26 Feb

ISA 2015: Animating Anti Extremism

Last week I presented a paper at the International Studies Association’s 56th Annual Convention.  The event took place in New Orleans from 18-21 February, tying in nicely with Mardi Gras.

I presented a paper ‘Animating Anti Extremism’ as part of the panel: Aesthetic Visions of International Relations – Comics and the Comic.  The panel included papers on comics and geopolitics in the case of the Cheonan sinking (by David Shim); editorial cartoons in response to 9/11 (by David Mutimer); the link between cartoons and international relations, with the role of cartoons in South Africa discussed (by Peter Vale); and cartooning the Holocaust (by Alister Wedderburn).

The panel offered an interesting insight into various roles that cartoons, comics and animation can and do play in international relations.

Here is the abstract for my paper:

Comics, graphic novels and animation have become increasingly popular ways of depicting and disseminating interpretations of political violence, yet remain overlooked in international studies. Changes in cultural production have resulted in a shift of emphasis from text to the rising importance of images, while the visuality of terrorism underscores the important role of visual media in representing and interpreting political violence acts. The popularity and the increasingly didactic aim of many works is being recognised within a key policy area – Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). Counter-narrative is a major preoccupation within CVE, with billions of Euro earmarked for projects in the EU alone, coming as a direct response to the spread of jihadi narratives in different formats, including graphic imagery-based content. Taking the example of Abdullah- X, a series of animated shorts developed specifically with CVE aims, this paper explores the use of this form within a CVE framework. By analysing the work, investigating the context of its creation and locating it within the broader spectrum of comics/animations that have dealt with such issues, this paper investigates the ways in which this form is being used in the area of CVE.

04 Dec

PCWP 7.0

Popular Culture and World Politics 7.0, a mutidisciplinary conference seeking to explore the ways in which pop culture reflects, (re)imagines, and disturbs the production, consumption, interpretation, and understanding of the political world, took place in November at the University of Ottawa.  With panels on video games, art, movies and social media (among many others) a fascinating mixture of subjects were discussed.





The following is the abstract from the paper I presented at the conference:

Comics and Propaganda – Animated Responses to Extremist Messaging

Comics, graphic novels and animation have long been recognized for their power to inform and persuade.  Governments and political and extremist organisations from far right to extreme left have used these forms as propaganda to further their aims, yet they remained overlooked in international studies.  The increasingly sophisticated spread of extremist messaging, particularly jihadi narratives in different formats, has seen an increasing emphasis placed on counter-narrative within countering violent extremism (CVE) policy.  Animated works that seek to counter this messaging have been receiving attention.  Pakistani children’s series The Burka Avenger won a 2013 Peabody award for its positive messaging in providing a role model for young women, and for promoting ‘justice, peace and education for all.’  Similarly, The 99 has been recognized for its work in the creation of positive role models and story lines with superheroes born of Middle Eastern history, and Islamic archetypes that possess values shared by the entire world.  Abdullah X, a series of animated shorts, has been developed specifically with CVE aims in mind.  Taking the idea that narratives and identity are key to understandings of ourselves and our place in the world, this paper looks these works and the messages they contain, examining the role the animated form plays in countering extremist messaging, locating the research within the wider use of this form as a propaganda tool and form of soft power.





17 Nov

Comics Forum 2014

Comics Forum 2014 ran at Leeds Central Library (UK) on 13th & 14th November.  The theme of the conference was violence, which produced a wealth of interesting papers and plenty of food for thought.  Panels covered topics such as form, humour, war, gender and politics.comics forum

The key note speech by Professor Jane Chapman emphasised the important role of War Comics – from comic strips in the First World War trench publications to Wonder Woman and government funded comic books – and the important role they play in the study of both world wars.  Drawing on theorisations of John Berger and Susan Sontag, Professor Chapman outlined the approach taken to have such comics included as a primary source for the study of the past and have them included as part of the cultural record.  The project ‘Comics and the World Wars – a Cultural Record‘ suggests that we can learn a lot about the ‘reality’ of war through sequential art forms, in particular due to the form’s ability to allow ‘distortions’ to become a ‘truthful’ representation when ideas such as mentalité are considered.

As a first time presenter at this conference, I really enjoyed it.  Plenty of fantastic papers, food for thought and friendly people.  The panel at the end commented on the fact that the presenters this year came form a wide variety of academic backgrounds, which was occasionally challenging (in a good way, I hope!) and noted the lack of definition of violence throughout the conference, despite us discussing it for two days.  The issue of how much violence is appropriate/at what point do we become desensitized was also raised in closing comments – an issue that I don’t think will ever be answered.

Plenty of people did a great job tweeting proceedings: #comicsforum14

I presented a paper at the Politics panel.  Here is the abstract for my paper on the representation of “the Troubles” in Troubled Souls.

Animating “The Troubles”
Northern Ireland in Troubled Souls (1989)

Comics, graphic novels and animation have become increasingly popular ways of depicting and disseminating interpretations of political violence. Changes in cultural production have resulted in a shift of emphasis from text to the rising importance of images, while the visuality of war and terrorism underscores the important role of visual media in representing and interpreting these acts. This research looks at the portrayal of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland in graphic novel form, exploring how the medium, with the combination of verbal and visual elements, deals with issues surrounding historical representation and the depiction of traumatic world events. Troubled Souls by Garth Ennis and John McCrea (1989), considered the first graphic novel to deal with “the Troubles,” is analysed to explore the ways in which it represents a bloody and traumatic period of Irish history. By looking at this work, this paper highlights the effective way that the graphic novel form offers a nuanced interpretation of events, engaging readers and encouraging them to use their own cognitive skills to decode the story being told. As such, comic books and graphic novels potentially have a key role to play in contributing to understandings and interpretations of world events.

01 Sep

Inaugural VOX-Pol Conference – King’s College London

Last week I attended the inaugural VOX-Pol conference:

Violent Online Political Extremism: Setting a Research Agenda.


The conference, which took place at King’s College London (one of VOX-Pol’s partner institutes), featured a variety of panels with papers describing and discussing cutting-edge research on violent extremism and the Internet.  Keynote addresses were from Thomas Hegghammer and Manuela Caiani.

I presented a paper about the use of online animations as a form of counter-narrative.  The paper outlined my planned research, questioning the very idea of ‘counter-narratives’ and suggesting that there may be something in particular about the animated form that makes it particularly suitable for this type of messaging.  

VOX-Pol Presentation

Check out #voxpolconf for twitter updates from throughout the conference.