23 Nov

Never Lonely in Iran

As per my previous post, the following is an adapted extract from the story I wrote for A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone: Inspiring true tales from solo women travellers.  

Never Lonely in Iran
Always pack a spare top when heading out for the day in Iran. Today’s lesson, I thought, as I danced at the party. I was baked. My heavy beige long sleeved knee length shirt thing and five euro baggy Tesco trousers were not made for an occasion like this one. I looked at the brightly coloured tunics and the elegant dancing of the women around me, a rainbow of discarded headscarves on the rug. I felt decidedly frumpy. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Clothes to wear to a party hadn’t been on the list of items to squeeze into my rucksack.  Not for a solo trip through Iran and Central Asia. Torch – yes, medication – yes, toilet roll – yes. Nothing about packing for a party.

If they could see me now. With better clothes on, of course. They had reacted in pretty much the same way when I told them what I had planned:

‘Iran? Why?’
‘But, Iran? Alone?’
‘Ah jaysis.’ (My dad).

As I danced I wondered how I would be able to describe my experiences in Iran to everyone at home. How to tell them about party I was at. Do it justice. The food, the dancing, the laughing. How to put it into words. Words that wouldn’t sound hollow and meaningless. Words that would bring it as alive as I felt then, being part of that evening.  The way I had felt
so often in Iran. The people were oh so kind. So generous. Really lovely. Fascinating. So many stories. A sound bunch of lads. Great banter. Lots of laughs. The craic was mighty. You just had to be there. I knew that with every attempt at description, a part of it would be lost to me. The magic would be chiselled away.

‘Do Irish men dance like that?’ the woman beside me asked, bringing my mind back to the party.

I watched the men move gracefully and thought about parties at home. I pictured my male friends doing the ‘pointy finger dance,’ the ‘air guitar dance,’ or the ‘lepping about like an eejit dance.’

‘Em. Not really. I don’t think Irish men like dancing,’ I said.

‘Iranian men are emotional,’ she said, laughing. ‘I think that is why they like dancing like this.’

I showed her how Irish men dance. She laughed. I smiled. So what if this moment, gossiping about men with a new friend in Iran, couldn’t be captured. It didn’t matter. The moment was mine.

18 Nov

True Travel Tales by Women

I was asked to submit a piece to the pGuide to Travelublication A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone: Inspiring true tales from solo women travellers.

Editor Gemma Thompson was struck by the fact that so many of the books she packed, the travel narratives that accompanied her on the road, were written by men.  Feeling that she herself would have loved a female perspective she went ahead and put together this collection.   With stories by both professional and amateur writers, this on-the-road companion includes witty, inspiring, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable travel tales that have been written by women of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences.

I chose to write about visiting Iran.  I felt compelled to share a story of my experience in a country that was so at odds with so many of the perceptions people have.  The kindness of the people was never ending and the welcome I received was extraordinary.  The fashion stakes were high – I even received lessons in eye liner application from some young ladies on the train.  I was assured on a number of occasions ‘we are not like our government.’  Along with the fun, the make up and the parties, many of the women I met were very open about the difficulties they face, from the headscarves they have to wear to the difficulties of being anyway independent or living alone.  The story I chose to tell was of being at a party in Iran.  I enjoyed an evening of chatting, dancing and eating in a roomful of friendly people and hope to go back and do it all again some day.

Stay posted – I will include an extract from the story in a later post.




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.

12 Nov

War Comics – World War II

War comics at the time of World War II can be viewed as icons of nationhood, with Captain America (for example) starting out as a jingoistic wartime crusader against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  In the comics, America is represented as a peace-loving and the embodiment of freedom, as opposed to representations of Germany as aggressive, with any American who is not supportive of the war effort portrayed as corrupt and weak.  Similarly, Wonder Woman includes representations of America as the land of democracy and freedom, encouraging women to become involved in the war efforts and support their country.

The historical context of World War II saw a change in audience to include adults, which happened largely through the nationalist content.  This included shipping thousands of comic books to military personnel to raise morale through patriotic fever.  Captain America and Wonder Woman are not the only examples of comics or cartoons as a form of war propaganda, with comic book superheroes flooding the stands in the wake of Pearl Harbour.  The collective myths represented in the comics served to help shape collective responses, in this case to the war effort, and shape a sense of American identity.  Drawing on Anderson’s (1991) notion of the nation as an ‘imagined political community’ made possible by print capitalism, with media and literature playing a key role in bringing the nation into existence, the important role of these works is clear, with communities distinguished by the style in which they are imagined.   


As with war comics, political cartoons have traditionally had a central role in wartime propaganda, with wars being crucial moments in the creation of a national identity and media under pressure to not only support the war effort, but also to spread this support among the wider public.  Not only does the media propaganda serve to legitimise war efforts, it also plays an important role in the creation of an enemy.  As Marcuse (1971) explains ‘[l]anguage not only defines and damns the enemy, it also produces him; and this product does not represent the enemy as he really is, but rather how he must be in order to fulfill his function for the establishment.’  Similarly, Laswell  (1927) notes that one of the roles of propaganda is to mobilise hatred against the enemy.  Describing his role as a cartoonist during the Cold War, Smirnov (2012) writes: ‘the cartoonist’s job was to expose flaws, to criticize and to ridicule; like doctors we subjected society to a forensic diagnosis of its ills.  Our target, however, was not Soviet society, but the West and the USA, and our themes were grand ones such as war, pollution, military expenditure and civil rights.’  Likewise, the wartime comics became a key part of Allied propaganda machines.


Images from Mike Conroy’s War Comics.  A Graphic History.  (2009)