Palimpsestic Tales: The drawings of ‘Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War’. How and why these comics came into being by Al Henderson

I am an outsider in the world of comic books. I don’t follow graphic novels, although like most people I have several on my bookshelves. My work as an artist has been with sculpture, not drawing. One of the joys in art are all of the unexpected paths it can open up. I couldn’t have known, for instance, that drawing and storytelling would become a central part of my first solo exhibition. These graphic stories differ in a number of ways from what may typically be thought of as graphic narratives or comics. In addition, I chose a graphic narrative form; it wasn’t a given. This, I think, makes my experience helpful in understanding how we communicate through pictures.

As early as 2006 I began to hear stories of the Canadians who were serving in Afghanistan. Over the next few years this became a big deal in my community. I was out of the army by then but these were my friends, people I had served with before becoming an artist more or less full time. Because of the war in Afghanistan they returned and departed on this new work schedule like slow motion commuters. Ours was a militia regiment, so in addition to being soldiers they were also postal workers, engineers, carpenters and the like.[1] They were deployed singularly or in small groups within larger regular army units resulting in a wide variety of encounters. Some of my friends experienced combat in ditches and alleys while others viewed Afghanistan from hundreds of feet in the air, amid the wreckage of a suicide bomb, or through the glow of a monitor’s screen. My conversations with them resulted in approximately twenty sculptures and drawings exhibited as Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War.[2]

Like most artists I’m inspired by what others have done but this can work in the reverse as well. What I wanted to produce were impressions of these experiences as visual art without any conscious moral lighting. I was, still am, convinced that journalism (as written, filmed or photographed) leaves open certain blind spots that only art, specifically visual art, can fill. So I was confident that there was legitimate space for this work in what was an already crowded subject. No photography or explanation would be a part of the displays, although a catalog was produced.[3]

The project began with the urge to share these experiences. My former comrades would have all this detail and a sense of how bizarre their time in Afghanistan was. What they told was always laid out in a very matter-of-fact manner. Conversations were informal, we would just be walking the dog or relaxing in the kitchen. To begin with I had no idea how to translate the stories. In some instances an image would develop and that moment would become a sculpture, a fixed state of being. But this approach couldn’t deal with all of the material I was handed.

I began to play around with just sketching out the narrative. I’d make cartoons over scribbled words relating the story as it unfolded, basically a storyboard. I was learning the stories but getting nowhere with them visually. At some point from under cups of coffee, piles of notes, maps, and souvenirs, the army’s translation pamphlets captured my attention.

These pamphlets aimed to bridge the gap between cultures. They were fold-out things resembling a cross between dangerous goods stickers and furniture assembly instructions. They laid out a kind of visual dictionary of militarily pertinent objects and situations. Shown a series of cartoons a local could simply point out a concept, say; a man/alone/with a beard/of average height/with a cell phone, and the ‘Ferengi‘ (western soldier) would comprehend. Obviously these could be conversations of great importance and getting it right mattered.

But translation is as complicated as culture. The pamphlets sort of worked. Little things, like dynamite (a red dowel with a wick and hash marks) which needed no explanation for young Canadians failed surprisingly with people not familiar with Bugs Bunny, television or, presumably, sticks of dynamite. A strip of male heads, in another example, showing a variety of hair styles led, I was told, to wasted moments of outrage and confusion.

“Who has cut all the heads off of these people?” “No, no these are just examples, please point to the ‘type‘ of head the man you saw had . . .”

It was this inability to understand, not only language but the larger culture itself, which drew me into the translation pamphlets as a form within which I could retell stories I was myself struggling to understand.[4] I’ll mention that for me a tale is somewhat removed and more open to distortion than a story. I was told stories and fashioned tales – this is an idiosyncratic distinction, I mention it here to avoid confusion.[5]

Now that I had a form to work with I set about scraping away what wasn’t a part of my developing imagery. Gone was the purpose of education, of persuading (with the promise of good intentions and good fortune). The size and shape would now be appropriate to an object of worth in its own right; the drawing would become a work of art, not a folded publication used as a job aide. Instructional sections would give way to a chronological narrative, made up not of general situations but distinct moments of time and place. The public addressed by the drawings would also change, so instead of depicting familiar scenes to people with other concerns these scenes would appear as foreign, being displayed now for someone looking for something to look at.

image 1: Light Horse Tales at the Douglas Udell Gallery

image 1: Light Horse Tales at the Douglas Udell Gallery

Rather than published comics the stories became prints, light jet prints mounted on aluminum. This is a fairly common medium in art galleries as is the practice of printing an edition of the same work. The largest of these editions contains 12 prints, so this was not a form of mass production or publication. Like an intaglio printed from a copper plate on a press these drawings would have no original. Drafted on a computer they were created through printing and must be seen in person, although there are small images of them in the catalog and online (the images accompanying this article for example).

With this new palimpsest I could begin telling a tale while at the same time drawing a drawing, or kind of drawing. Like the actual tablets and scrolls of some far off time, any previous form can be scraped clean to be recycled as something new. In art this recycling allows for a new take on a subject within an existing medium. Media contains its own meaning intrinsically and I made use of that. Parenthetically; these illustrated stories can be understood to have something to do with translation and comprehension because they are themselves in the form of an educational picture book in a foreign language. The materials and methods used to create the work effects how these stories will be ‘read’. The telling effects the tale.

I began learning the language; instructional pamphlets have their own rules. If I followed these rules I found that the resulting graphics looked remarkably similar to their seminal cartoons. These weren’t copies in whole or in part but depictions of a kind of graphic presentation. Pieces of existing translation pamphlets would not be collaged into a new story form. Instead, I co-opted the visual thinking that was behind the pamphlets. This distinction between reproducing and assuming the original does contain a difference in these drawings, which are concerned with how we remember as well as being tied to the particular event.

The anatomy of all things were simplified, smoothed over and held at a distance. Sometimes I would draw characters within a scene but often each thing floated apart from all the others like individual items in a catalog of memories (or picture dictionary). Afghan rugs with their crude representations of current events are similar in many ways to the language pamphlets and they became an influence as well.[6]

It really wasn’t my style of drawing so I had to learn the rules just as I had to learn to draw the letters and numbers of a language unknown to me for the text. I say draw because I was truly drawing each letter without any understanding of their meaning, which was researched and confirmed by others who did know. The whole process was quite alien and uncomfortable, like learning algebra in school, but it became more natural as the creative forgery progressed.

My work was checked, sometimes repeatedly, with the story tellers. I didn’t want a fiction but an accurate recreation of the event. That this is impossible was a given but working through memory and the limits of representation was at the heart of the work.

One of the soldiers I spoke to was Rob. His recollections, and critiques, were the most involved of all those interviewed. He was a member of the Canadian Battle Group, Task Force Orion, operating in the Panjwai district, South West of Kandahar in the spring of 2006. A typical exchange, while working on Rob’s Story, the most complicated of the narratives, would involve mistakes in chronology, and the wrong people doing things, in addition to the correction of small details in many of the scenes.

Rob’s story is a polyptych of four panels, 345 by 160 centimeters in total. It begins at a quotidian pace which is changed in a series of violent events before becoming calm again in a familiar signal that the tale is ending, but unlike most narratives this one is purposefully unintelligible as are the pamphlets that inspired it. There is a kind of plot which can generally be followed but it takes effort as the sparse text is in Pashto and the whole thing reads from right to left, as in Arabic script.

image 2: ‘Rob’s Story’, detail

image 2: ‘Rob’s Story’, detail

The events take place within a single day and revolve around the loss of an officer as she is wounded and later dies. A number of other recurring characters are also killed in the scenes or would be killed soon after so it was a very dark story for Rob to tell, myself to have drawn and for the viewers to take in. One of the more easily followed scenes, from the second panel, presents a soldier shooting a man while another dies at his feet. The battle writhes on with yet another casualty abandoned, along with his care giver, as the armies advance and recede in a succession of images similar to playing cards. Reading these tales takes some work as I don’t always give you want you want. What is gained in presenting Rob’s story in this way is a sense of the moment, what is lost is some detail and accuracy, but that’s the nature of translation and recollection.

Horrific images do occur in the drawings. Within popular culture there is a history of gruesome imagery as entertainment but there is something different, I think, in knowing that this did happen and these people suffered in the way that is shown. There certainly was a difference in my mind between making these images and watching the latest zombie movie with similar imagery.

I could have widened my sources, reading published accounts and interviewing more participants, but I wasn’t interested in journalism or history. I think this is why I have simply stuck with the titles of ‘so and so’s story’, as if to say “this is what happened and it happened to me”. One of the characteristic qualities of this group of work was the use of alternate national or individual perspectives. Perhaps most noticeably in Rob’s Story, the particular is emphasized (small and at times seemingly pointless visual details inhabit the drawings), giving the scenes the bizarre unexpected quality that I find true to life.

Shawn’s Story is a single print which centers on a life and death decision which Shawn, who was the ‘Sheriff’ for the forward operating base at Masum Ghar at the time, must make.[7] A man is brought to the gates through a battle at night. Badly wounded he needs more than can be given. Shown here are the bottom two scenes in which the dying man is presented to Shawn under an invented logo for FOB Masum Ghar (a baseball glove catching a rocket). The scene is arranged something like that of the Surrender of Breda, with soldiers, civilians and a cat all acting as witness.[8] In the final scene the dead man floats above his surviving friend who comes to the sheriff with open arms. What is expressed, who is the man, what was the fight all about? Again, the details are lost in my telling of the story.

image 3: ‘Shawn’s Story’, detail

image 3: ‘Shawn’s Story’, detail

Only four scenes tell the compressed story above which is a collection of icons, lifted from various places in and around the base. A backwards bullet proof glass logo, various company and squadron symbols, Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy) as stencilled graffiti, and a sheet metal design from a civilian water truck are just some of the visual items included. These would roughly correspond to the posters, traffic signs, and coffee mug designs of your own lived geography.

The last print I’ll talk about is Renee’s story which is a single image. Renee worked with a CIMIC (civilian military cooperation) team. Her special role became one of connection to the communities through local women. All of the artwork from this project can be seen as the spirit of a moment taking over some medium to become visible to us. Sculptures, souvenirs, comics are all taken over here for that purpose. Renee’s Story assumes the image of a giant coin.

image 4: ‘Renee’s Story’, detail

image 4: ‘Renee’s Story’, detail

In military Afghanistan metal coins were discouraged, instead silent cardboard gift certificates,‘Pogs’, were carried for purchases at the coffee shops and stores of the rear areas. In Renee’s Story, like the other prints, little is given to help negotiate the scene at first. But with a closer examination of the drawing, quite a bit about her situation and that place can be inferred from the stilted arrangement and postures of the participants to the fact that only the green clad people have guns. A special place is made for the Afghan translator in the scene between Renee and a very old Afghan woman, who enjoy a careful conversation under the watchful eyes of the men. What I especially like about this story is the view it gives me of the way in which people place themselves within group settings according to rank and affiliation.

Renee’s Story is more similar to the sculptures of Light Horse Tales in simply presenting the scene. Rob’s and Shawn’s Stories differ by containing time as an element. The capability of graphic narratives to represent something happening, not simply being, was what I needed. Comics roll out events, while at the same time producing distinct images that stick in the mind to remain, in some cases, as icons. And that pop culture, primary color attitude, which some comics own, set the tone perfectly against the backdrop of the much simpler contingent existence of life in rural Afghanistan. The process seems very rational and calculated written out like this, but it wasn’t. It was just a series of gut reactions, choosing what felt right as things developed.

In telling these true stories I chose to leave in my own lack of understanding, making that failure a part of each tale. Pictures combined with text as graphic narratives have a unique way of adding to our understanding of the events they depict. The way in which they do this can also make visible the frustrating lack of comprehension that we all have to live with.

This is a very close examination of a set of prints with more explanation than most people would want. But I hope it is a welcome addition to the conversation among those of us who have an interest in the how’s and why’s of the (comics) art. Comics, and graphic narratives more widely, offer a unique way of seeing our world. The ability to include time without motion allowed me to tell these stories while at the same time laying out a visual portrait of the two cultures involved. To do this Afghan rugs, military pamphlets, and personal recollections were all recast in a new form.

It was very gratifying when, at the opening of the last exhibition several months ago, a woman told me as she was leaving, “I’ve seen the news and read about it, but I never really understood what they went through over there until I saw this show”.

Al Henderson is an artist whose work ranges from the handheld to the monumental. A focus on individual representation is common to most of his work. This fall he will be teaching in the University of Alberta’s Sculpture Department and he is currently creating an artwork for the new Rogers Place Arena, Edmonton.  He has been making public art for the past 14 years.

[1] The South Alberta Light Horse Regiment

[2] Produced with the generous support of the: Alberta Foundation for the Arts, premiered at the Douglas Udell Gallery 2011, followed by the VAAA Gallery 2011, OAG 2015.

[3] Light Horse Tales of an Afghan War, 38 pages, colour. Available through The Douglas Udell Gallery,

[4] To be fair; I have to say that I was most interested in the points of miscommunication in these field situations. They were humorous and quirky to me but I don’t have any contempt for them. Translation pamphlets probably do work very well in many instances making them a valuable tool.

[5] Also note that the words ‘print’ and ‘drawing’ are, for the most part, interchangeable as you read this.

[6] Look here for examples of Afghan rugs.

[7] A ‘Sheriff’ in a FOB is appointed to oversee all aspects of security: searches, patrols, animal control, medical evacuations, gate security etc. They do not wear marijuana decorated stetsons, cowboy boots or tin stars, as depicted.

[8] The Surrender of Breda


1. ‘Shawn’s Story’, ‘Tank’, and ‘Rob’s Story’; at the Douglas Udell Gallery, Edmonton (2011). copyright Al Henderson

2. ‘Rob’s Story’, detail, ‘lightjet print on aluminum (2011). copyright Al Henderson

3. ‘Shawn’s Story’, detail, lightjet print on aluminum (2010). copyright Al Henderson

4. ‘Renee’s Story’, detail, lightjet print on aluminum (2011). copyright Al Henderson

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Posted by on 2015/07/22 in Guest Writers


A report on the BCCS Comics Day and Tea Party by Paul Fisher Davies

The British Consortium of Comics Scholars emerged from an initially nameless reading group founded in 2012, in which a group of scholars in the South-East, mostly engaged in part-time PhD studies, gathered to discuss graphic narrative theory every few weeks, circulating venues between Brighton University, Sussex University and Central St Martins. What we shared was an interest in the practical nature of comics creation, its station in the world of discourse; and most of us were pursuing practice-based PhDs, or we ourselves created comics as well as being scholars of the medium.

Nicola Streeten was a key driver in moving forward this first BCCS symposium, which sought to celebrate those two strands of our interests — scholarship and creation of comics — by structuring a day, Saturday 30 May 2015, which would progress from research-led in the morning, through to creator-led in the later afternoon, and which would bring together comics scholars and creators, as well as being open to interested members of the public. All attendees were encouraged to draw (and write, and photograph) their notes and reactions to the day, and pages were left blank in the programmes for this very purpose.

The morning was given over to a research sharing session with Professor Roger Sabin acting as respondent. Louisa Buck shared progress on her investigation into the use of the myth of Sisyphus in political cartoons, which in the practice part of her PhD would take shape as a ‘journal of Sisyphus’. The iconography has been used in political cartooning since the 19th century and has seen a resurgence with recent political challenges. Paddy Johnston, who helped co-organise the conference, presented on the negotiation of crediting of the work behind Jeff Smith’s Bone — in particular pointing to the crucial labour of Smith’s wife, subordinated somewhat in Smith’s thanks as enabling him to produce his ‘singular creative vision’. Co-operation, the work of teams and, as Roger Sabin pointed out, the groundwork of prior creators, all contribute to the production of graphic narrative, despite the push to view these works through an ‘auteur’ lens.

The concrete grounds which enable creation also concerned Louisa Parker, whose research explores the oral histories of women and raises the question Virginia Woolf asked of literature — of the need for the space and means for a woman to create. Parker’s PhD is also grounded in practice — the creation of a graphic narrative version of the women’s oral histories she uncovers. John Miers’ work similarly enacts his theory: his interest is in the groundedness of comics language in the use of embodied metaphor, the theory amongst cognitive linguists, prominently Lakoff and Johnson, that language is deeply seated in metaphor deriving from the human experience of embodiment in a physical world. (For example, the metaphor used there: ‘deeply seated’!) His practical work explores visual metaphor in comics, under the working title ‘Starts Out Vague’. The work I presented similarly makes use of theory from linguistics to explore visual communication, adopting categories from MAK Halliday to map out the variety of ways in which comics creators can attempt to render the ‘verb’ in comics — to draw what happens in a narrative, rather than simply what is, and to render a range of process types including the mental and the relational — using images to describe and identify as well as to show material action. Ending this morning session, Pen Mendonça shared her graphic narrative work, derived like Louisa Parker’s from oral reports of women’s experience, though in this case the specific experience of single motherhood, as discovered through direct interview. This cast comics as a form of ‘graphic facilitation’, where the drawings, and their use as a medium for communicating experience, formed the focal point around which the nature of that experience could be opened up for discussion.

The day proper started in the dark and cool environment of a Moroccan Tent set up in the grounds of Sussex University, offering welcome cool on the bright May afternoon. Professor Sabin again led discussion, this time of a trip members had taken earlier in the year to the French comics festival at Angoulème, to share with the newly arrived crowd of creators, scholars and the interested public on the nature of that famous festival as against comic-cons in the anglophone tradition, or symposia as conducted in comics studies in the UK. The dominance of publishers there was striking, rather than commentators and even creators; and the heavy gendering of the products on display drew comment, in particular the (male) creators rendering for fans naked (female) figures — with very few female creators. The question was raised how to redress this imbalance — reflected also in the UK and US in the predominance of male nominees for Eisner awards, for instance. Most of the crowd supported a women-only prize, reflecting some literary awards; but there were dissenting voices: only one person can win a prize, and calls were heard from the creators in the audience for more funding on which many could draw. On the whole, though, the richness and quality of what was available in the European market was seen as something to emulate and even exceed; there was some call for more translation of Bande Dessinée into English to help expand the scope of what can be done and read in graphic narrative.

© Paul Davies. Used with the permission of the participants in the drawing.

© Paul Fisher Davies. Used with the permission of the participants in the drawing.

The first formal panel in the afternoon moved to the more traditionally academic environs of the lecture theatre, though the work discussed by the scholarly guests took a decidedly practical slant. Professor Will Brooker took the opportunity to launch the Kickstarter campaign for his comics project My So-Called Secret Identity — having noticed the lack of role models for teenage girl consumers of comics, he decided to create rather than criticise. Dr Matt Green has been working on practical projects, notably HOAX in collaboration with Ravi Thornton, and proposed that comics might ‘beat the buttockheads’ who limit them (borrowing an image from Steven Appleby) by exploiting intertextuality, dialogue and outreach, and the inspiration comics can give.

Janette Paris said she felt a little out of place amongst the scholars, but she too is using her comics for practical effect, bringing art and life together through, for example, her comic Arch, based on the residents of a care home for the elderly in Archway. The humour of her work went down very well with the audience, and it embodied the sort of outreach called for by Dr Green. Finally, and also in the spirit of reaching out beyond the gated walls of comics academia, Dr Ernesto Priego stressed the virtues of open access journals and the wider dissemination of research conducted in universities and paid for by the public — yet inaccessible to them, due to the current model of publication by private companies and made available at a price directly, or via institutional subscriptions. There are problems with the move to open access — notably, the requirement for scholars to pay-to-publish — but with changes in the way universities distribute their money, the books can be balanced and the work more widely distributed. Priego’s own open access journal, The Comics Grid, started as a blog and is now a peer-reviewed journal.

The closing session turned to focus on artists and creators, though the concerns reflected those of the scholars: life experience, particularly those of women involved in politics and in motherhood, and questions of expressing identity and distributing ideas. Sofia Niazi’s focus is on internet culture and the crossover between internet video and comics communication; Sussex alum Kate Evans spoke of her progress through the personal and the political, with comics on motherhood, political protest, political biography and climate change. Rachael House opened proceedings by ‘queering the space’ with cutouts of Joan Jett — an act of humorous creativity which reflected her efforts to make comics that would communicate her ‘bi experience’ without falling into ‘self-loathing’; Kate Evans had also asked the question ‘how do you make [political activism] funny?’

Greenham Common, the site of the women’s resistance movement protesting against nuclear armaments from the 1980s, was a memory and an experience that had emerged in many of the pieces discussed, created and researched, and Annie Lawson spoke of her experiences there distributing phone trees and zines. The audience responded to the challenges she spoke of in carving out a paying career in comics creation; there was an audible gasp when she spoke of her role as an ‘in-house cartoonist’. Internet-age distribution and dissemination channels again came up: Lawson’s current work Mad, Bad and You May Not Want to Know is the sort of high-quality production that can be self-published via print-on-demand now. Steven Appleby rounded off the presentations with a discussion of how comics enabled him to express his own experiences — in particular, to enact his own wide range of obsessions, including assembling things, mapping places (and concepts), transvestism, and rubber gloves.

But at the end of the day, this was a symposium not just about comics but about cake. Sarah Lightman, famed for her cakes at Laydeez Do Comics meetings in London, was kind enough to bake a pair of wonderful BCCS-themed cakes for our consumption, in one’s choice of sweet and sticky fruity varieties. Like the symposium, however, though these delicacies were pleasurable and fulfilling, they hid at their bottom a message: Sarah had fiendishly baked the cakes on a base of rice paper inscribed with feminist texts. Without knowing it, we all had eaten feminism. And a nourishing and delicious experience it was.

Tweets from the conference can be found at the Storify page compiled by Ernesto Priego here:

These include a number of images from the conference, but BCCS are looking for more: please send to — deadline for submissions is 31 July 2015.

If you’re a comics scholar and you’d like to join the mailing list and take part in one of the theory discussion meetings, drop a message to that address or visit the Facebook page:

Paul F. Davies is undertaking Ph.D. research in graphic narrative theory in the school of English at University of Sussex. He teaches English Language and Literature at Sussex Downs College in Eastbourne. As well as studying comics form, he has written a collection of graphic short stories which can be previewed at

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Posted by on 2015/07/17 in Guest Writers


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Manga Studies #9: Studying Garo, the magazine by Léopold Dahan

The monthly manga magazine Garo (published by Seirindō 1964–2002) has gained a certain visibility outside of Japan throughout the past few years: more and more of its authors have been translated and recognized, exhibitions are being held [1] and articles released, even in non-specialized magazines.[2] While Garo authors and their work attract increasing attention outside of Japan, the magazine itself doesn’t seem to be a popular topic within manga studies despite – or precisely because of – its link to the so-called “alternative manga” (Asagawa 2015), the 1960s counterculture, the rise of a new readership and its role as an aesthetic forerunner during its first decade of existence. Bearing this in mind, this column will try to give an overview of the sources currently available on the magazine itself, identify those which can be used as proper academic references and demonstrate the possibilities afforded by studying the magazine itself, going beyond the focus on its authors.

As one begins to make preparatory research on Garo, the first thing that becomes evident is, aside from a few anthologies or anniversary publications,[3] there is a lack of books dedicated to the magazine itself, whether in Japanese or Western languages. There does not even exist a contextualization of the magazine within postwar manga culture. So, where to begin studying the magazine itself? Apparently, by consulting non-Japanese sources. Béatrice Maréchal was one of the first to have taken an academic approach to Garo and several of its representative authors. Her article “Garo, magazine rebelle” published in Angoulême’s magazine 9e Art (2004) and her essay on one of the most well-known Garo authors, Tsuge Yoshiharu,[4] in a special issue of The Comics Journal (2005) were pioneering works in which she compared the Garo authors to the watakushi shōsetsu (“I-Novel”) of modern Japanese literature. Maréchal has not produced academic work since shortly after the defence of her PhD thesis, “Myself as in oneself: narrating the self in comics – The Japanese founders” in 2005, but Ryan Holmberg, an art historian, who chose Garo for his PhD (2007), is still writing about related issues, for example in his column for The Comics Journal Online, “What was alternative manga?”. Another non-Japanese researcher worthy of note is anthropologist Tom Gill. Due to his professional interest in outsiders in Japanese society, he has published a number of meticulously researched essays on Garo authors, especially Tsuge Yoshiharu, following in Maréchal’s footsteps (Gill 2011a, 2011b, 2014). The work of these three critics provides a good jumping-off point for academic endeavors, but there also exist a limited number of Japanese publications.

The keyword “Garo” only shows three results in the Japanese Society for Studies on Cartoons and Comics (Kani, 2009, 2011; Shimamura, 2013). Furthermore, these articles are not about Garo itself, but rather Garo-related authors. Apart from these, most texts on Garo in Japanese are prefaces, afterwords, paragraphs or small chapters in manga histories. In a nutshell, the magazine is almost always presented as follows: Created by editor Nagai Katsuichi and artist Shirato Sanpei as a publication site for the latter’s new long-running series Kamui-den (1964-1971), Garo’s non-commercial approach and unconstrained editorial policy provided the breeding-ground for numerous highly original manga artists (such as the frequently cited Tsuge Yoshiharu), giving rise to a new manga readership, university students. Such writings are usually historical and synoptic (Kure 1997 [1986]: 150-176; Takeuchi 1995: 104-120; Ishiko 1988: 342-350; Yoshimura 2008: 131-134), although approaches that emphasise the 1960s and the 70s are also available (Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 126 -127; Tsurumi 1987, 1991: 63-70; Takano 2002; Sakurai 2015: 188-197). Sakurai’s recent book, for example, is well informed, which makes it a reliable reference to anyone studying post-war manga, kashihon [rental comics] and gekiga. The only available volumes exclusively dedicated to Garo are based on accounts from contributors (Nagai et al. 1984; Aihara et al. 1991; Gondo 1993). Garo Mandala by Aihara et al. contains a very valuable list of all the authors, essayists included, and their publications by date from the first issue to June 1991. This exhaustive list was created on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the magazine (Ono & Shimizu 2014), but the essays that are included in the same book are mainly personal impressions and subjective accounts, as has been  characteristic of manga criticism in Japan (Berndt 2014).

Whereas literature dedicated to Garo, the magazine, is scarce in Japanese, this is not the case for Garo-related authors of the “first decade”, namely Shirato Sanpei, Mizuki Shigeru, Takita Yū, Sasaki Maki, and Tsuge Yoshiharu. All have at least one book dedicated to them, which inevitably touches on the magazine in part. Sometimes such publications contain original approaches, as for example the biography of Takita Yū by Menjō (2006). To my knowledge, Menjō, an art school professor specializing in “entertaining” or popular literature, is the first to suggest a realistic print-run number for Garo’s Golden Age of around 50,000 copies (2006: 174). This significantly deviates from the inflated 80,000 copies proposed by Nagai in his autobiography, which number has subsequently been reused in even the most reliable materials (Maréchal 2004; Holmberg 2010; Leblanc 2013). The abundance of publications on Garo authors is somewhat surprising as authorism is more developed in American and European approaches to manga than in Japan. Here, Garo occupies a very special position: in contrast to other kinds of manga, it hasn’t yet been approached from the angle of Media Studies, which is typically the preeminent tendency in Japanese manga discourse. That is to say, an approach to Garo as a “media in the sense of a set of practices which interrelate artists, editors and readers, and are tied but not limited to technical medium and the cultural industry” (Berndt 2014) is still virgin territory, even though Media Studies could be the most promising way to approach the magazine, leading to a redefinition of its position in post-war manga on fresh ground. For example, ties between the editor, the artists and the readers can be observed in the readers’ column. Often sharply critical, letters gave an influential feedback to the authors (being, for example, one of the reasons why Tsuge stopped drawing new stories for two years[5]). Examination of the magazine also reveals that Garo aimed at a readership evolution from kids to students, which can be considered as an early sign of the forthcoming rise of seinen [youth] manga from the 1970s onwards. Regarding the cultural industry it is interesting to note that Garo and Garo-related authors have created bridges and crossovers to other media, especially within the counterculture: Shirato’s manga Ninja Bugeichō was adapted by director Ōshima Nagisa into an animation-like film, Hayashi Seiichi created posters for underground theater troupes and musicians; and Mangashugi (Manga-ism), the first magazine dedicated to manga criticism (although resembling a dōjinshi [fanzine] in terms of diffusion) was motivated mainly by a desire to write about Garo authors.

Against this backdrop, the question remains as to why Garo and its authors aren’t subjected to the familiar Media Studies approach. It may be a simple lack of interest, or possibly a symptom of the fact that non-commercial manga aren’t “manga” enough for Manga Studies. Some authors actually exclude Garo from manga history. Frederick Schodt, for example, mentions Garo only once in his seminal monograph Manga! Manga! Manga: The World of Japanese Comics – “Garo a now-famous comic magazine that has often featured non-conformist artists” (1983: 150) – and he does not include it in the index. His use of the past tense in this reference speaks for itself. In 1983, the year when his book first appeared, Garo’s Golden Age was already over, and the magazine itself looked back on its past: Nagai’s autobiography was published in 1982 and the first Garo anthology in 1984, establishing the magazine as patrimony. If Garo played an important role, it is likely to have been during the first decade of its existence (Holmberg 2010). This was also pointed out by Paul Gravett, whose richly illustrated book Manga, 60 years of Japanese Comics is unfortunately one example of a superficial and non-critical approach to manga in general and to Garo in particular. It contains a number of factual errors, for example: Tsuge started working for Garo in 1965, but not as an assistant to Mizuki (Gravett 2004: 132); Sasaki Maki is not a woman (Gravett 2004: 139), and Garo is not likely to have reached its highest circulation in 1971 (although this is subject to debate[6]). Gravett is not unusual in making these mistakes; Petersen, for example, misspells Tsuge Yoshiharu’s name as Tsuge Yoshiharo (2002: 179).

The recently published Comics, a Global History is also problematic. It devotes one chapter to “Garo and Alternative Manga” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 79-87) for the sake of completeness, but this chapter doesn’t contain anything new and doesn’t specify the meaning of “alternative” either. The dichotomous scheme between “alternative” and “mainstream” is far more nuanced in Japan than it is in Europe and America, where those two notions are often regarded as mutually exclusive. With respect to Garo, it is noteworthy that Mizuki was publishing in a mainstream magazine released by publisher Shōgakukan when drawing for Garo, while Shirato was working for the commercial publisher Kōbunsha. The notion of “alternative” in relation to manga, along with a detailed examination of the non-Japanese discourse of “alternative manga”, would be a rewarding research subject. The huge gap between Japanese-language discourse and the rest of the world in regard to the notion of “alternative” in general and Garo in particular is also evident in the case of Tatsumi Yoshihiro. He contributed to the magazine at a rather late point in time and contributed relatively little – around six short stories a year from February 1970 to January 1975. While outside of Japan he is appreciated as the “godfather of gekiga” and reviewed in the mainstream press, in Japan he is not widely known. Ironically, his death was first announced on Paul Gravett’s website and well relayed (for example, on the homepage of the digital edition of the French daily journal Le Monde), but the information was not confirmed in Japanese sources until a few days later, and even then did not make the front pages. Another example of reverse-importing is manga monthly Ax’s April 2015 issue which commemorates Tatsumi. It includes an article by Asakawa, but not a newly written one; it was initially published in 2005 on the request from the Korean comics magazine, Sai Comics, before finally becoming available in Japanese ten years later (Asakawa 2015).

It is also interesting to note the different approaches taken in non-Japanese writings on Garo, and to consider the potential cross-cutting approaches they contain. In Jean-Marie Bouissou’s Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics, one of the mostly widely referenced books on manga in French, Garo is quoted in the part on manga history, but not in the one on the 1960s, as one might expect. Under the title “From Apogee to Decline: 1990-” (Bouissou, 2010: 119-120), Garo is introduced as a representative of a “second sector” that as of now has disappeared, but that previously revitalized the mainstream manga scene, i.e. the “first sector”. This approach – in addition to the fact that Garo refused the buyout offer by Shōgakukan in 1967, which eventually led to the launch of the commercial seinen magazine Big Comics (Nagai 1982: 239-243) – suggests a meaningful starting point for Garo studies: the industy’s past may help enlighten its present. Bouissou touches also briefly on Garo author Tsuge in the very last section of his book, called “So many genres”, indirectly referencing Maréchal when he calls him a creator of “watakushi manga” (I-comics): “Tsuge is the creator of a genre that didn’t appear in American comics before the late seventies, when it was named the graphic novel.” (Bouissou 2010: 353). A question remains a to the extent to which Tsuge can pass as the originator of autobiographical comics, and this presents another interesting lead. It is noteworthy that Kure Tomofusa, a well-known Japanese critic, omits Tsuge in his comprehensive monograph, in the part is dedicated to manga artists, though admittedly he does write about Mizuki and Shirato (Kure 1997 [1986]: 231-238).

Thus, due to the lack of solid references and clear conceptions, the academic literature about Garo remains incomplete. Rather than simply regretting this current state, we can actually try to draw conclusions from it. One is that the necessary groundwork it is yet to be done. A key element for understanding the birth, rise and influence of Garo magazine and to define its “alternative” identity, is the need to dig out its roots in kashihon manga (rental comics) and gekiga. For instance, the three original “pillars” of the magazine – Shirato, Mizuki and Tsuge, as well as the editor, Nagai, were actually kashihon manga veterans. Solid knowledge of the kashihon manga market and its authors is vital for the study of Garo, as is kamishibai (paper theater) (Tsurumi, 1991: 63-70). Fortunately, there are a lot of materials on kashihon manga in Japanese (which is also paradoxical, given the scarcity of the primary sources), and this field of studies seems to be particularly vivid, as indicated by the productivity of research groups such as Kashihon manga Kenkyūkai. The latter’s papers often deal with gekiga and other early “alternative manga,” executing a certain academic meticulousness. Kashihon manga and gekiga authors prepared the ground for Garo’s birth, and their influence is an indispensable part of Garo’s DNA. Early gekiga were created for rental libraries, and although they tried to get rid of humor and lightness in tone, they were still destined for kids. Nagai was a kashihon manga editor before launching Garo, and this is likely the reason why “junior magazine” is written on the cover of the first 20 issues of the magazine. In the beginning, Garo had clear educational goals, coupled with antiwar orientations and government criticism. This highly interesting fact is rarely mentioned, except by Ryan Holmberg (2010) and Claude Leblanc (2013). This leads us to the issue of access to the material. For the main part, the literature on Garo (at least in Western languages) is based on preexisting essays and not on primary sources. This partly explains the similarities and the reiteration of clichés.

As demonstrated above, currently available sources on Garo are not scarce, but nevertheless they do not meet the requirements of academic research, which might be inevitable given that these are often written by critics rather than trained academics, and if by academics, then not by manga specialists. Although there is plenty of literature dedicated to Garo authors in Japanese, the magazine’s role, place, and legacy is yet to be discussed. At the same time, the role of Garo seems to be overrated outside Japan: it is often oversimplified as an influential “avant-garde alternative” magazine. This column is a call for deconstruction, an invitation to reconsider and rewrite Garo’s history from the start, including background studies on kashihon manga and gekiga, and considering the industry of the mainstream manga magazines, since the birth of the magazine was the result of a long genesis and its rise closely linked to the socio-cultural context of the 60s and 70s. It goes without saying that access to the primary source, the magazine itself, is imperative if anyone is to confirm, or deny, that “Garo represented the first true, concerted movement toward comics as a medium of personal expression and creative freedom anywhere in the world” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 16).

Work Cited

Aihara, Koji et al., 1991. Garo Mandara [Garo Mandala], Tokyo: Tbs-Britannica.

Asakawa, Mitsuhiro, 2015. Tatsumi Yoshihiro to nihon no shoki orutanatibu manga shīn [Tatsumi Yoshihiro and the beginning of the Japanese alternative manga scene], in Ax, vol. 104, pp. 23-32.

Berndt, Jaqueline, 2014. “Manga Studies #1: Introduction,” in Comics Forum, web:

Bouissou, Jean-Marie, 2010. Manga, histoire et univers de la bande dessinée japonaise [Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics], Arles: Philippe Piquier

Ishiko, Jun, 1988. Nihon mangashi [History of Japanese comics], Tokyo: Gendai kyōyō bunko.

Ishiko, Junzō, 1994 [1975], Sengo mangashi nōto [Notes on postwar manga history], Tokyo: Kinokuniya shoten.

Gill, Tom.

——2011a. “The Incident at Nishibeta Village: A Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge from the Garo Years”, in International Journal of Comic Art, vol. 13, spring, pp. 475-489.

——2011b. “Fetuses in the Sewer”, web:

——2014. “‘Chiko,’ ‘A View of the Seaside,’ and ‘Mister Ben of the Igloo’: Visual and Verbal Narrative Technique in Three Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge”, web:

Gondō, Susumu, 1993. Garo o kizuita hitobito [Those who built Garo], Tokyo: Holp Shuppan

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. London: Laurence King Publishing

Holmberg, Ryan.

——2007. Paper megaphone: “Garo” manga, 1964—1971, PhD thesis, Yale University.

——2010. Garo Manga: The First Decade 1964-1973,, New York: Center for Book Arts.

Kani, Yōsuke.

——2009. “Sasaki Maki o meguru gensetsu” [An analysis of discourse concerning Maki Sasaki], in Manga Kenkyū, no. 15, pp. 28-53.

——2011. “Garo jidai no Tsuge Yoshiharu – Mangashugi o chūshin to shita dōjidai gensetsu no bunseki” [Tsuge Yoshiharu in the days of Garo: an analysis of contemporary discourse on the example of the magazine Mangashugi], in Manga Kenkyū, vol. 17, pp. 8-33.

Kure, Tomofusa 1997 [1986]. Gendai manga no zentaizō [Overview of contemporary manga], Tokyo: Futaba bunko.

Leblanc, Claude, 2013. Garo 1964-1974: Une histoire dans l’histoire [Garo 1964-1974, A History inside History], held from 22 March to 25 March 2013, Paris. Re-used in ManGaro/Heta-Uma exhibition, 17 October 2014 to 1st March 2015, Marseille.

Maréchal, Béatrice.

——1999. “Les paysages de Tsuge Yoshiharu” [Tsuge Yoshiharu’s landscapes], in Daruma, vol. 5, Arles: Philippe Picquier.

—— 2004. “Garo, magazine rebelle [Garo, rebellious magazine], in 9e Art, no 10, Centre national de la bande dessinée et de l’image, pp. 48-53.

—— 2005. “On Top of the Mountain: The Influential Manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge,” in The Comics Journal Special Edition, vol. 5, pp. 22–28.

——2005. Moi tel qu’en soi-même : le moi narratif dans la bande-dessinée : les fondateurs japonais [Myself as in onself : narrating the self in comics : the Japanese founders], PhD thesis (Linguistic sciences), EHESS, Paris.

Mazure, Dan & Alexander Danner, 2014. Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present, London: Thames & Hudson.

Menjō, Tsuyoshi, 2006. Nukeraremasu ka: Watakushi mangaka, Takita Yū [Can you get out? Takita Yū, mangaka of the self], Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha.

Nagai, Katsuichi.

——1982. Garo henshūchō [Garo’s Editor-in-Chief], Tokyo: Chikuma Books.

——et al., 1984. Garo Nijūnenshi mokusei morutaru no oūkoku [Garo, 20years history of the Kingdom of the Wood Mortar], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Odaira, Namihei, ed., 2014. “Manga, la révolution Garo” [Manga, Garo’s revolution], in Zoom Japan, vol. 43, Ilyfunet: Paris, web:

Ono, Kōsei & Masashi Shimizu, 2014. Garo to iu jidai [The time of Garo], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Petersen, Robert S., 2002. Comics, manga, and graphic novels, Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Sakurai, Tetsuya, 2015. Haikyo no zankyō, sengo manga no genzō [Echoes from the ruins, in pursuit of the origins of Japanese postwar manga], Tokyo: NTT.

Schodt, Frederick, (1988) [1983]. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics, New York: Kodansha International.

Shimamura, Masari. 2013. “Heta” na wake – Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, renzoku to danzetsu” [“Heta” na wake, Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, Continuity and rupture], in Sankakuboshi, vol. 2, Gakushūin University, Tokyo, n.pag.

Shirato, Sanpei et al., 2012. Garo/COM 1964-1970, Tokyo: Kōdansha.

Takano, Shinzō, 2002. Tsuge Yoshiharu 1968, Tokyo: Chikuma bunko.

Takeuchi, Osamu, 1995. Sengo Manga gojūnen-shi [50 Years of Post-war Manga History], Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

Tsuge Yoshiharu, 2000. Nejishiki Tsuge Yoshiharu sakuhinshū [Screw-style: anthology of Tsuge Yoshiharu works], Tokyo: Seirinkōgeisha.

Tsurumi, Shunsuke.

—— 1987. Cultural History of Postwar Japan, Londres: Routledge.

—— 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite [As a Reader of Manga], Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

Yoshimura, Kazuma, ed., 2008. Manga no kyōkasho [Manga’s Course Book], Kyoto: Rinsen shoten.

[1] Holmberg, 2010; Leblanc, 2013, 2014.

[2] See for example Odaira, 2014.

[3] All in Japanese. See for example Nagai,, 1984; Gondō, 1993; Shirato,, 2012; Ono & Shimizu, 2014.

[4] Japanese names in this essay are presented in the Japanese style: Surname first, given name last.

[5] Tsuge, 2000 : 446

[6] Nagai claims that Garo circulation first reached 80000 copies by the end of 1966 (Nagai, 1982: 236).

Léopold Dahan is a research student at Kyoto Seika University, Japan. He earned his M.A.s at Paris Diderot University in France in Japan Studies. His researches are dedicated to “alternative” and avant-garde in relation to manga, and comic’s media specific narration possibilities, focusing on the 50’s-70. He also translate manga and write for the French comics magazine KABOOM

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Posted by on 2015/07/13 in Manga Studies


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News Review: June 2015




There is a call for contributions to the collection, New manga, Manfra, Franga: Varied and Reciprocal Influences between Manga and “BD”. Proposals are due by the 10th October. Link (25/06/2015, English, WG)

United States


There is a call for papers for a book on Mad magazine, which is seeking scholarly examinations of the magazine, its humour, its artists, its cultural and political impact, and its influence. Proposals are due by the 15th September. Link (English, WG)

There is a call for papers for an edited collection on the comics of Julie Doucet and Gabrielle Bell. Proposals are due by the 15th August. Link (14/06/2015, English, WG)

Postcolonial Comics: Texts, Events, Identities, edited by Binita Mehta, and Pia Mukherji, has been published through Routledge. Link (English, WG)

There is a call for papers for a collection entitled, Sacred Texts and Comics: Religion, Faith, and Graphic Narratives. Proposals are due by the 21st August. Link (26/06/2015, English, WG)




The Hagio Moto exhibition, “Silver Ship & Blue Sea”, is running until the 14th July at Kyoto International Manga Museum. Hagio is among the most prominent of the “Magnificent 49’ers”, a shojo manga artist group that emerged in the 1970s. During this exhibition, 26 original art works are on display. Link (English, JBS)

The exhibition “Manga and War”, at Kyoto International Manga Museum, runs until the 6th September, and covers six themes, including the “atomic bomb”, “Manchurai”, and more. Link (English, JBS)

Until the 10th October, Yonezawa Yonehiro Memorial Library is showing the “Akatsuka Characters — The Secrets of Their Birth”. Akatsuka Fujio, while lesser known overseas than Tezuka, is one of the “Gods of Manga”. Link (Japanese, JBS)




A book on comic collectors by Alex Jakubowski and Sandra Mann was published. Link (German, MdlI)



An original Tintin illustration dating from 1938 has sold at auction in Brussels for €380,000 euros. The illustration was a cover illustration for the pre-publication of King Ottakar’s Sceptre in Le Petit Vingtième; it was originally valued at 400-450,000 euros. Link (30/06/2015, French, LTa)

A Dutch court has ruled that Moulinsart, the company which manages the publishing and licensing of Tintin, does not own all Tintin copyright. Moulinsart are known for aggressively pursuing any unlicensed use of Tintin imagery. The case hinges on a 1942 document that shows Hergé gave all rights to Tintin publisher Casterman. Moulinsart are appealing. Link (English, LTa)



A comics exhibition titled “Gestrandet & verwurzelt” was shown in Munich until the 16th June as part of Munich Comic Festival. Link (05/06/2015, German, MdlI)

During Munich Comic Festival, the Peng! comic awards went to Roy Thomas, Jirō Taniguchi, David Füleki, and Barbara Yelin, among others. Link (09/06/2015, English, MdlI)

The anime and manga convention, Animagic, is going to take place in Bonn from the 31st July until the 2nd August; guests include Christina Plaka, Tetsuya Tsutsui, and Nobuhiro Watsuki. Link (German, MdlI)

The Christoph Martin Wieland translator award goes to Ulrich Pröfrock for his translation of Quai d’Orsay by Christophe Blains and Abel Lanzac. Link (11/06/2015, German, MdlI)

An exhibition of cartoons and comics by Ralph Ruthe, Joscha Sauer and Flix is going to be shown in Oberhausen from the 19th June 2015 until the 17th January 2016. Link (22/06/2015, German, MdlI)


Alexander Dunst gave a talk on “reading comics” in Göttingen on the 11th June. Link (German, MdlI)

An interview with Alexander Dunst about his research group “hybrid narrativity” at Paderborn and Potsdam has been published at Dreimalalles. Link (10/06/2015, German, MdlI)

A recording of the panel discussion on comics research at Munich Comic Festival from the 7th June is available. Link (18/06/2015, German, MdlI)

The proceedings of last year’s conference on comic translation and adaptation in Hildesheim have been published as a book. Link (German, MdlI)

A conference on storyboards took place in Berlin on the 3rd and 4th July. Link (29/06/2015, German, MdlI)



The exhibition, “Holocaust in Comic Books”, organised by the Israeli Cultural Institute, in Budapest, features works by Miriam Katin, Michel Kichka, Rutu Modan, Sid Jacobson, and Ernie Colón. Link (Hungarian, ES)



The Clube Português de Banda Desenhada (Portuguese Club of Comics) has been revived. The club was founded in June 1976, but has remained largely inactive for the last 15 years. The club aims to organise comic auctions, workshops, exhibitions, seminars, book launches and courses. Link (Portuguese, RR)


The Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa will be hosting a course about the relationship between Comics and Cinema. The course, which begins on the 6th July and ends on the 15th July, is taught by Ana Cabral Martins and Hugo Almeida. Link (Portuguese, RR)



The 9th edition of the FNAC- Ediciones Salamandra Graphic Novel Prize has been held. Works will be accepted until the 27th November. Link (28/05/2015, Spanish, EdRC)

The Metrópoli Comic Con will be celebrated in Gijón from the 2nd to the 5th July. Some of the invited authors include Kurt Busiek, Bob Layton, Carlos Pacheco and Steve Englehart. Link (15/06/2015, Spanish, EdRC)

An exhibition with originals from The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg, can be seen at Panta Rhei, Madrid, from the 5th June to the 30th August. Link (06/06/2015, Spanish, EdRC)

The association ACDCómic has published its list of the best works published in Spain in the second half of 2014. Link (01/06/2015, Spanish, EdRC)


An anthology of essays about Marvel’s X-Men has been published by Alpha Decay entitled, Hijos del átomo. Once visiones sobre la Patrulla-X (Children of the atom. Eleven visions of the X-Men). Link (15/06/2015, Spanish, EdRC)



Remembered Reading: Memory, Comics and Post-War Constructions of British Girlhood, by Mel Gibson, has been published by Leuven University Press. Link (English, WG)

Comics, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, by Jane L. Chapman, Dan Ellin, and Adam Sherif, has been published by Palgrave Macmillan. Link (English, WG)

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 News Editor: Will Grady (

Correspondents: Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto (JBS, Japan), Enrique del Rey Cabero (EdRC, Spain), William Grady (WG, UK), Martin de la Iglesia (MdlI, Austria & Germany), Renatta Rafaella (RR, Portugal), Eszter Szép (ES, Hungary), Lise Tannahill (LTa, Belgium)

Click here for News Review correspondent biographies.

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Suggestions for articles to be included in the News Review can be sent to Will Grady at the email address above.

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Posted by on 2015/07/04 in News Review


The Bi-Monthly ComFor Update for June 2015 by Laura Oehme

As Stephan Packard stated in his last update, the abundance of comics-related events, publications, and exhibitions has become overwhelming. As a member of the ComFor online editing board, I know first-hand how much we are struggling to keep up with the numerous announcements of upcoming events that are received almost daily. This, of course, is not only a good sign for the future of comics studies, but also hints at the fact that the public perception of comics continues to grow.

I would like to start off this month’s column by congratulating Stephan Packard for receiving the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize 2015. The prize is awarded each year by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The ComFor’s much-valued President received the prize on May 5th in Berlin and is, after Daniel Stein, only the second comics scholar to receive it yet.

With the summer semester well underway, the last two months have been busy for German comics scholars. In May, the University of Bonn invited two ComFor members to give guest lectures on autobiographical comics: Joachim Trinkwitz talked in general about self-portrayal in the comics medium and Rolf Lohse introduced the audience to the tradition of autobiographical comics in France. This year’s comics symposium in Saarbrücken focused on “Comics in Space” and invited many German and French comic authors to talk about their works. The research colloquium “Literature and Illustration” at the University of Hannover, which is still short of two guest lectures on comics, will take place on June 24th and July 15th. Similarly, the workshop series “Comics als Metageschichte” at the University of Cologne will put on its third and final workshop on June 26th, focusing on the circulation of comics and featuring presentations by Christina Meyer and Jeff Thoss. The series will be topped off by a comics reading with Christina Plaka and Barbara Yelin on July 15th.

Most notably, since April, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has announced funding a research cooperation between the University of Paderborn and the University of Potsdam on the subject of “Hybrid Narrativity”. By combining methods from the cognitive sciences and digital humanities with narratology and literary history, this project “aims at a richer and empirically robust understanding of graphic literature” and thus presents an intrinsically interdisciplinary approach to comics studies.

This month, the ComFor’s 14th Publication Monitor was published and I would like to emphasize the two German publications it lists: Graphisches Erzählen von Adoleszenz: Deutschsprachige Autorencomics nach 2000 by Felix Giesa (publisher: Peter Lang) and Die Kunst des Comic-Sammelns by Alex Jakubowski and Sandra Mann (publisher: Edition Lammerhuber). Felix Giesa’s study of comics dealing with the subject of adolescence traces the historical development of the genre and provides close readings of six contemporary German comics. Alex Jakubowski’s and Sandra Mann’s edited volume of portraits and photographs provides insight into 15 unique comic collections and their owners.

Summertime is festival-time! First and foremost, the Comic Festival in Munich took place from June 4th to 7th, which Stephan Packard has already dealt with it at length in the last column. A video of the ComFor’s panel discussion on the state of German comics studies is now available on Splashcomics’ website (in German). Apart from the second largest comic event in Germany, comics were also a topic at this year’s Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (May 5th to 10th), featuring a panel discussion asking “After Charlie?”, a one-day symposium on “Color in Animation, Comics and Literature”, a two-day comic workshop with Davor Bakara, and presentations by Harri Römpötti about comics and animation. Also, the Hamburg Graphic Novel Days took place at the Literaturhaus from May 18th to 22nd for the fourth time.

Beyond the many ongoing exhibitions that were listed in the last update, some more have opened in the past two months. In cooperation with Cross Cult publishing house, the city of Asperg presented the art exhibition “Comic made in Germany” in May. The traveling exhibition “Going West!” has moved to Dortmund and will be on tour until June 2016, also stopping off in Hannover and Saarbrücken. In Bad Wildungen, an exhibition of the Caricatura Kassel shows the works of the cartoonist Burkhard Fritsche, alias BURKH, until August. From June 6th to October 4th, the Sommerpalais in Greiz hosts the eighth Caricatures Triennial, entitled “Everything under Control.” On June 12th an exhibtion series on “Abstract Comics” opened in Bremen, with the first showing the works of the Swiss collective Hecatombe.

I would also like to mention that the online magazine Bookster has published a comprehensive portrait of Bernd Dolle-Weinkauff, co-founder of the ComFor and organizer of this year’s annual ComFor conference at the University of Frankfurt (September 4–6, 2015). Finally, I would like to join my predecessor in predicting an equally well-filled column in August and hope that the exciting interest in the German comics studies scene continues.

Laura Oehme, M.A. is currently writing her dissertation on “Risk Technologies and Global Catastrophe in Contemporary Science Fiction Comics” in the field of American Studies at the University of Bayreuth, where she also works as a research assistant in a DFG-funded project on “Contemporary American Risk Fiction.” She is a member of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor), as well as the AG Comicforschung, and is part of the editorial team of the ComFor website. Together with Jeanne Cortiel, she has written an article on “The Dark Knight’s Dystopian Vision: Batman, Risk, and American National Identity,” which is forthcoming in the European Journal of American Studies.

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Posted by on 2015/06/26 in ComFor Updates


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