout the convention panels of comics’ connection to indigenous futurism and indigenous science, tribal and community sovereignty, raising political awareness, cultural revitalisation, climate adaptation, etc.

A final thank you to my colleagues on the panel, CU anthropologist Jen Shannon, MHA Education Department language leader Elijah Benson, Kumeyaay Community College Board Member Stan Rodriguez, comics creator Paul Guinan, SDSU anthropologist Kate Spilde, our moderator, the sculptor Johnny Bear Contreras, and Mike Towry of Comic Con. We hope to be working with many of these people again in the coming year on new community history comics.

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Next week I’ll be at San Diego Comic Con, where I’ve been invited to be a guest panellist on telling indigenous histories through comics. I’ll be joined by my fellow NAGPRA comics author, Jen Shannon, and Elijah Benson, from the MHA Education Department who’s helping us on our second NAGPRA comic. The panel will also include Stan Rodriguez, a teacher and Kumeyaay tribal member from San Diego, Paul Guinan, a comics creator working on a history of the Aztec empire and Pr. Kate Spilde.

The panel will be an opportunity for me to put the case for applied comics about not just indigenous histories and repatriations – but community archaeology, local history and anthropological research – to an audience of serious comics fans! It’s a great opportunity to talk about the unique communication potential of comics to people who understand that in terms of fiction and drama, but not perhaps in terms of information.

The session has been organised by Mike Towry, one of the co-founders of SDCC, who also invited me first to San Diego Comics Fest last year to talk about the NAGPRA comics project. The session is entitled Recovering Indigenous Histories Through Comicsand is going to be a discussion moderated by Johnny Bear Contreras about the use of comics as a tool not just in telling stories, but discovering and researching forgotten, hidden and contested stories.

The session is at 5:30 in Hall H. We’ve already had 125 people sign up for it, so there should be a big crowd. There are some serious names on that list, including well-known creators like Arigon Starr, so we should have some serious Q&A. If you’re going to be at SDCC, please join us. If not, check for us on Twitter, or catch up here – I’ll post a report on how the session went.

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Next Friday, March 28th 10am – 4pm, the Applied Comics Network are holding a one-day event at Newcastle University on Comics and Research. Making, using and sharing comics can offer interesting, fun and thought-provoking potential for involving people in research, accessible ways to communicate the complexity of research, and means by which ethical issues in research can be explored.

This one-day event next week includes sessions which look at all these aspects of applied comics and research, including communication of research, comics as a method in research, graphic facilitation, sketch-noting, and comics and user experience.

As one-third of the Applied Comics Network coordinating team, I’ll be there – talking about ethics in research, with particular reference to the work I’ve been doing on the NAGPRA comics about repatriation of sacred items and ancestral remains back to Native American communities.

Speakers:

  • Lydia Wysocki (School of Education Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University)
  • Ian Horton (London College of Communication)
  • John Swogger (Archaeological Comics Network)
  • Florence Okoye (Natural History Museum)
  • Pen Mendonça (University of the Arts London)
  • Liz Todd (Newcastle University)

Although this is a free event, as lunch is provided, please use this lightbox link to register so we can keep track of numbers: https://forms.ncl.ac.uk/view.php?id=4173976

ACN Newcastle poster 96dpi 1

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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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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!

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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!

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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.

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