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Posts Tagged ‘Yap’

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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taro_1

Taro Plant – artwork for the Yap comic.

I’m on Yap – a small island in the Western Pacific, about 1,200 km north of Papua. It’s remote, although by no means the most remote of Pacific islands, and it has some really interesting archaeology. I’m here with a National Geographic-funded project, headed by Matt Napolitano from the University of Oregon. Matt and I have worked together previously several times on Palau (another Pacific island, not far away), on fieldschools and survey projects.

The Yap project is part of Matt’s PhD research – an investigation into the earliest settlements of Yap, sometime around 2,400 BP (maybe earlier). And I’m here to contribute to the public outreach for the project in the form of a comic.

The Yap comic will be slightly different from the other informational archaeology comics I’ve worked on in the past. For starters, it’s being done as a piece of reportage – that is: while I’m out in the field helping with the survey, I’m also documenting the daily process of the project and the results as they come in. I’ve done comics like this on a smaller scale in both Carriacou and Palau in previous years (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015). Those comics were published on a regular schedule throughout the season, but the Yap comic will be published in its entirety as a 20-odd page comic book. So while there will be no daily installments as there were on Palau and Carriacou, the whole progress of the four-week season will still frame and structure the narrative.

As a result, the drawing of the comic is to be done “live” – that is, out in public: on site, etc. The idea is to have both the recording and the presentation of the project take place within a working environment in which people can see the process now, as well as the product (ie: the comic) a bit later on. This presents something of a challenge on Yap, as there are few public venues where I can work – so I will have to try and find alternate ways to find visible working space.

And by “people”, of course, I mean not just the public audience here on Yap, but also the archaeologists taking part in the project. Their experiences in the field, their evolving interpretations, the way in which they adapt the daily progress of the project to new circumstances (weather, geology, etc.) is captured and included in the comic “in real time”, not as a post-facto report after the project is completed. While such engagement from the team will almost certainly not be “visible” in the reading of the completed comic per se, it certainly has already had an effect on how the team regard the whole enterprise of public outreach: as “present”, as ongoing, as the story of the shifting tides of archaeological process and interpretation – not simpy as something left to the end of the project and focusing on a sanctioned set of “results”.

This is an exciting project for me, as it starts to bring together several important strands that have emerged through my use of comics over the past ten years: not simply the use of the medium as a way to communicate information, but the potential of the creative process itself to add an additional layer of visibility and depth to that information.

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