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.
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.