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New Book: Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels

21 Dec

Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels

A collection of fifteen articles, originally presented as conference papers at Comics Forum 2012, has been published by Routledge as Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, edited by CF2012 conference directors Carolene Ayaka and Ian Hague. Here’s the synopsis:

Multiculturalism, and its representation, has long presented challenges for the medium of comics. This book presents a wide ranging survey of the ways in which comics have dealt with the diversity of creators and characters and the (lack of) visibility for characters who don’t conform to particular cultural stereotypes. Contributors engage with ethnicity and other cultural forms from Israel, Romania, North America, South Africa, Germany, Spain, U.S. Latino and Canada and consider the ways in which comics are able to represent multiculturalism through a focus on the formal elements of the medium. Discussion themes include education, countercultures, monstrosity, the quotidian, the notion of the ‘other,” anthropomorphism, and colonialism. Taking a truly international perspective, the book brings into dialogue a broad range of comics traditions.

And here are the contents and abstracts for each of the chapters; a huge thank you to all the authors who contributed to the volume!

  1. Multiculturalism Meets the Counterculture: Representing Racial Difference in Robert Crumb’s Underground Comix

COREY K. CREEKMUR

Although underground comix were recognized as a key component of the 1960s counterculture in the United States, their controversial representation of African Americans suggests an ambivalent relationship between the counterculture and the simultaneous rise of multicultural perspectives following the earlier Civil Rights era.  Focusing specifically on Robert Crumb’s controversial images of African Americans in various underground comix, this article seeks to locate those images in their historical context in order to better understand their frequent recourse to antiquated, “racist” stereotypes in an era otherwise increasingly defined by images celebrating racial identity and difference.  This essay also considers the frequently contradictory claims made about these images within the critical and historical work on underground comix.

  1. The Impact of Latino Identities and the Humanizing of Multiculturalism in Love and Rockets

ANA MERINO

This article analyses the importance of the Hernandez Brothers work as prominent authors of the alternative fiction landscape of comics. Pioneers of multicultural style, they also developed a proto-feminist narrative adulthood in their comics. Over the course of three decades they developed in their work a multicultural sensibility that describes other realities where members of Latino communities are the main characters. They took the risk to represent through comics the contradictions of the American society with a political ethnic conscience.

  1. The Presidential Penis: Questions of race and representation in South African comic and satirical art­­

ANDY MASON

The reproduction of racial and ethnic stereotypes has long played an ideological role in South African comic art. As I have shown in my historical study of South African cartooning (2010), the stereotype of the African male as a threatening savage ‘other’ endowed with prodigious erotic power – a source of both revulsion and admiration amongst the colonial and neocolonial elites – is visible in the early popular visual literature of the colonial period and has endured into the post-apartheid period, where it is used ‘knowingly’ (in the postmodern sense) by cartoonists and satirical artists. But seldom has this tendency been so visible as in a scandalous slew of satirical images in which pictorial representations of Jacob Zuma’s penis were employed symbolically to refer to the state of South African politics and society.

The article examines usages of such imagery by three satirists: Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro), Brett Murray and Ayanda Mabulu. These usages have all been controversial and hotly debated in the nation’s media, but two instances in particular – Zapiro’s 2008 “Rape of Justice” cartoon, and Brett Murray’s 2012 painting “The Spear” – have aroused unprecedented levels of public response, both angry and appreciative, revealing deep cultural and ideological fissures in post-apartheid society.

Critical theorists in a range of disciplines have taken positions on these two images. For example, journalist Glenda Daniels (2012) examines the lawsuits advanced by Zuma against Zapiro as instances of the ANC government’s intention to intimidate critics and restrict press freedom; cultural theorist Steven C. Dubin (2012) sees the brouhaha around “The Spear” as a vindication of his contention that South African society is riven by “culture wars”; and political geographer Daniel Hammett (2010) visualises public responses to “The Rape of Lady Justice” as an ideological demographic ranged around the cartoon to reveal contestation around the nation’s constitutional project. I also refer to my 2010 article “The Cannibal Ogre and the Rape of Justice” which argues for a reception theory approach to Zapiro’s infamous cartoon.

The article argues that while contextual factors surrounding the production of comic art in South Africa, from the highly repressive apartheid period to the post-apartheid cultural renaissance, have allowed unusual levels of freedom of expression and experimentation, this has unfortunately been accompanied in some cases by intercultural insensitivities that may have had the effect of reinforcing racial attitudes amongst sections of the public, with a deleterious effect on interracial reconciliation. While strongly advocating the right to freedom of expression, the article makes a case for cultural sensitivity amongst cartoonists working in multicultural contexts.

  1. Recognition and resemblance: facture, imagination and ideology in depictions of cultural and national difference

SIMON GRENNAN

This chapter explores the idea that depictions embody their producers and readers in specific relationships between subject, social institution, material and idea, in order to examine depiction in the context of narrative drawings of cultural and national differences. Citing examples of the works of Kerry James Marshall, Dr Lakra and Kunisada Utagawa, among others, the chapter brings together theorisations by Michael Podro, Louis Althusser, Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Hodge and Gunter Kress. The chapter aims to elucidate the roles of imagination and habituation in the production of ideology, considering the implications of objectification in cases where depictions are approached as resemblances of the situations that they depict.

  1. ‘Badgers? We don’t need no steenkin’ badgers!’ Talbot’s Grandville, anthropomorphism and multiculturalism

MEL GIBSON

This chapter investigates how issues around multiculturalism are explored in the Grandville series of graphic novels by Bryan Talbot. Grandville, Grandville Mon Amour and Grandville Bête Noire depict a steampunk world in which animals are dominant and every species is considered equal, whether duck, fish or horse. This does not stop intolerance or prejudice, however. Humans also exist within this world, but are a minority seen by the animals as lesser beings. In considering these relationships and tensions, the chapter first looks at how economics and multiculturalism are linked in Grandville and then turns to a brief consideration of how language and national identity operate. It next looks at Talbot’s use of colour and art as a mechanism for signifying difference and diversity. Finally, it will focus down on issues of cultural intolerance, dominance and the terrorist other.

  1. The Image of the Foreigner in Historical Romanian Comics under Ceauşescu’s Dictatorship

MIHAELA PRECUP

Nicolae Ceauşescu’s humorless and ultra-nationalist dictatorship took its comics seriously, and even held official party meetings in order to establish what children’s magazines—the main space for comics at the time—should publish. Historical comics had to teach a version of the Romanian past that would boost nationalist sentiment and justify a negative perception of the outside, while painting Romania as a country of pure-hearted valiant and hard-working men (and rarely women), permanently assailed by evil forces.

This chapter examines the image of ”the foreigner” in several historical comic strips published in long-standing communist children’s magazines, where foreign nationals were extremely frequent, and generally evil. However, the representational code used by the artists in these didactic cartoons was quite realistic. The most frequently represented episodes from the (proto)Romanian past were the Roman conquest of Dacia (second century AD), the first unification of the Romanian provinces under the same political leadership (1600), a Russian-Romanian battle against the Ottoman Empire (1877), and World War II. The representations of foreigners in communist cartoons showed three main groups: the Romans (morally inferior conquerors of the proud Dacians, the Romanian ancestors), the Germans (always depicted as sly smirking uniformed Nazis, even decades after the end of World War II), and the Turks (Ottomans whose sole purpose was to conquer, pillage, and plunder). The comics contained a mixture of fictitious characters and actual participants in history, all of them treated as if they were equally “real.” During Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, the national superhero was a virtuous man (never a woman, despite the self-proclaimed feminist party line) endowed not only with heightened moral sense and loyalty to a nation whose identity had not yet been articulated, but also with uncommon physical prowess and an uncanny awareness that his bravery would help build something grand in the future, more specifically, Ceauşescu’s Romania.

  1. The Monster Within and Without: Spanish Comics, Monstrosity, Religion, and Alterity

SARAH D. HARRIS

Francisco Goya’s most famous proto-comic, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” (1799), forms part of a series of prints called Caprices, implying whimsical playfulness. Nonetheless, these prints were far from playful. Meant to reveal, through the interplay of images and ironic captions, insidious social ills, this series suggests Goya’s Spanish contemporaries are more monstrous than the bogeymen they invented. In contrast, more than a century later and published under fascist dictatorial rule, several early 20th century Spanish adventure comics villianize and make monsters of specific religious elements of Spain’s multicultural past. One of the best-known series, Manuel Gago’s The Masked Warrior, (1944-1980) pits a medieval Christian hero against his duplicitous and Muslim murderer-rapist stepfather. Working within the confines of totalitarianism, this comic distances itself, in time and place, from Franco’s modern enemies to promote the same values as its dictator: One Spain, One Race, One Religion. This chapter explores the depiction of monstrosity and alterity from these two divergent moments in Spain. More specifically, it argues that these two examples represent two extremes in a range of practice of using stereotype to represent multiculturalism.

  1. Colonialist Heroes and Monstrous Others: Stereotype and Narrative Form in British Adventure Comic Books

IAN HORTON

This paper explores the representation of colonialist stereotypes and the colonised ‘Other’ in British comic book adventure stories using Edward Said’s theories of Orientalism. From the 1940s to the 1990s comic books, such as the Eagle, Hotspur and Victor, used ‘exotic’ locations and caricatured representations, visual and textual, to maintain these stereotypes and shape narrative structure so continuing the traditions of early 20th century boy’s illustrated magazines. These stereotypes were also central in driving the narrative within more innovative contemporary comic books such as Rogon Gosh and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen where additionally the image of an eroticised ‘Other’ emerged as a new archetype.

  1. Set Pieces: Cultural Appropriation and the Search for Contemporary Identities in Shōnen Manga

JACOB BIRKEN

When does cultural appropriation become inappropriate? Focussing on contemporary Manga as D.Gray-man, Fullmetal Alchemist or Blue Exorcist, which use European history and Christian ico-nography as an eclectic backdrop or even visual “repository” for fiction, this chapter discusses how eclectic imagery and narratives can be (mis-)interpreted as political practice. Starting out from the historical discourses of post-colonial critique and the post-modern, it aims to analyse how the trope of ‘identity crisis’ and cultural eclecticism in Manga might offer a both critical and utopian counter-part to common models of multiculturalism.

  1. Narrative Exploration against Mentality Issues: Indirect Education for Multiculturalism in Tintin

MARIA-SABINA DRAGA ALEXANDRU

This chapter aims to show that, despite accusations of stereotypical thinking, particularly of racism, Hergé’s classic The Adventures of Tintin is pervaded by the author’s intention to educate his audiences with respect to the world’s plural nature. In its various translations (such as into Catalan, a minority language with a spectacular history of emancipation), the Tintin series has gradually become representative of far more progressive attitudes than the ones it was initially associated with. The changing history of Tintin’s reception also suggests that comic strips can be highly effective in questioning received ideas about the world.

  1. Embracing Childish Perspective: Rutu Modan’s A Royal Banquet With the Queen

LILY GLASNER

Studies on multiculturalism and children usually adopt a paternalistic perspective. This approach doesn’t take into consideration the possibility that a child’s perspective can positively affect the welfare of adults.

This article points to an alternative viewpoint based on the writings of psychologist Alice Miller and psychotherapist Piero Ferrucci. This viewpoint is further explored in light of Rutu Modan’s comic book for children. Modan’s narrative advocates a mutual respect which leads to a genuine dialogue and to a mutual transference of values between children and adults. Thus, in turn, Modan’s comic book enables us to reevaluate children’s role within the frame of multicultural discourse.

  1. An Innocent at Home: Scott Pilgrim and His Canadian Multicultural Contexts

BRENNA CLARKE GRAY & PETER WILKINS

This paper examines the coding of Canada and its relationship to multiculturalism in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. It both situates Scott Pilgrim in the history of Canadian Superhero comics and the Canadian culture industry and offers a reading of O’Malley’s critique and revision of Canadian identity.

At first read, Scott Pilgrim is a typical story of American youth. The name “Pilgrim” identifies Scott with both the origin story of the United States and atemporal myth. That he must fight a series of epic battles against increasingly threatening foes gives the story a Jungian feel, as though it were a graphic variant of Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey. Because the American origin story depends on just such a universal, mythical quality, Scott Pilgrim appears to fit into the tradition of redemptive American narratives.

We argue that O’Malley in fact undercuts this apparent universality with “Canadian” signifiers that transform the comic into a mediation of Canada’s relationship to the grand American narrative and more particular cultural micronarratives. Many of these signifiers are visual cues embedded in t-shirts and signs that create a “secret” Canadian language for readers in the know. But the central relationship between Scott and Ramona Flowers is itself such a signifier; it invokes the relationship between Canada and the United States generally, with Ramona the worldly American and Scott the parochial Canadian. This cultural antagonism structures other antagonisms, such as that between Scott and his Chinese Canadian girlfriend, Knives Chau, who holds up a mirror to Scott that shatters the myth of the bland and blond Canadian “nice guy.” In spite of his occupying the structural position of hero in the narrative, Scott is incapable of mastering either the grand narrative or micro-narratives.

Thus, we present the series as a critique of Canadian helplessness in relation to both American hegemony and multiculturalism. This comic really is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a battle in which the Canadian hero is a hapless and oblivious slacker who finds himself embroiled in conflict almost by accident, his apparent innocence absolving him of responsibility and engagement.   

  1. The Lower East Side as Mishmash of Jewish Women’s Multicultural Images in Leela Corman’s Unterzakhn

DANA MIHĂILESCU

New York’s Lower East Side has been widely documented in historical literature as a place of diversity rather than a local, limited Jewish phenomenon, in seminal works by Hasia R. Diner, Jeffrey Shandler, Beth S. Wenger and Deborah Dash Moore. I argue that Leela Corman’s 2012 graphic novel, Unterzakhn, complements historians’ works with an unexplored representation of the early twentieth century multicultural Lower East Side, which also touches on the process of assimilation but is primarily filtered through women’s images and private lives. My chapter will trace the graphic novel’s varied and at times controversial representations of womanhood in relation to traditional Judaic Eastern European lore and American mass media views of the early twentieth century by an analysis of three main articles of women’s dress featured in the narrative–head scarfs, shirts-and-waists, and corsets.

  1. They All Look Alike? Representations of East Asian Americans in Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings and Scenes from an Impending Marriage

EMMA OKI

Adrian Tomine is, along with Derek Kirk Kim, Tak Toyoshima, and Gene Luen Yang, one of the most popular contemporary Asian-American comics creators. He has been praised not only for his artistic and storytelling skills but also for the way he addresses issues pertaining to race and identity. This chapter examines how East Asian Americans, especially those of Japanese descent, are represented in two of Tomine’s works, namely Shortcomings (2007) and Scenes from an Impending Marriage (2011).

  1. Tulips and Roses in a Global Garden: Speaking Local Identities in Persepolis and Tekkon Kinkreet

ALEX LINK

This article examines the way in which both Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Satrapi, and Tekkon Kinkreet (1994) by Taiyo Matsumoto, approach the articulation of local, popular expressions of cultural identity in strikingly similar ways.  On the surface, the narratives seem nothing like one another.  Persepolis tells of growing up in the context of the rise of the Iranian theocratic regime.  Tekkon Kinkreet concerns two superpowered Japanese urchins defending “Treasure Town” from colonization by a diabolical global corporation.  In both cases, however, we encounter narratives that recognize the articulation of cultural identity as contested space, in which popular ownership of that identity has to compete with more powerful or authoritative expressions of it that also lay claim to authenticity.  Both narratives recognize the complexities of speaking cultural identity in a global context, in which such an identity must be fixed enough to be specific, but also fluid enough to accommodate difference and cross-cultural communication.  The two narratives also suggest, in form and content, how both comics and myth offer a bridge between the self-representation of popular, local, cultural identity and its situation and participation in a global context.

At the heart of both Persepolis and Tekkon Kinkreet is the question of who, precisely, can speak cultural identity, and whether, when, and how it might be spoken.  They represent popular voices raised in opposition to, in the former, an oppressive regime that lays sole claim to speaking Iranian identity in collusion with its western antagonists; and in the latter, a potentially homogenizing, or at least disenfranchising, global corporate entity that among other things suggests the global city might be a colonizing culture unto itself. Each defends local specificity against a global entity while drawing from myth as a paradoxically global narrative wellspring of indigenous identity, and from comics as itself an increasingly global medium.

Ultimately, this essay concludes, both narratives make specific cultural content secondary to the right to its expression by popular voices through such popular channels as comics.  In both graphic novels, representing the fluid specificity of cultural identity in a manner that articulates it, and its immediate pressing concerns, without fixing it, shifts narrative emphasis to the fact of, and commitment to, self-representation perhaps above all else, while acknowledging a place in a world of many cultures, stories, and comics styles.

Links

To find out more, or to order Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, click here to visit the Routledge product page.

To recommend Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels to your librarian, click here to be taken to a recommendation form.

If you’re an author or journal editor, and would like to review Representing Multiculturalism in Comics and Graphic Novels, click here to request a review copy (you will need to have a publication venue secured to receive a review copy).

 

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