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"Digging Drunk" - Not very funny tales of alcohol, anarchy and archaeology.

“Digging Drunk” – Not very funny tales of alcohol, anarchy and archaeology.

You often hear it said that archaeologists work hard and play hard. When archaeologists say this, what they usually mean is that they work hard and then drink a lot. There’s no denying it: archaeology has a fairly – shall we say – “robust” drinking culture. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem – but what happens when it is?

Where do we go in archaeology to talk about things like this? Where do we have a chance to tell those stories which, perhaps, don’t show us in the best of lights? Where can we talk honestly about things about our profession which can become seriously damaging to ourselves and the work that we do? I’m not sure if comics is the only place we can do this, but it is one possible place. Over the past sixty years in particular, comics have evolved into a medium where it’s possible to tell these kinds of stories. Traditions of graphic memoir and reportage that have grown out of the “underground” comics of the 1960s give today’s comics writers and artists tools with which to tackle difficult and sometimes highly personal issues.

One of the projects I’d like to find time for this year is a series of stories about archaeology and booze. I’m not entirely sure how best to approach the idea – I don’t want this to end up like one of those weird, quasi-public service comics. I’m genuinely interested in how the medium can serve as a way to articulate experiences that don’t get an airing elsewhere.

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Not on our doorstep! New cartoon in support of the campaign to keep Old Oswestry Hillfort the way it is, thank you very much.

Not on our doorstep! New cartoon in support of the campaign to keep Old Oswestry Hillfort the way it is, thank you very much. John G. Swogger, 2015.

It’s Comics Forum this week, one of the best conferences on comics in the UK. The theme of the conference this year is Politics, and I’m going to be giving a paper on the role of politics in archaeology comics.

This is something I’ve become both increasingly aware of and increasingly involved in recent years. As I produce more and more archaeological comics, so I’ve come to understand that these comics have a political dimension beyond the simple communication of information about the past. In some cases, it’s the information which is outright political – in some cases, more intriguingly, it’s the medium itself. Sometimes the very act of communicating accurate information about the past can be a political act – sometimes the use of comics as a form of science communication it itself a form of political statement.

Sometimes, aspects of the study of the past collide with personal politics. The illustration above is one of a series of cartoons I’ve done, very much after the work of the 18th-century political cartoonist Gillray, and all about the current heritage-politics surrounding Old Oswestry iron age hillfort in Shropshire.

Personal, professional, practical: there’s a lot of politics in archaeological comics, and as far as I’m concerned – – well, if you want to know what I think, you’ll just have to come to my session. See you at Comics Forum!

“Digging Deeper: Applied comics and political discourse in archaeology”, Panel 2A – Constructing History with the Community. 11:15-12:15, Thursday, Nov. 12th, Leeds Central Library.

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