Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism by Brigid Maher

The work of Joe Sacco was another popular topic at Inkers and Thinkers 2014 and Brigid Maher provided a look at how Sacco’s comics journalism also represents an act of reflection on journalistic practice and the role of foreign journalists in conflict zones.


Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange, and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism


Joe Sacco’s comics journalism is unique in the way it uses various features of the comics medium to shed light upon journalistic practice, reporter subjectivity, and the role of language and translation in the news-gathering process. Journalists and foreign correspondents often work in a multilingual environment, dealing on a daily basis with problems of translation and cultural difference. Yet accounts of these challenges rarely reach consumers of news and reportage; in the case of print journalism, in particular, there is a preference for a finished product that presents information and analysis exclusively in the target language, with all trace of translation and mediation hidden in the background.

In Sacco’s work on the conflicts in Palestine and Bosnia, however, the multimodal nature of comics is exploited to full effect, incorporating multiple voices and perspectives in such a way as to present the complexities of working in a multilingual environment, with translators, interpreters, fixers, and wider a network of more informal contacts. Comics also lend themselves to irony, through the contrast between different textual and/or graphic representations of a given scene, and Sacco uses this technique in an ironic critique of his own struggles as a cultural outsider seeking to understand complex debates on sensitive and divisive issues. The medium also allows him to create a visual juxtaposition between objectivity, on the one hand, and the journalist’s inner state, particularly his doubts and fears, on the other.

All these carefully deployed features of comics allow Sacco to take readers beyond the illusion of unmediated research and reporting towards a more nuanced depiction of the involvement of different stakeholders in the newsgathering process. By synthesizing the written word and the graphic image, the journalistic and the socio-cultural, Sacco’s work sheds light on the complex role foreign journalists have in a community in conflict: they bring outside influences, power, wealth, and status, but also compassion and a sense of humor. At the same time, Sacco depicts the problematic aspects of this relationship, exploring his own vulnerability and naivety as he weighs up the obligations of friendship against the demands of his profession.



Dr Brigid Maher is Lecturer in Italian Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of Recreation and Style: Translating Humorous Literature in Italian and English (John Benjamins, 2011), and co-editor of Words, Images and Performances in Translation (with Rita Wilson, Continuum, 2012) and Perspectives on Literature and Translation: Creation, Circulation, Reception (with Brian Nelson, Routledge, 2013). She has published in a number of journals in the fields of literary studies, Italian studies, and translation studies. Her research interests include humour, irony and satire in literature; crime fiction; and the translation of literature, comics, and film.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: #ResistComics: Online Activism and Collaborative Comics by Can T Yalcinkaya

We are on the homestretch now. Our final session was titled Beyond Literature and focused on the different uses for the comic book format. Can Yalcinkaya starts us off with a look at comics as a form of resistance through his project #ResistComics, which has since been successfully funded through Kickstarter.


#ResistComics: Online Activism and Collaborative Comics

There is now a substantial amount of literature on the role of social media on the organisation of revolts and mobilisation of protesters in the past few years, particularly during the Arab Spring of 2011. In authoritarian states where the local media are often censored, the social media have been invaluable for dissenting voices to be heard, and for spreading the news that were not published or broadcast on other channels. This paper explores the possibilities provided by the social and participatory media to create collaborative works of art as part of political movements. In particular, I use a work-in-progress comics anthology as a case study which features collaborative works by contributors from across the globe.

The paper will reflect on my own experiences of online activism as a Turkish-born Sydney-based academic following the mass demonstrations in Turkey in June 2013, known as the Gezi Resistance. “Online activism” was the only possible outlet for me to contribute to the protests against an oppressive government and police brutality. The idea for a comics anthology was inspired by a creative explosion that was associated with the Gezi Resistance, and by previous examples of comics with activist contents, such as Occupy Comics. As a group of writers, academics and artists, my collaborators and I used the social media to organise, to workshop ideas and scripts and to find other enthusiastic contributors. Our project #ResistComics was born out of this transnational conversation and collective thinking. Currently, the project is near completion and we are preparing a crowdfunding campaign to fund printing.

This paper delivers an account of the #ResistComics anthology’s creation process, with particular attention to what opportunities and challenges are posited in a collective work produced through online communication. It also reviews the project’s crowdfunding experience within a creative economy framework, and questions whether online technologies have made it easier for alternative and independent publications to meet production costs and reach an audience.



Can recently completed his PhD thesis “Wounds of Difference: Melancholy in Turkish Film and Popular Music” in the Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies department at Macquarie University. Can worked as an editor of a comics studies journal in Turkey called Yeni Seruven between 2006 and 2007. The journals aim was to publish a semi-academic journal in Turkey, where comics studies is a neglected area.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Comics in 21st Century Spain: Challenges and Opportunities of an Emerging Medium by Enrique Del Rey Cabero

We’ve been very busy organising Inkers and Thinkers 2015 and unfortunately neglected our commitment to posting the recordings from Inkers and Thinkers 2014. We are rectifying that right now and over the next few weeks we will post the remaining presentations from the 2014 Symposium. First up we have Enrique Del Rey Cabero providing an insightful look into the nascent Spanish comic book market, one many people may be unfamiliar with but can surely relate to through the same struggles for legitimacy and opportunities to turn comics into a viable career.



Comics, contrary to historical prejudices that classify the medium as light reading or exclusively addressed to a young audience, are becoming more and more important in the cultural sphere. Moreover, the unique language and features of this medium in our image-dominated world, as well as the versatility to tell very different stories shown by authors during recent years, have placed comics in a unprecedented place that would have been difficult to foretell ten or twenty years ago.


The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the position of the comics industry in Spain, which has seen the rise of a new generation of authors, the consolidation of the graphic novel and a progressive acceptance of the medium in general culture.


In spite of the continuing crisis of the medium in the country (many Spanish authors are forced to migrate, work for other markets or publish their work first in a foreign language), it cannot be denied that comics are now more widely appreciated among many audiences and, more relevant, not only as a cultural subproduct or humorous pastime. As is known, the rise of the graphic novel at a global level (with famous examples such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis) has played a very important role and has produced notable examples in the Spanish context. Comics are also increasingly present on-line through websites and webcomics. Moreover, the role of the state and the Ministry of Culture (since 2007, a National Comics Prize is awarded annually), public libraries (which have considerably extended their comics catalogue in recent years) and universities (which organize more frequent seminars and now are even starting to teach whole degrees on comics) have also contributed to the visibility of comics in Spain.


The analysis of all these factors and agents will allow me to draw some conclusions about the challenges and opportunities of the medium in Spain, which will also be relevant to the Australian context, where comics are also rising in the cultural sphere and sometimes facing similar processes of change.



Enrique is based at La Trobe University in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. After finishing his studies, Enrique gained experience teaching Spanish in Spain (in international programs at the Universidad de Salamanca and the UIMP in Santander and for the Engineering Team at Aramco and Técnicas Reunidas in Madrid) and Belgium (Haute École de la Ville de Liège). His research interests include pedagogy of Spanish as a foreign language, 20th century Spanish and Latin American poetry and the relations between Music and Literature and Literature and Comics.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Squishface Studio: A Physical Hub for Comics in Melbourne by David Blumenstein

The third block of presentations focused on Comics Communities, specifically the comics communities of two very different yet similar countries Australia and Spain. The first presentation in this block was from writer/cartoonist/animator David Blumenstein and looked at the formation and continued success of the Melbourne based Squishface Studio, which provides a physical studio space for comic book artists, illustrators and animators. David’s presentation was extremely entertaining and informative due to his use of visual aids, but we hope the audio is exciting enough.


Abstract –

Squishface Comics Studio is an open cartoonists studio in Brunswick, Victoria; the first of its kind in Australia.

It is a working studio but “open” in the sense that other cartoonists and the general public are invited to come in during regular opening hours to look at and buy work, but also to draw and talk with the studio residents.

I will discuss:

  • The Melbourne comics scene and the specific circumstances from which Squishface sprang.
  • Why, in an arts capital and “City of Literature”™, this had not happened before.
  • The goals of the original group of resident Squishfacers.
  • The challenge of finding residents.
  • The tangible and intangible results of two years of existence.
  • The effect on individuals’ work of working in close quarters with other, varied artists.
  • Ways the studio could pay for itself in the future.
  • The benefits of running the studio to its de facto operations committee.
  • The future of the studio, and deciding whether it is a temporary project or something more ongoing.


Biography –

David Blumenstein is a writer, cartoonist and animator from Melbourne, Australia. He is also one of the founders of Melbourne’s Squishface Studio. He is currently working on an animated cop show called BE A MAN and you can see examples of his work at his website Nakedfella and at the Squishface Studios website.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Style, Voice, and Ellipsis in Short-Form Graphic Narratives by Elizabeth Macfarlane

Elizabeth’s presentation concludes the second block of presentations at Inkers and Thinkers, which focused on Graphic Representations in comics. Elizabeth’s presentation featured a close examination of our keynote speaker Bruce Mutard’s work, presenting an interesting opportunity  where the academic and creator were in the same room.


Abstract –

The concepts of style and voice are well-established in literary criticism, and are of particular import to scholars writing within the often hybridised discipline of Creative Writing in the academy. This paper examines the question of how the concepts of style and voice in comics might differ from or parallel what we understand style and voice in prose to mean. I argue, via Thomas Bredehoft and Elisabeth El Refaie, that ‘style’ in comics is closely linked to the artist’s body, thus always temporally ‘available’ in the text as a traceable movement, a moment in time and space.

As El Refaie notes, the autobiographical avatar, the drawn self, without the avatar having spoken anything at all, “tells” us so much about voice, mood, tone and character. She writes similarly on the “performance” of authenticity in autobiographical comics, making the crucial distinction between expressions “given,” and expressions “given off”, the former being verbal communication, the latter nonverbal. El Refaie would like to argue that one could read the style of the visual representation itself in comics (as opposed to the written dialogue or narration, or indeed the content of the narrative) as a version of expressions ‘given off’. It’s a method and contention that has its counterpart in literary criticism in deconstruction, practitioners of which will look for the ruptures, the contradictions, the fissures in a text, the places where it gives itself away unconsciously.

The paper then closely examines and compares two short-form texts, Bruce Mutard’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and Adrian Tomine’s ‘Echo Ave’ articulating the similarities and differences between their style and voice as expressions “given off”. Both stories are cinematic in nature, in that they don’t necessarily partake of any ‘tricks’ with the form. They don’t use emanata or sound-words, and characters are drawn with a level of realism, they aren’t caricaturised. It’s mimetic telling, there are no narration boxes and no jumping around in time or chronology. Two seemingly minor differences between the two stories’ respective styles – their use of panel grids, and shading – prove with close reading to establish key divergences in how the narratives are perceived.


Bio –

Elizabeth received her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2008. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in the School of Culture and Communication. Her area of research focuses on contemporary Australian autobiographical comics and graphic novels as well as the works of J. M. Coetzee.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: The Land is Alive by Bernard Caleo

The second presentation in the second block, on Graphic Representations, is from creator, academic and documentary producer Bernard Caleo titled The Land is Alive. On the day Bernard’s presentation was a crowd favourite, bringing an infectious energy and passion for comic books and comic book studies to the symposium. Throughout the day Bernard also sketched the presenters and aspects of their talks and these sketches can be viewed here.


Abstract –

In the graphic novels ‘Blue’ by Pat Grant (Giramondo, 2012) and ‘The Long Weekend in Alice Springs’ by Josh Santospirito (San Kessto Publications 2013), the Australian settings in which the narratives are set (the former coastal, the latter desert) are vital spatial determinants of meaning. They give more than a backdrop to the stories. The stories are embedded in landscape. Each of these author artists has developed a visual/verbal/design language specific to their graphic novel, able to be differentiated from the rest of their body of work. This graphic-novel-specific language is developed to sculpt a local fictional landscape. The quality of line, degree of cartooning (versus more figurative drawing) , layout of pages, colour versus black-and white, progression of panels and choice of wordless sequences and other aspects all advance a vision of country as inescapable and determinative of character and event.

In this paper I will present an analysis of the structure and design of individual pages and page sequences by Grant and Santospirito and argue that the form of comics gives their audience a reading experience of landscape significantly different to novel, film or music.

I will also consider the influence of repeated readings of these works upon my own comics practice in the construction of landscape in my comics pamphlet series ‘MONGREL’ (2012 – ongoing, Cardigan Comics), and the Melbourne 1888 based narrative ‘The Devil Collects’ currently being developed with historian Alex McDermott as part of a State Library of Victoria Creative Fellowship.


Bio –

Bernard’s Honours thesis was called ‘Tintin in the Territory of Narratology’(University of Melbourne English Department , 1994). He was the editor and publisher of the romance comics anthology ‘Tango’ (Cardigan Comics) from 1997 – 2009. In collaboration with documentary film maker Daniel Hayward he made the feature documentary ‘Graphic Novels! Melbourne!’ (Aisle 5 Pictures/ Cardigan Comics, 2012) which they have presented locally and overseas in 2013. In 2014 he is a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria, working on a historical comic with Alex McDermott, and will be an Arts Victoria funded ‘Artist in Schools’ at Fitzroy High School, running a comics studio for a group from years 8, 9 and 10 in term 3.


Inkers and Thinkers 2014 – Representations of Violence in Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story by Jeanne-Marie Viljoen

The second block of presentations at Inkers and Thinkers 2014 focused on Graphic Representations, the way comics can be used to represent violence, creative voice/style, and the landscape. The first presentation in this block was from Jeanne-Marie Viljoen looking at representations of violence in Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story with comparisons between the graphic novel and animated film.


Abstract –

Exploring comics’ unique combination of art and text allows them to represent what would otherwise be ‘invisible’.

Representing experiences of war and conflict in comics allows depictions of what has escaped from memory and is sometimes considered too horrific to represent. Comics, with their unique combination of words and images, radically blur the boundary between experience and representation. Comics are not the only medium that does this. Just as in film, in comics one is able to simultaneously experience the “‘nowness’ and ‘hereness’” of the self-conscious reading process as well as “the assault” on one’s senses as one experiences the extreme events depicted through the medium (Sobchack 2009: n.p.). This paper will explore this notion by examining Folman and Polonsky’s graphic novel representation of the Lebanese War in 1982 and the infamous ensuing Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp massacres, Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story (Folman and Polonsky 2009). This example is used because of the potential of image-rich comics to “intensify and make more self-conscious the ways our eyes and minds interact with whatever’s on the page or screen” ─ comics are both performative texts that construct experience of the moment and simultaneously draw attention to their own construction (Hatfield 2008: 130). This paper will also scrutinize the animated documentary, another representational form which attempts to cross the boundary between experience and representation. The additional power of the animated documentary to show what was hitherto thought of as ‘invisible’ to concealed from live action film – subjective emotions – (Honess Roe 2011:217) is also considered. However, this paper argues that comics, innovatively used as a combination of images, words and sequencing ─ do more because they involve the embodied reader actively in the story-telling. This paper contends that when reading a comic the reader is knowingly constructing the story that he/she is experiencing in an intense image-rich way that is not constrained by the ordinary linear logic of books. In the vein of the pre-eminent cultural critic, Edward Said, this paper will posit a position that urges readers to consider political comics as rich repositories from which to advance their knowledge of the experience of war and conflict. Following Said’s remarks in his memorable introduction to Joe Sacco’s comic Palestine, this paper declares that “[c]omics play[ed] havoc with the logic of a+b+c+d and they certainly encourage[ed] one not to think in terms of what the teacher expects[ed] or what a subject like history demands[ed]” (Said, cited in Sacco, 2003 ii). The reader’s feeling on reading the comic becomes part of the representation itself. Thus, this paper suggests that comics allow one to think beyond what is expected and show what is ‘imperceptible’ in some other representational forms. Comics broaden one’s repertoire of experience and representation in a way that is particularly useful in the representation of war and conflict when trauma has obliterated experience or it has become ‘unrepresentable’ because it is so horrific.


Bio –

Jeanne-Marie Viljoen is a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia at the Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding in the School of Communications, International Relations and Languages.


Inkers and Thinkers 2014 – M3D143N717Y: Letting the Network Take Over by Annick Pellegrin

Annick had the privilege of presenting the very first paper at Inkers and Thinkers 2014. Unfortunately the recording missed the first few minutes of her presentation. Annick’s presentation completes the first block of the Inkers and Thinkers symposium, which focused on the role of technology and digital tools in the consumption, creation and culture of comic books.


M3D143N717Y: Letting the Network Take Over by Annick Pellegrin

Released online in episodes from November 2012, and as a hardcover comic book by éditions Delcourtin August 2013, MediaEntity.01 is the first of four volumes in a series titled MediaEntity.[1] Marketed as a “thriller d’anticipation paranoïaque” (a paranoid science fiction thriller), the series follows the misadventures of the first victim of “mediatic mutation”, Eric Magoni, who must flee when his login is used to cause the bank where he works to lose five billion euros.[2] As is explained in the series trailer, a “mediatic mutation” occurs when an online identity takes on a life of its own and photographs of events that never took place begin appearing on screens.[3]


While the series, the second volume of which is soon to be released, focuses on the dangers of sharing personal information through online social networks and warns readers with statements such as “Switch off your life! Become invisible! The network will take over yout [sic] identity…” it also relies on its readers’ knowledge and use of such networks.[4] Notably the authors invite readers to get involved through a variety of media and by allowing them to copy, modify and redistribute their work under the creative commons licence.


To what extent does the series fit its label as a “paranoid” thriller? What is the place of social media in this series? To what extent does the use of digital and online media in this series contribute to innovate francophone comics? To what extent can the series be said to be a participative one?


[1]Emilie & Simon, MediaEntity. 01, MediaEntity, vol. 1, Paris: Delcourt, 2013; Emilie & Simon, “Episodes”, (06/01/2014); Emilie & Simon, MediaEntity, Emilie & Simon l’interview vidéo, Interview by Jacques Viel, 10/10/2013, (05/01/2014).

[2]MediaEntity: 1er Dossier de presse en Réalité Augmentée!, Paris: Delcourt, 2013; Emilie & Simon, “Episode 1”, (06/01/2014); Emilie & Simon, “Episode 2”, (06/01/2014).

[3]MEDIAENTITY, “Bande Annonce”, (26/10/2012), (06/01/2014).

[4]Emilie & Simon, MediaEntity. 02, MediaEntity, vol. 2, Paris: Delcourt, 2014; Emilie & Simon, “Home”, (06/01/2014).



Annick graduated from The University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts (Languages) (Honours) in 2009, with majors in French, Spanish, Italian and Linguistics. Her Honours thesis was completed under a joint supervision between the Department of French Studies (Associate Professor Bronwyn Winter) and the Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies (Dr. Vek Lewis) and she was the first student to complete the honours program in the latter department. “Tintin and the Secret of Satire”, her thesis, was a study of the satire and the parody in Tintin et les Picaros, by the Belgian Hergé. Annick returned to The University of Sydney as a PhD candidate and recently completed her thesis “(Not) Looking Together in the Same Direction”, a comparative study of “Latin American” self-representation and the Franco-Belgian gaze on “Latin America” in a selection of “Latin American” and Franco-Belgian comics. Her full biogrpahy and list of publications can be found here.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014 – Deviants’ Art and Fanzinshi: The Quiet Riots and Pixellated Protests in Russia’s SNS- enabled Manga by Antonija Cavcic

Our second presentation from the Inkers and Thinkers Symposium comes from Murdoch University’s Antonija Cavcic. Antonija could not attend the event in person as she was away in Japan on research but we were able to arrange for this YouTube presentation and then a Skype call afterwards.


Deviants’ Art and Fanzinshi: The Quiet Riots and Pixellated Protests in Russia’s SNS- enabled Manga by Antonija Cavcic

In the wake of the Pussy Riot trial, it is fair to assume that anti-establishment sentiment has lingered even after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Such phenomena as the seminal samizdat works produced under KGB scrutiny, the current IT-enabled dissemination of explicit content in Russian original, parodic, and scanlated manga (based on the Japanese tradition of self-published homoerotic manga known as yaoi), and the plethora of networks where Russian fans can share files and content ordinarily filtered out by Russian ISPs, indicate a relentless desire to produce and proliferate content unfit for Orthodox ideological frameworks in Russia. By examining several web-enabled avenues of expression, file-sharing, and interaction amongst avid Russian manga artists, this paper will attempt to demonstrate the extent to which these practices have evaded Russian censors, and thus illustrate how the ideological hammer enmeshed in identity politics inevitably became entangled in the World Wide Web.



Currently a PhD candidate at Murdoch University, her research interests include the parallels between women’s progressive publishing practices in Victorian Britain and contemporary Japan, food media and celebrity chef culture, and gender and sexuality in Japanese culture.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014 – Discourse of Digital Comics by Troy Mayes

Abstract –

Since the introduction and subsequent growth of the tablet market the comic book industry has seen a renewed focus on experimental digital comic formats. Through this exploration of infinite comics, motion comics, guided-view comics and motion books the very core ideas of ‘what a comic is and does’ are being challenged, discussed and solidified. The focus of this presentation is how those creators involved with the new experimental digital comic formats, such as Marvel’s Infinite Comics, Madefire’s Motion Books and DC’s DC Squared, talk about the projects and formats they are working on. Through discourse analysis we are able to look at how creators are constructing both their own identity as well as the identity of the comic book industry and medium during this time of change. In particular, this presentation applies Sherry Ortner’s reactive discourse, a defensive discourse targeted at establishing what digital comics are not, and introduces what I call the relational discourse of digital comics, a more positive discourse focused on relating the new digital comic format to certain core comic book ideals. Utilising the reactive and relational discourse to analyse the talk of comic book creators places the practitioner back at the centre of comic book studies and allows us to examine what comics are for creators and how creators are responding to the ongoing digitisation of the comic book industry.


Bio –

Troy Mayes is a PhD candidate at the University of Adelaide in the Media Department. He holds a Bachelor of Media (Hons.) from the University of Adelaide. His thesis is on comic book workers and the digitisation of the comic book industry.

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