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Posts Tagged ‘comics and politics’

Panel from "Disarticulated" - an archaeological comic about sexual harassment in the field.

Panel from “Disarticulated” – an archaeological comic about sexual harassment in the field.

In my TAG paper, I talked a little about how the authorial visibility that comics permits can allow the medium to approach subjects which have traditionally been very much beyond the remit of archaeological visualisation. The SAFE study into sexual harassment in the academic fieldwork, published in 2014, is part of a growing openness about the prevalence of sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination within disciplines such as archaeology and anthropology. One of the notable features of studies such as this is a lack of awareness about methods of reporting such incidents.

Memoir and reportage-based comics, particularly those evolving out of the “underground” tradition, have long been used as a way of “starting a conversation” about difficult topics. The medium allows writers and artists to remain very firmly identified with their story and their authorial position, while at the same time exercising choice and control over the degree to which they are identifiable. It is a unique feature of comics to be simultaneously highly individual and wholly anonymous. At TAG, I showed a panel from a comic called “Disarticulated” which I’ve been working on for a while. It’s based on the experiences of a colleague, and written in collaboration with them. The comic allows us to make the truth of these particular experiences very clear, but the identity of the people, sites and places to be obscured.

How this comic will ultimately be published is not clear. But I hope it suggests ways in which comics might be used in archaeology: to give voice to situations and experiences which are important, and which deserve to be talked about.

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Panel by Manuel Joao Ramos. See? Not the only person to be influenced by the tropes and styles of Tintin!

Panel by Manuel Joao Ramos. See? Not the only person to be influenced by the tropes and styles of Tintin!

Thanks to Juliet McMullin, who drew my attention to a fascinating article by Manuel João Ramos in the online, open edition of the journal Cadernos de Arte e Antropologica. The article is a fierce defence of the use of sketching as a part of ethnographic observational practice, and is accompanied by a gallery of comic-panel sketches. Why?

Ramos is an Associate Professor of Anthropology based at the Center for International Studies, at the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE), with a curious and fascinating list of professional (and, I assume, ethnographic?) interests – travel literature, “NGO militancy” (I’m not even really sure what that might be), and road traffic victims and road safety.

His article – Stop the Academic World, I Wanna get off in the Quai de Branly: Of sketchbooks, museums and anthropology – uses some fascinating language with regard to the use of visual media in anthropology:

… un-genreing and re-genreing anthropological production may help free it from its boring academic format, shake up its stiff argumentation forms and sapped styles – all too reliant [o]n the game of referencing, quoting, paraphrasing and bowing.

Ramos argues that using visual media as an integral part of academic writing is a step towards this “re-genreing” of anthropological production. His language is the language of revolution – “shake up”, “boring”, “free it”. He champions the act of drawing anthropology as countering “the peculiar “game of writing” where the anthropologist imaginarily dissolves his/her self in the voice of orality in the very process of affirming his/her authorship of the text”.

Sound familiar?

I’ve been talking a lot recently about the value of introducing personal politics into archaeological writing through the use of visual media – most recently in a paper I gave at Comics Forum this year. I have long suspected that I am not the only person in the anthropological sciences thinking this way – and Ramos’ article proves me right. I have a feeling that there is a growing community within the anthropological sciences unhappy with traditional modes of publication, and interested in the way in which visual media offer powerful alternatives.

Ramos refers to his drawings as a “sketchbook”, but their combination of text and image, their use of visuality to create narrative, make them, in fact, a comic. And as I did in my article for Advances in Archaeological Practice, he’s arguing for their use as a stand-alone form of professional publication, not simply as a supplement to it.

The use of comics in science is not simply about reshaping scientific knowledge in a more accessible format for a public or non-specialist audience. The use of comics in science can – as Ramos and I have both argued – represent new ways of thinking about science in the first place. What Manuel Ramos and I (and others) are experimenting with represents a step towards a general “re-genreing” not just of science communication, but of science practice.

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Comics, politics and heritage - well, I talked about archaeology in Wales, and Mickey's a dragon...

Comics, politics and heritage – well, I talked about archaeology in Wales, and Mickey’s a dragon…

A very quick thanks to everyone who contributed to a great Comics Forum session on comics, politics, community and heritage today. Lots of interesting discussion, and lots of new things to think about.

If anyone’s interested, there’s a .pdf of my paper here.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s Comics Forum sessions – and to the remainder of the Thought Bubble events through Sunday!

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MultiFoods Mickey! Ready to Nutri-Nuke your breakfast burger!

MultiFoods Mickey! Ready to Nutri-Nuke your breakfast burger!

The theme for the Comics Forum 2015 conference in Leeds this year is Politics. When I was sixteen or so, my introduction to politics in comics was 2000AD’s relatively short-lived spin-off CRISIS.It was not perfect, and there was a sense even right from the beginning that it didn’t really know which was it was headed. But there’s no denying that CRISIS looked and felt radically different from anything else on the newsstands. To a somewhat naive 2000AD reader, stories like Third World War felt like a glimpse of the inevitable oncoming revolution. It wasn’t, of course. CRISIS lost its way and I gave up reading it not soon before it finished, but it had an impact nonetheless. Third World War has been dismissed as rather crude political storytelling, and it’s true that there’s an awful lot of soap-box polemic in it. But it caught my attention just long enough to make me want to know more – and perhaps that’s the real point, here.

I suspect I’m not the only one who can look back to CRISIS and say, with some justification, that it contributed significantly to my late-teenage political awareness. Even years later, Mickey and Multi-Foods still haunt my political imagination. Comics can use the synergy between image and text to create a gateway medium: something that highlights an unfamiliar issue and points the way towards greater investigation. Perhaps one of the key things about comics as informational media is not what you do or don’t learn through them: perhaps it’s more about where you go next.

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A Serpent in Paradise! Or: a Gillray-styled cartoon in support of the "Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort" campaign.

A Serpent in Paradise! Or: a Gillray-styled cartoon in support of the “Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort” campaign.

I’ll be heading to Comics Forum 2015 in November, where the theme of the conference this year is comics and politics. I’ll be presenting a paper about politics in my archaeological comics – specifically about how the use of comics as a medium to present archaeological information reflects both “big” and “small” political decisions.

I’ve only recently come to appreciate the fact that using comics to present information about the past isn’t just a cultural, intellectual or creative decision – it’s a political one, too. And I’ve also come to appreciate that exploring and embracing this political context might result in new kinds of archaeological comics – ones that can function as more than just simple informational tools.

Anyway, I’m still writing my paper, so I’m still thinking through some of these ideas. In the meantime, here’s another kind of political archaeology comic: one in a series of political cartoons about Old Oswestry hillfort in the style of James Gillray, inspired by a trip to the British Museum’s Bonaparte and the British exhibition – and, of course, the venality, hypocrisy and ignorance of some of our local politicians.

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Cover artwork for ctrl.alt.shift by Laura

Cover artwork for ctrl.alt.shift by Laura Oldfield Ford

Information is political. Like comics and information, comics and politics share a long history, turning communication as act into communication as activism. I’m interested in the way writers and artists blend information with other elements to create comics with a very specific feel and intent.

I recently came across a copy of a 2009 anthology co-edited by Paul Gravett entitled ctrl.alt.shift unmasks corruption – a collection of comics with an activist agenda. ctrl.alt.shift was an awareness-raising publishing and art initiative on behalf of the development and aid charity Christian Aid.

From fiction to reportage to memoir, each of the comics in the anthology blends information – facts, figures, statistics – with other elements – observation, personal experience, point-of-view, philosophy, even humour – to create a political narrative. The anthology is not just a good example of the way in which comics can create such narratives, but an example of the different ways writers and artists work to construct them: Bryan Talbot goes for direct narrator-to-reader, first person confrontation, heavy on spoken polemic; Dan Goldman for wordless image-collage; Elettra Stamboulis and Gianluca Constantiti narrative reportage over sketchbook drawings; etc.

It’s fascinating seeing these writers and artists work within the strictures of an informational framework, each building an overtly political narrative with a unique blend of tone, voice and style. But, of course, that’s what an anthology is all about: showcasing diversity, reminding us that, in comics – even in the world of comics and information – no two creators ever need approach the material in quite the same way.

Don’t forget: Applied Comics Network meet-up day – May 9th, 12-4pm, London College of Communication : more via ACN on Twitter

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