I was asked to submit a piece to the publication 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.
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.
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)
The 2014 Comics Forum takes place on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th November in Leeds. the theme revolves around violence with a number of interesting talks lined up. I will discuss the representation of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the graphic novel Troubled Souls (Ennis & McCrea, 1990).
Jordanian social activist, Suleiman Bakhit discusses fighting ISIS with comic books:
“Everything begins with a story…Narratives and myths give us a sense of purpose, they give us a compelling sense of direction in our lives.”
“There is a huge need for positive role models and positive narratives…We must develop a counter mythology based on healthy shame, based on personal narratives of love, and most importantly of male and female heroines.”
Read more on Wired
Awarded to those individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and promise to do more, the MacArthur Fellowship recognises the significance of Bechdel’s work which ‘is expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form in intricate narratives that explore the complexities of familial relationships.’
Watch her discuss her work here.
Some interesting comments from Dave Gibbons from today’s Guardian, where he discusses his new role as ‘comics laureate’ in the UK:
“[C]omics are a very vibrant art form in their own right … part of the continuum from novels through to movies and computer games.”
“They are very accessible. I think children naturally gravitate to their particular mix of brief words and exciting, interesting pictures. They can do everything from spin yarns of derring do to things which are very educational in the sense of history and science – virtually everything…”
“The sheer accessibility of the medium, the way in which complex information can be easily absorbed through its combination of words and pictures, actively encourages reading in those intimidated by endless blocks of cold print.”
Dave Gibbons has been appointed the first ‘comics laureate’ in the UK:
“It’s a great honour for me to be nominated as the first comics laureate. I intend to do all that I can to promote the acceptance of comics in schools. It’s vitally important, not only for the pupils but for the industry too.”
From The Guardian