Pretty much since I started going to Thought Bubble comic convention (so let’s put that to 2008-ish) I’ve always wanted to check out the Comics Forum. As someone who would constantly re-read Scot McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’ and would stay up late to watch reruns of documentaries like Comics Britannia, an event where you could sit and listen to people dig deep into comics sounded like heaven.
And now that I’ve finally been able to go?
From reinterpretations of masculinity to the graphic politics of nostalgia, the diversity in approaches and topics was pretty amazing. I found Julie Ann Monks‘ talk, ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ very insightful in the way that ‘La Siguanaba’ becomes an overt marker for the construction of the colonised feminine, and what happens when one crosses the socially demarcated boundaries of civilisation (whether by breaking codes of gender, race or colonial moralities).
Xiyuan Tan‘s talk on representation on ethnic minorities in Chinese comics sparked some great conversation about how different perceptions of a culture from external and internal sources can be depicted; actually the accompanying talk by Aanchal Vij, co-founder of The Same Page collective, Nicola Streeten and Sakshi Wason from the University of Delhi, on nostalgia and its impact on comic depictions of Partition highlighted the way our cultural associations with people from ‘another time’ (which applies both to people who did literally live before us and those who are contemporary but through signifiers such as traditional dress and music are associated with an older mode of life) are inherently nostalgic but the question about the material consequences remains, particularly as we’re living in an era where those very consequences of nostalgic national mythologies are playing out in disturbing and destructive ways.
On that note, I have to give a shout out to Ian Hornsby whose talk, ‘The Philosophy of J.H. Williams III’ took us all the way to critiquing our own complacent anxieties, looking at how our relationship with infinities is yet to be resolved, but needs to be addressed without relying on contrarian regressive posturing.
OK so, what are you a comics studies academic now?
Yes. Because aren’t we all, in some way…
Thanks to the ever surprisingly yet simultaneously predictable restrictive nature of our social networks, I had the good fortune of acting as consultant to the super cool Sara Kenney, currently a Wellcome fellow. We’re both interested in different ways of creating, sharing and embodying narratives, mine from a ‘decolonise all the design’ perspective and hers from a ‘lets get talking about serious topics in accessible ways’. Our workshop at the Comics Forum was an experiment in using the Design Jam approach to generating narratives – by encouraging people to share their stories around mental health, we would actually be going through the divergent path of the double diamond process.
The ensuing conversation occurs at the furthest point and then would theoretically bring us to a position where we would have to somehow embody the narratives we’ve created (by clustering and filtering, usually) to bring us back to a discrete thing we can then experiment with.
As an observer-participant, I thought it was great seeing how people actually started talking to each other, something that I am always fascinated by whenever I host a jam. Yes, I know we’re social animals but it’s still amazing what a bit of framing can accomplish.
Comics fascinate me because they offer so many modes of reading and are yet so accessible, even if only in a superficial sense. They achieve a balance between the ‘thick’ (in terms of data transmitted to the reader) and the ‘broad’ (in terms of scale and reach) which I don’t think any other media has.
It was great being amongst so many others with a similar interest in the work that the comic does, almost imperceptibly. It was such a friendly and welcoming space too – I can only congratulate on 10 years of such a great event and look forward to the next one!
Sounds great, wait what?
I got to make a clay sculpture. With my hands.