Posts Tagged ‘Palau’

Comics is a versatile and effective medium, capable of communicating everything from information to personal experience. As such, it could be a useful tool in public outreach about archaeological research into migration and early settlement in Micronesia. But there’s a catch: to do so really requires that institutions, not just individual researchers, “buy in” to the use of comics in science communication.

Slide from “A Different Way to View the World”, SAA86

A comic – or, better yet, a series of comics – about migration and early settlement, produced with the cooperation and collaboration of researchers, institutions, governments and communities, could tell the long story of Micronesia from its deepest past through to its present and its future. Such a series would give our archaeological stories a particular kind of relevance, connecting them to work in related fields of enquiry, as well as broader contemporary concerns. Such a series could empower communities by giving them a unique voice and a unique contribution to discussions that affect their future.

But comics are more than a mere novelty: they are a complex media-form with their own ontologies and methodologies, a unique set of representational tools and frameworks, and a distinct culture of reader and creator engagements. To simply “commission a comic” is to ignore the medium’s full potential; institutions should be looking to assemble creative teams capable of not only producing comics as products, but integrating them into the workflow of academic research.

The story of migration and early settlement in Micronesia could become a flagship project for the institution that first sets up the “Marvel” or “DC” of archaeological comics.

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Confused about block/case/mould terminology? Don't be - there's a comic for that!

Confused about block/case/mould terminology? Don’t be – there’s a comic for that!

I’ve just finished the final collection of new illustrations for Middleport Pottery – more nineteenth-century pottery manufacturing jobs, and more diagrammatic panels showing processes involved in making various kinds of production moulds.

The more work I’ve done at Middleport, the more I’ve been impressed by the way in which comics as a format have been able to communicate the complexities of this kind of archaeology. Industrial archaeology is the archaeology of process. It’s impossible to look at material from an industrial archaeology site and not talk about how these things were made. From bits of steam engines to kiln-waste to underglaze transfer ceramics, this stuff is the material tip of a huge and revolutionary social, cultural and technological iceberg.

Yes, I know you can say that about almost any period in history, and yes, archaeology talks about how flint axes were made, how bone tools were made, how Roman tiles were made. But there’s something about the archaeology of the industrial revolution that binds discussion of material and process that much closer together.

Comics – a medium explicitly concerned with sequence – has increasingly felt like the natural way to illustrate this link between material and process. I feel like I’ve been able to combine a wide range of visual modes – narratives of process, cutaways, diagrams, reconstruction, etc. – into a consistent visual whole using comics as a mechanism which actively structures the visual delivery of this diverse content.

And as an archaeological illustrator, this is what I’ve been looking for: a medium which can make sense and render consistent the many different modes of visual exposition on which archaeology relies. This – perhaps even more than story-telling, even more than speech-bubbles, panels, gutters or even sequence itself – embodies the potential which comics offers to archaeology. And it is this which I’m going to be exploring more in my next archaeological comics project about archaeology on Palau.

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I enjoyed our random-Wikipedia-article comic making so much I inked-in one of the infographic panels from my comic.

I enjoyed Saturday’s ACN random-Wikipedia-article activity so much I did a bit more research and inked-in the central infographic-style panel from my comic.

Last Saturday, at the half-way point in our Applied Comics Meetupwe made some comics. Lydia had come up with a great workshop idea that provided an excellent opportunity to not only make some informational comics, but talk about how they work as well.

She opened up Wikipedia and clicked on random article, and then we all had half an hour to make a comic based on information from that article. The result was twenty-five different comic interpretations of the same information – an amazing display of the versatility of the medium and the variety of approaches that could be used.

The exercise sparked a whole range of questions:

  • Who narrates an informational comic, and why?
  • What does humour do to an informational narrative?
  • How does knowing who your audience will be change the approach you take?
  • How does having expert knowledge or previous experience of the subject matter change the approach you take?
  • Does using colour affect the pace of the narrative?
  • How do you balance information and engagement – or entertainment?

We’re going to try and put up most of these resulting comics on the Applied Comics Network blog. It would be great to see these comics eventually spark some analysis of the different ways comics and information can be brought together.

For archaeologists interested in comics, this random-Wikipedia-article exercise should feel familiar: every time you stick a trowel in the ground it feels like you’re clicking “random article”. You know you’re going to get some kind of information out of it – but you’re never certain what. The day-by-day comics journalling I did of excavations on Carriacou last year felt like this: every morning I knew I was going to have to do a comic about something archaeological, but I didn’t know what.

I enjoyed the challenge of Saturday’s activity immensely, and I now know how to practice for this coming season’s daily journal on Palau: Applied Comics Networks‘ signature Random-Wikipedia-Article Comics™!

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'Au: Tattooing implements from Samoa - appropriately pronounced "Ow"?

‘Au: Tattooing implements from Samoa – appropriately pronounced “Ow”?

Got up to the Bishop Museum this week, to their excellent and recently refurbished Polynesian and Hawaiian galleries.

Both featured an extensive collection of material, nicely-displayed and with very good and signing and interpretation. In one of the cases was a small group of tattooing implements from Samoa. Far too dark to take photographs, but here are a few sketches from the case.

My apprenticeship at Fineline Tattoos begins properly in a fortnight’s time, so tattooing is much on my mind at the moment! There were some fascinating examples of tattoos from the Marquesas Islands in the Bishop Museum, and from Indonesia in the Honolulu Academy of Art. It got me thinking a bit about traditional tattoos on Palau.

A few comments came in to a post of mine here several months ago, saying how “traditional” tattoos seem to have vanished from Palau. One person remembered their grandparents with tattoos, and sent a link to some Japanese anthropological drawings from the ?1920s up on the web. I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else remembers “traditional” tattoos from Palau, and if anyone knows of more photographs or drawings of old Palauan tattoos.

Is it possible – or ethical – to revive such a traditional art? How does one find new meaning for an artform whose social and cultural context is now “lost”? How does such an artform adapt to find new, contemporary meanings and contexts? Is there an example in the revivals of other Polynesian tattooing traditions – Maori, Hawaiian, etc.? Or is there a precedent closer to home in the approach taken by Hisakatsu Hijikata and the evolution of the Palauan Storyboards?

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chama_idol_panelI’ve been thinking a lot about place while scribbling ideas and sketches for my guest strip for Ivy.

So much of my work as both archaeologist and illustrator has been about place: about new places, about defining places, about bringing lost and forgotten places back to life – whether with the trowel or the pencil. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in some absolutely fantastic places – remote, exotic, beautiful, fascinating places: Çatalhöyük, Mustique, Palau, the Sudan. I’ve also been fortunate enough to make my home in one of the quietest rural corners of Britain: the mountains and valleys of the Welsh Marches – still as beautiful and steeped in history as anywhere I’ve worked overseas. Each one of these places has left an indelible impression on me. From Dinas Bran to Küçükköy, from Cader Berwyn to Dongola, from St. George to St. Garmon, from Olympos to Oswestry – these places are forever etched on memory and experience.

So just as place brings to mind the strange and the wonderful, the mysterious and the ancient, the forgotten and the hidden, it also brings to mind something far more domestic, centred and homely. For me, place is about getting to know somewhere, not just visiting it; it’s about that deep sense of connection and familiarity rather than a set of foreign postcards. Place is about the hearth, family, and security as much as it is about the exotic, distant and alien. Place is about that heart-sense of belonging.

I’ve tried to bring some of that into my short comic – something of what place means to me.

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Some of you will have already seen these images – they were included in my paper at the Comics Forum conference in Leeds a couple of weeks ago. These are the first completed panels, pages and part-pages from Palau: An archaeological field journal – my comic of excavations on Palau this summer. The gallery below is pretty much a random selection of images from the comic; there’s a lot more writing and drawing to be done on it. But I think it gives a fairly good indication of how the finished comic will look. Whether or not it will end up being in full colour throughout depends on negotiations with a publisher, however!

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“It’s a long way down” – page from Palau: An Archaeological Field Journal, and one of the images in my presentation at Comics Forum this weekend.

Just spent two excellent days at Comics Forum 2012 in Leeds, where I gave a paper on my Palauan field journal comic on Thursday.

This year’s theme was “Multiculturalism”, and prompted a range of extremely diverse papers, presenters and attendees – some fascinating presentations about comics I’d never imagined existed: Unexpectedly ambiguous crime information comics produced by the Omani Royal Police, comics about the workings and impact of the International Criminal Tribunals, sex, sexism and sexuality in Italian fumetto, black comic characters and creators in the US, comics in China, Slovenia, Israel and Canada; the papers ranged from the expected and familiar to the unexpected and unfamiliar and back again.

I presented my own paper on Thursday afternoon, alongside Mary Tabakow and her paper on the Royal Omani Police comics. It was voted “Pick of the Papers” for the day, and my prize was copies of Fluffy and Please God, Find Me a Husband! by Simone Lia. Even better, Simone Lia was Thursday’s keynote speaker, and so she happily signed – doodled – both books for me. Fluffy has always been one of my favourite graphic works, and so getting not only a signed copy but a chance to sit and talk with Simone while she drew in them for me was a real treat.

Simone’s keynote talk was actually an “in conversation” with Ann Miller. The format worked really well, and Simon chatted easily about all sorts of things – picking fluff off the carpet at Gatwick airport, her children’s book illustration work, the origins of Fluffy, and the unexpected backstory to the genesis of Please God, Find me a Husband!.

Friday’s keynote – in the same conversational format – was Charlie Adlard talking with Hugo Frey. Again, the conversational format was great, and Charlie talked at length about some of his earlier works – illustrating Doris Lessing’s Playing the Game and White Death before going on to talk about his work drawing The Walking Dead and hinting at what he might do next (nothing to do with Zombies – he was quite clear on that!).

Some highlights from the conference for me: Ian Horton on British colonialist “heroes”, Ana Merino on Latino identity and Love and Rockets, Frank Bramlett on the quotidian in comics, Rebecca Scherr on framing and Footnotes in Palestine, Keina Yoshida on comics and international criminal justice, Asta Vrecko on comics about Italian atrocities in annexed western Slovenia during the Second World War, Corey Creekmur on underground comix and race and William H. Foster III on the changing image of African-American and black women in comics.

As usual, there were the inevitable conflicts that meant you couldn’t go to everything – I was particularly sorry to miss Paul Harrison on Egypt in comics, but managed to catch up with him later, and Umar Ditta’s paper on representations of relationships between cultures. But perhaps it’s best to leave a conference wanting more!

Came away with some plans and projects for the future: I had an invitation from The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics to submit my paper on archaeological comics, Ian Horton invited me to take part in a teaching symposium next year bringing together a variety of illustrators from different disciplines, Ian Hague and the Comics Forum committee are putting together some kind of “official body” to formalise the social networks the conference has generated, and wants to include “informational” comics of the kind I’m working on in archaeology as part of what they will cover, and Bill Foster has promised introductions to some comics writers and artists with Caribbean backgrounds, which might suggest a “next step” as far as my Caribbean archaeology comics are concerned.

As with last year, a great conference: diverse, dynamic, full of interesting people buzzing with interesting ideas. A big thank-you to Ian, Carolene, Hattie, Emily and the rest of the Comics Forum team for organising such a great conference – almost can’t wait until next year!

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The journey to Hawaii starts here…

Just had my abstract for my poster presentation accepted for the 78th SAAs in Honolulu. It’s titled “Drawn Together” and will be about the field journal comic I’m doing of my season on Palau this summer. I’m really looking forward to getting started – here’s a first glimpse of the back-of-the-envelope rough sketch (well, back of a drinks tab from The Hand, actually).

And here’s the abstract and poster description in full:

Drawn Together: An illustrated archaeological field journal of a season’s excavations on Palau, Micronesia.


As an archeological illustrator, my work often becomes part of the public face of an excavation or survey project. But the context of that work – the creative and technical mechanics as well as the influences and decisions that shape the final images – is often entirely hidden.

Clarity about the process of knowledge-creation is an important component in shaping wider understanding of what archaeology is and how it works as a field practice. For funders, government bodies and the general public, this wider understanding can create a better appreciation of the challenges and needs of archaeological projects. For archaeology students – both undergraduate and postgraduate; those coming to fieldwork for the first time – this understanding can better prepare them as to the roles and expectations they can face.

In the summer of 2012, I spent six weeks as the site illustrator on an excavation project and field school on the islands of Palau in Micronesia. I kept a field journal in comic-book format which outlines the knowledge-creation process involved in my work. The format was chosen to be both highly accessible and specifically suited to record the visual nature of my work.

This illustrated journal will be used as part of the projects’ outreach package to funders, local government officials on Palau, and university administration. It will also be available to undergraduates interested in the project’s field school and postgraduates interested in pursuing research work on the islands.

The aim is to stimulate a different kind of feedback through use of a different kind of media, and encourage a different kind of relationship between the project and those whose participation ultimately helps to shape it.

Poster description:

The entire poster will be drawn in full-colour, comic format, echoing the style of the illustrated journal.

The poster will explain (as above) the methodological background to the journal, document the creation process both during the season and in post-excavation, and outline how this approach might well be suited to other projects. Finally, the poster will address some current questions on the use of narrative in archaeological illustration.

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Prince Leeboo, his father Idebul and his wife. Original engraving in the collection of the Belau National Museum. via pacificworlds.com

I found some rather rough photocopies of drawings of tattoos from Palau on the internet.

They appear to be Japanese, and from some sort of anthropological publication c. the 1920s or thereabouts. I couldn’t find any more bibliographical information and – not being able to read the Japanese notes on the photocopies (because I can’t read Japanese, not because the photocopy was too rough) – couldn’t find out any more about the drawings themselves. A few of the plates seem to have printed annotations in German, which suggests to me that this might be a later (?) Japanese edition of an original (?) German book.

Does anyone know where I should go to find out more about Palauan tattoos? Is it a traditional art that’s been preserved or curated on Palau? Does anyone still practice traditional tattooing?

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Orrak island – early morning.

Back now from six weeks’ excavation on Palau. It was a great island and great season. A bit of diving, a bit of snorkelling, a bit of yomping around islands with some great company, some memorable late-night parties – and yes, some great archaeology thrown in for good measure.

Now I’ve got about four months’ post-excavation work to do on all the Palau material – not least pulling Palau: An Archaeological Field Journal into shape. As I suspected, things got too busy during the season itself to do much more than sketch and make notes – but I did come back with almost three notebooks full of drawings full of material, and have started work organising it all into something coherent. My aim is to have a substantial portion of it complete by the time Comics Forum rolls around in November – complete enough to present some of the experience of doing the comic as part of a paper on archaeology and comics. I’ve also got a bundle of finds illustrations to ink in, plus a series of cutaway reconstructions on our site on the island of Orrak to finish for the Bureau of Arts and Culture.

Lots of stuff to get through – so this won’t be the last I post about Palau.

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