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Posts Tagged ‘comics workshops’

The Silver Studded Blue, resident of Prees Heath Common (photo: butterfly-conservation.org)

I was invited over to Prees Heath Common, near Whitchurch in North Shropshire, by Meres and Mosses/Shropshire Wildlife Trust to run a heritage comics workshop with some of their community archaeology volunteers. Prees Heath Common was an airfield during World War II, and a military muster site before that. Now it’s – in part – a butterfly reserve, managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The site has a team of volunteers who look after both the ecology and the archaeology. A few weeks ago they dug a series of test-pits across a small corner of the site, at the edge of  one of the WWII airfield turning circles. Last week I got together with the group to run a workshop about making comics – hopefully showing them how comics could bring the story of their small local heritage site to a wider audience.

We held the workshop in the fantastic Raven Cafe – an old-skool biker and transport greasy spoon (that served proper strong tea – thank you, Lynne). There, at one side of the main dining room, next to a collection of old bikes, and overseen – appropriately enough – by a poster featuring the cartoon biker Ogri, the group and I spent from ten until one talking comics, WWII archaeology, common law, butterflies – and more! So much more.

I was astonished not only with how much history and heritage there was associated with the site – but the range and diversity of it. Yes, there was tons of military history and archaeology – from the middle ages through the Civil War to both World Wars; yes, there was transport history – Roman roads, mediaeval tracks, railways, Australian flying corps, bombers; yes, there was ecological heritage – the silver studded blue butterfly, peacocks, brimstones and cinnabar moths; regrown heathland with ling and bell heather; lizards, frogs and lapwings. We talked about all this heritage – and I showed the group how these stories could become educational and informational comics for schools, site interpretation boards and visitors centres.

These were the heritage stories I was expecting to hear – but I also heard other stores: stories about the social history of the common, about the injustices it has seen, about how it came to be transformed into arable fields, about how it affected and changed the lives of the local inhabitants down the generations – and about how those changed lives have in turn changed the future history of the common. These individual, family and social stories are the other side of the coin to the historical, archaeological, geological or ecological information that make up “heritage”. They give the bare bones of heritage facts and figures a human, grounded dimension – reminding us that the past is personal, not abstract; that our shared past both shapes and is shaped by, the people who live it.

From tales of mass trespasses and gypsy weddings, to biker memorabilia (and comics!) in roadside transport cafes – the past is made meaningful and human. When I talk with community groups about telling stories about the past, I am increasingly convinced that these are the stories that count – because these are the stories people want to hear.

I had a fantastic time with the Prees Heath group, and really hope that they take some of their surprising stories and great ideas and make some excellent comics!

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tag-2016I’m heading to TAG next week – the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference. It’s in Southampton this year, where, in 2011 at the VIA conference, I first proposed a theoretical framework for the use of comics in archaeology.

Five years later, and a lot of practical water has flowed under the bridge. I’m returning to Southampton to give a paper on different approaches to authorship in comics. In particular, my paper looks at ways in which comics treats authorial visibility – and how that can change the nature of the archaeological visualisations we can produce. In addition to giving my paper, I’m also exhibiting some of the Oswestry Heritage Comics at TAG’s Sightations exhibition, and talking about them during the Sightations Cafe session. I’ll also be helping Hannah Sackett – of Prehistories – to run a workshop on making archaeological comics.

Given the theme of the conference, this is an ideal opportunity for those of us interested in comics and archaeology to talk about all the projects we’ve been working on over the past few years. Hope to see you there!

Monday, Dec. 19th, 2pm, S20 – Sightations Cafe: Archaeology, Comics and Community
Wednesday, Dec. 21st, 11am, S35 – Comics and Archaeology Workshop
Wednesday, Dec. 21st, 2pm, S10 – Archaeologists Assemble: Authorship as praxis in archaeological comics

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Rabbit in Slovakia - from Slovakia: Fall in Europe (Marek Bennett, 2013)

Rabbit in Slovakia – from Slovakia: Fall in the heart of Europe (Marek Bennett, 2013)

One of the people I met at this year’s Comics & Medicine conference in Baltimore was Marek Bennett, author of the comics travel journals Slovakia: Fall in the heart of Europe (2013) and Nicaragua (2009). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to talk specifically about his experiences of writing the journals, but I would have liked to, as I’m hoping to use them as models for some travel comics this summer.

I’m heading back to the island of Carriacou for this year’s excavation season with the Carriacou Island Archaeology Project, jointly directed this year by UCL and the University of Oregon. In addition to my usual artefact and site illustration, I’ll also be doing a fair amount of comics work: I’m hoping to produce a daily comics journal as a public outreach tool.

But I also want to do something a bit more travelogue-y – a slight variation on the idea of a field journal comics I did in Palau two years ago – and I have in mind Marek’s approach. I’m not sure how far I might get, but it’s all part of an effort to keep learning more about what comics can do by doing more comics. Like my explorations of poetry comics, who knows where this might lead?

(Incidentally, check out Marek’s site for some really great ideas about comics workshops, including more on his work at La Hermandad’s Coffee Camp. Marek will be running a workshop at CCS this summer, and be teaching applied comics there later in the year.)

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