The relationship between comics and Greece is a rather interesting one. Having a tradition in political cartooning and with influences from Europe and the US, during the 80s we observe the first steps of the creation of a small local scene that seems to be growing each year. Nevertheless, the road to this growth wasn’t easy at all
Comics reached the Greek audience pretty late and that’s one reason why many Greeks have a specific, and often incomplete, understanding of them. In fact, the first comic series that reached the Greek market were mostly superheroes and Disney stories and that led to the perception that comics are just for kids, naive and funny stories. The frequent publication by religious and educational groups of critical reviews and statements about the bad influences comics presented also contributed to this idea.
Apart from the fact that in Greece we never had a tradition in comics, like in other countries such as Belgium, France or Italy, here graphic storytelling had another stereotype to confront. Carrying a heavy cultural heritage from our ancient ancestors, as a country we faced a difficulty not so much to develop but more to accept more modern artistic forms. What tend to characterize Greece in terms of culture are direct references to our classical past. That’s also a reason why Greek cultural institutions are more reluctant to adopt artistic forms that seem to move away from those stereotypes.
So it becomes clear that the development of a creative and academic comic scene was a challenge for our country. The beginning of that development can be located with the publication of Babel Magazine during the late 80s and early 90s. This magazine was the first attempt to show that comics aren’t only superheroes, or Disney stories or Asterix and Tintin, but that they are a unique storytelling medium that could tell any story. The impact of Babel Magazine was huge as it also became the first magazine to publish new Greek comic creators and some years later they organized the first international comic festival in our country (for almost 13 years, until 2009).
Since then we have experienced the growth of the comics scene in Greece. More comic shops, more publications and publishing houses, more events about comics, more Greek creators heading towards international collaborations. If we wanted to highlight the landmarks of this development we could say that Babel Magazine was the introduction of a wider range of comics to the Greek audience, the publication of 9 Magazine (a comics magazine inside a popular newspaper) was the first attempt to massively put comics in every Greek house, and the activities of Comicdom Press are the future of comics in Greece.
In that context and having that specific background, comics studies are still very young here. There are only few academic institutions, apart from Fine Arts schools, that allowed comics into their curricula as an independent module. The Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the Aegean University has a very active involvement with comics studies, not only offering some modules but also organizing academic conferences about the medium. The Iconotopia research group is based there and they form the only official Greek research team dedicated to comics. On the other hand the Department of Communication, Media and Culture of Panteion University was one of the first Departments to import comics as an academic topic, as part of the visual communication courses and then as a special course linked to communication (comics and communication) in the Advertising and Public Relations Lab. Also, more and more University Departments working on education, storytelling and visual communication include comics in their curricula.
In terms of conferences the Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the Aegean University organized, in 2003, 2005 and 2009 three international conferences dedicated to comics. In 2006 in the context of Comicdom Con Athens 2006 there was a day conference organized by the Media Lab of the Department of Communication, Media and Culture of Panteion University, Comicdom Press and Hellenic American Union discussing responsibility issues through comics. Apart from them there were a few other more random panel discussions in the context of Comicdom Con Athens festival (Comics and Literature in 2007, Comics and Education in 2010 and 2011), or the most recent entitled panel discussion “Comics and Modernism: the case of George Herriman and Lyonel Feininger”.
In addition, during the past four years Comicdom Press has been organizing educational workshops with the use of comics language for children and educators. The program addresses the issues of creativity and synthetic storytelling and it has been running to schools, museums and other cultural institutions. The aim is to introduce the comics medium to new readers and to help educators to use a more creative way of teaching. Within this remit, Comicdom Press published an activity book based on the workshops and also launched a website in order to create a database and an open forum for children, teachers and librarians to exchange opinions and collect useful material.
Let us now observe the situation in the field of research/academic publications. In recent years there have been some PhDs on comic studies, mostly connected with social, historical, educational and psychological issues. Furthermore, there are some academic books dedicated to comics discussing several issues such as the interrelation of comics with other art forms or the role of women in comic stories, the educational aspect of comic books, the history of Greek fantasy comics and the historical memory through comic books. One of the most important Greek publications is the collective volume regarding comics narrative (View from above: Fantasy and Storytelling in Comics), including academic pieces from almost all the major Greek comic scholars.
Although there is a progress not only in the production but also in the perception of comics, we cannot talk about a fully formed academic field. There are some scholars and some university departments working towards that goal but we surely need more time and work in order to be able to discuss about a Greek comic academia. My hope is that thanks to those active scholars and to events like Comicdom Con Athens where people from around the world are able to meet and talk about comics, and also thanks to the fact that Greek people are every day discovering the power of the medium, we will be able to network, formally or informally, and continue to study them and produce a creative dialogue.
Lida Tsene holds a PhD in social media and social responsibility. Apart from academic books on corporate and media responsibility, social media and cultural management, she reads loads of comics. She tries to share everything she learns, and that’s the reason why she participates in many conferences about CSR, journalism,social media, storytelling and comics and also organizes educational workshops. She likes to talk a lot about the things she is passionate about, so she is collaborating as teaching associate with several academic institutions and she is also Public Relations Director of Comicdom Press.