Dr Mel Gibson reports on a day of comic study and discussion held as part of this year's Lakes International Comic Art Festival...
The expansion and transformation of the academic wing of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival continued in 2018. Held in the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, The Friday Sessions as they are known, were open to anyone who fancied coming along. Academics and postgraduate students gave talks on a range of topics including the history of comics, the craft of comics, new research into the wider impact of the medium and focused on two of the main Festival themes, the Traces of the Great War project and anthology and Scottish Comics.
Chris Murray from the Univerity of Dundee started the talks with a very entertaining (as well as hugely informative) account of Dundee as an historic and modern centre for comic production. Whilst publisher DC Thomson did play a major part in the talk, the inclusion of other firms, and how Dundee University works today with other institutions in the city, including the new V&A, was the basis of an argument for Dundee as ‘Comicsopolis’, much as it had once been famous for jute, jam and journalism and known as ‘Juteopolis’.
Dundee University Course Director Phillip Vaughan gave a complementary paper focusing on student practice in relation to the development of Saltire, a Scottish superhero based on the mythology and folklore of Caledonian history. He explained how the project came to be, how it relates to student employment and career routes, as well as their practice, and the success of the comic internationally.
The first panel discussion involved author Mary Talbot, Indian comic creator Orijit Sen, comics and film writer Joe Kelly and Comics Laureate and artist Charlie Adlard, talking about their contributions to the Traces of the Great War anthology, launched at the Festival, and the challenges of working with historical events.
What became evident was how their approaches varied, ranging from an intense engagement with specific events and historical individuals, through to making narratives that made wider general points about how the action of a moment can lead to historical and social change, and about changing generational engagement with history. Charlie also explained how his story formed a contemporary coda to his and Robbie Morrison’s graphic novel White Death.
The next talk was a personal take on comic history by Benoît Peeters, Professor of Graphic Fiction and Comic Art at Lancaster University, flagging up key works old and new which have engaged his interest. He was then joined on stage by Chris Murray for a Q&A about their personal history with the medium and how it has led to their professorial involvement with comics and academia today.
The second panel focused on communicating ideas through comics. Firstly, Golnar Nabizadeh, lecturer in English at the University of Dundee, looked at the representation of trauma and memory in comics, focusing particularly on the mechanics of the form. Two speakers spanning practice and theory followed her. Comic artist and writer Monty Nero talked about how text and image interact, and Megan Sinclair, a PhD student at the University of Dundee, gave a paper on her healthcare comics, which also celebrate the life of her father. The final panelist, Finnish creator Kaisa Leka, talked about what ‘Normals have said to her during her encounters with them in Normalland’, a vehicle for exploring ideas about difference, macroaggressions and cultural understandings of impairment/disability.
The keynote that ended the day was by Hunt Emerson, ahead of the announcement of his winning of the Sergio Award for Comics Excellence, and writer/ biographer Kevin Jackson who discussed Bloke’s Progress, their new book inspired by the ideas of John Ruskin. This was followed by Hunt giving a guided tour of the Bloke’s Progress exhibition, which included his contemporary riff on Ford Madox Brown’s painting ‘Work’.
All of the talks were very engaging, and there was lively discussion in the Q&A sessions at the end of each panel and paper. It was great to see so many people enjoying academic takes on comics.
In addition, the University of Cumbria, Lancaster University and the University of Dundee also support the festival through sponsorship. Academics from these institutions, and others, also appeared as speakers and hosts throughout the wider festival, as well as having their own stands and presenting their own work and that of their students. Both the Friday Sessions and the ongoing commitment of universities to LICAF show their keenness to develop dialogue between academics, practitioners and those attending the festival.
• If you are interested in finding out more about the LICAF academics programme contact Aileen McEvoy, Associate Director LICAF
Mel Gibson is a UK based comics scholar and consultant. She has run training and promotional events about comics and graphic novels for libraries, schools and other organisations since 1993 when she contributed to Graphic Account on developing graphic novels collections for 16-25 year olds, published by the Youth Libraries Group. As a consultant, Mel runs training events on manga, working with young adults in libraries, working with picture books and the links between children's books and the Internet.
• Find out more about Mel's work at www.dr-mel-comics.co.uk