The Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics
July 5-8 2011
Manchester Metropolitan University
Following on from the 2010 Comics, Genres and Cultures conference (organised by Dave Huxley and Joan Ormrod), this year Manchester Metropolitan University again hosted the Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics (5-6 July 2011), followed by the (biennial) International Bande Dessinée Society conference (7-8 July 2011). An expanded organisational team saw editors and board members from the three UK comics journals work together on this event, which hosted around 150 delegates over four days. We received hundreds of paper proposals prior to the event and the conference offered a packed programme with multiple strands of parallel papers, of which the following are just a few highlights.
The theme of the opening two days was audiences, and some interesting papers came out of this strand. Martin Barker’s opening talk review of the press coverage of Joe Sacco’s Palestine traced a movement from dismissal to naming and positioning Sacco’s comic in this ongoing corpus. Liam Burke discussed the results of his survey of cinema-goers attending the opening weeks of Thor and Green Lantern, providing a definition of ‘comic book movie’ and the markers used to indicate this emergent genre; and the interesting data that, while the majority of viewers did not consider themselves to be fans, they were still concerned with notions of ‘honour’ and ‘faithfulness’ regarding the source material. Interpretation and analysis was key here, and on the same panel Scott Jeffery applied Deleuze and Guttari’s non-hierarchical model of the rhizome to comics, specifically mentioning Borges’s Aleph (as used by Rick Veitch in Swamp Thing #62) and the Planetary snowflake and contrasted this approach with Western thought, arguing that this understanding enables a move away from the ideological construction and interpretation of superhero narratives.
Creative and production processes were also discussed. Charles Hatfield gave us a fascinating insight into the production of From Hell, taken from his forthcoming book on Eddie Campbell. Dean Chan offered an equally interesting analysis of the collaborative production of Matt Huynh’s comics, focusing on the cooperative autobiographical production of the Chinatown comics community project, and the asymmetrical relationship between their authors (as Huynh provides the writing, while others provide the stories) in this regard.
The tropes and symbols used on the comics page were also debated, such as the use made of space, time, sound and other sensory inputs; notably by Paul Atkinson, Ian Hague and Clare Pitkethly. Comics’ use and reliance on language was also analysed, for example in Marcus Oppolzer’s discussion of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, which noted this text’s borrowing of the language of pictorial archives and family photo albums and its focus on symbols of transformation. Focusing on the roles of word and image, Hannah Miodrag provided an excellently clear and combative discussion of the use of the term ‘hybrid texts’ by various critics to date. She demonstrated that the term has been variously defined as either positive or negative depending on each critic’s opinion, and argued that comics’ ‘drawn words’ may be better understood as having a double signification (coming from both the meaning of the word and the style it is drawn in), thus representing both langue and parole.
Other papers returned to the theme of audience by offering ideological and philosophical interpretations of texts. Hannah Means-Shannon applied a Jungian psychological approach to Planetary. Julia Round spoke about the existential tendency in contemporary zombie narratives such as The Walking Dead, arguing that these stories demonstrate not just a continuation of cultural criticism (with consumerism and technology are scapegoats) but also a kind of ‘post-zombieism’ as these creatures become exorcised from their own narratives.
An unexpected theme that emerged from the conference included a strong focus on architecture and the way in which space can be concretised or otherwise displayed. In the opening two days, papers such as Chris Murray’s examined the psychogeographic in Alan Moore’s oeuvre, and Heather Wintle argued for a ‘kinetic aesthetic’ in road comics. Freya Peters analysed the use of consumed space in American comics; identifying a focus on commodification and consumed space in the work and influence of creators such as Daniel Clowes, Harvey Pekar and Chris Ware and drawing on early twentieth-century art (such as the work of Edward Hopper) to discuss this. The architectural theme was especially prominent in the bande dessinée conference (for which a separate review will be needed to do it justice), where speakers such as architect Jiminez Lai reflected on his own design work; analysing buildings and skylines as a series of attitudes. This raised the question of borders and gutters implying sequentiality, which has since infiltrated my daily life, affecting the way I look through (at?) window panes and bordered spaces – Lai’s ‘Obsession Accelerator’ project (to be published in his forthcoming book, Citizens of No Place) also hit a nerve with many of the audience.
Keynote speakers Hunt Emerson and Melinda Gebbie closed each of the two days. Hunt presented an overview of his work on independent comics and particularly his experience of adapting classics for a new market and (irreverent) format. Melinda presented the Dodgem Logic thesis and invited debate, arguing that a combination of fear and consumerism has poisoned the creative industries today. The two-day conference rounded off with a round table discussion in which organisers and scholars debated the ideas put forward, specifically in the current educational and creative context.
We were delighted to have so many scholars from Europe, Australia, America, Canada, and many other locations attend this year. The quality and content of the papers throughout was excellent and the organisers intend to pursue publication of an edited collection on audiences, as well as publishing selected papers in Studies in Comics, the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, or European Comic Art.
The annual International Comics Conference will return next year, when it will be held at Bournemouth University on the provisional dates of 9-10 July 2012.
Julia Round (MA, PhD) lectures in the Media School at Bournemouth University, UK, and edits the academic journal Studies in Comics (Intellect Books). She has published and presented work internationally on cross-media adaptation, television and discourse analysis, the application of literary terminology to comics, the ‘graphic novel’ redefinition, and the presence of gothic and fantastic motifs and themes in this medium. She is currently writing a monograph on the Gothic and graphic novels (McFarland). For further details see www.juliaround.com.
For more images from Manchester 2011, click here.
The Joint International Conference was also the International Bande Dessinée Society’s seventh international conference; a full report on this side of things is forthcoming. The eighth IBDS conference is scheduled for 2013.