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.

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)

Abstract
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.   

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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.

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

28 Aug

Hello world!

Hello.  Welcome to my website.  The plan is to document my research here (and some other bits and pieces that might be related to it).  I am applying classic grounded theory methods to the study of cartoons and animations that depict and and disseminate interpretations of political violence, or seek to have an influence in this area.  Changes in cultural production have resulted in a shift of emphasis from text to the rising importance of images, while the visuality of terrorism itself underscores the important role of visual media in representing and interpreting political violence acts.  Comics, graphic novels and animation have long been recognized for their power to inform and persuade., with governments and political and extremist organisations from far right to extreme left having used these forms as propaganda to further their aims, yet they remained overlooked in international studies.