Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Keynote Speech by Pat Grant

As well as presenting a phenomenal Keynote Speech, Pat Grant also sketched throughout the day of the conference, creating a mosaic out of moments, themes and topics. We recorded various presentations from Inkers and Thinkers 2015, and have embedded them in the posts below, as well as publishing the original abstracts. Please listen and enjoy!

int sketch

Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Queer Lines from Straight Guys: Turkish Comics with LGBTQ Themes by Can Yalcinkaya

Modern Turkish culture has had an ambivalent relationship with the LGBTQ community. Despite the ever-growing presence of LGBTQ groups who engage in crowded public activities, same-sex relationships and queer lifestyles are still seen as taboo subjects by a large percentage of the population, and often lead to life threatening situations. On the other hand, two of the most respected singers the country has seen, Zeki Müren and Bülent Ersoy, are a drag queen and a trans woman respectively. Comics and cartoons have long engaged with LGBTQ themes in Turkey, particularly in the pages of weekly humour magazines. While these publications – a significant presence in print media in the country – are often discussed as bearing a progressive, subversive and left-wing attitude, their portrayal of LGBTQ figures have been, for the most part, resonant with common public discourses of prejudice and ridicule.

This paper presents a survey of common trends towards the LGBTQ community in cartoons and comics in Turkey since the 1950s, during which time male politicians were caricaturised as women to be emasculated and stripped of their political power in the public eye. Works that ridicule gay men and trans women in stereotypical depictions in the 1980s and 1990s will be under critical scrutiny. A few comics series, which present alternative perspectives to LGBTQ themes, and issues of gender and sexuality will be highlighted. These include Travesti Sevgilim (My Transvestite Lover) by Nuri Kurtcebe, and Eylül by Rewhat, both of which feature trans women as their protagonists. The paper will emphasise the lack of self-representation and autobiographical works by LGBTQ artists in Turkey, and argue that even the most seemingly progressive comics with LGBTQ lead characters betray homophobic tendencies upon close reading.

Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Alternative Ireland: How the Emergence of a Local Comic Book Industry Challenged Traditional Depictions of Ireland in Comics by Liam Burke

In the late 1800s Irish efforts to gain autonomy from Britain were gathering pace. Undermining these endeavours were cartoons in satirical magazines like Punch that depicted Irish people as “Paddy the peasant” – a foolish and combative type ill-suited to home rule. As part of a wider move towards cultural nationalism, Irish playwrights, poets, and musicians challenged these stereotypes, but there were few cartoons and comics from Irish creators. Moving into the 20th century depictions of Ireland in comics continued to be dominated by international creators who often perpetuated long-standing prejudices. However, in the late 1980s Irish creators, such as Garth Ennis (Troubled Souls, Preacher, and Judge Dredd), used their position within the mainstream comic book industry to subvert these stereotypes.

In recent years Ireland has enjoyed its first sustained period of local comic production. These stories have been told in a variety of styles and genres including: historical graphic novels (Blood on the Rose: Easter 1916: The Rebellion That Set Ireland Free), mythological action (Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn), Superhero (The League of Volunteers), Supernatural Mystery (Jennifer Wilde), and even Irish-language comics like Rírá. Despite the diversity of the titles, these Irish comics are united in their efforts to challenge received views and misconceptions about Ireland.

This paper will explore how Irish people have historically been depicted in comics and graphic novels. It will examine early attempts to challenge these views, such as Garth Ennis’ Emerald Isle. The paper will then chart the emergence of a local industry post-2000, and identify how these indigenous comics offer a potent alternative to the traditional representations of Ireland found in comics.

Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Art in Space by Ronnie Scott

Comics has historically been considered an art of time. Narrative depends upon events arranged in some sequence, and comics is a narrative medium. Yet more than ‘sequential art’, after Eisner’s definition, comics is the narrative medium perhaps best-suited for radically departing from the sequence. This can mean nonlinear temporal progressions, but can also mean narratives that foreground space. This paper will explore the methods employed by three present-day American artists who have used the medium of comics to explore space, privileging these three dimensions over the dimension of time. Blaise Larmee’s work engages the medial limits of comics, transposing comics from digital publishing formats to print formats and back again; Jimenez Lai is an architect who employs the comics medium to explore theoretical, experimental architectural forms; and Chris Forgues (CF) has employed an unusual kind of grid to dislodge the reader’s sense of both space and time, in an attempt to ‘make nothing happen’ – to show stasis, or stillness. All three artists explore, foreground, and problematise the dimensional properties of comics. Moreover, as engagements with space and time are the defining properties of different narrative media, I argue that all three artists produce metanarratives, commenting not only on comics, but on narrative itself. Through close-reading these artists’ works, and applying techniques adapted from text-based narratology, this paper argues that comics can be an art of time, but is also expressly suited to explore ideas of space. In doing so, comics is a radical narrative medium. Departing less from sequential time than from time itself, comics forces us to ask whether narrative can exist without it.

Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Millennial Prophecies and Alternate Realities: Webcomics 15 Years After Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics by Anthony Castle

Introduction: At the turn of the century, Scott McCloud made a series of dramatic predictions about webcomics in his second theoretic work Reinventing Comics (2000). Playing a role similar to that of a millennial prophet, McCloud announced that the Internetʼs ʻinfinite canvasʼ would allow webcomics to be free from the restraints of the print format and mainstream corporations. This would result in alternative examples of artistic content and form and almost exponential sales through digital delivery. One year later, comics journalist Gary Groth wrote a rebuttal titled “McCloud CuckooLand”, arguing that webcomics would be beholden to hosting costs and the advertising of telecommunications corporations. The question remains: which of McCloud or Grothʼs predictions about webcomics have come to pass over the last 15 years?

Methods: The methods used to address this question have been investigation and analysis of contemporary webcomics, considering the alternative nature of their content, form and delivery. McCloudʼs own reflections on this debate have been taken into consideration, as well the conclusions of the ongoing research into webcomics.

Results: 15 years after McCloudʼs intial predictions, some have indeed utilised the ʻinfinite canvasʼ concept (The Prince and the Sea and McCloudʼs own Zot! Online). However, some of Grothʼs predictions also have some legitimacy with services like DC Entertainment Digital Comics and Marvelʼs Digital Comics Unlimited available on the Amazon-owned Comixology platform (even if this subscription model has also been used by indie start-ups like Thrillbent and MonkeyBrain Comics). Popular independent webcomics like Ctrl+Alt+Del, Penny Arcade, 8-Bit Theater, Girls with Slingshots and Goats deal in culture, identity and satire, with some commentators concluding that these works are simply the online continuation of the Underground Comix tradition. However, other popular independent webcomics like Lady Sabre and Cura Te Ipsum publish mainstream genre stories with alternate business models.

Conclusions and predictions: With approximately 10,000 webcomics online, neither McCloud nor Grothʼs alternate realities have come to pass. Instead, webcomics can be corporate, indie, mainstream and alternative across the spectrum. In fact, webcomics have appeared online with content, forms and sales suspiciously similar to the traditional comics milieu. However, with Amazonʼs purchase of Comixology, new questions arise regarding the possibilities of reading devices and also a further consolidation of corporate power

Inkers and Thinkers 2015: Peripheral Vision in Comics by Ben Juers

Comics scholar Jens Balzer has stated that in reading comics, ‘the gaze of the beholder must arrive at a mode of distraction’ in order to negotiate the various tensions at work in the medium. In this ‘mode,’ the eye is set in perpetual motion, continually seeking out alternative focal points, enacting the animation implied by the juxtaposition of static elements. According to Balzer, this ‘distracted gaze’ – typified early on in the crowd scenes of R.F. Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley – teaches the beholder an alternative, mimetic approach to participating in the constant motion of modernity, one that both sidesteps and caricatures this motion in the manner of a flâneur, or a Situationist dérive. In other words, comics show the reader that they are not passive spectators, that they can manipulate the spectacle of modernity, and interpret it in a variety of ways according to their subjective experience. Using this argument as a starting point, I will examine how certain comics after Hogan’s Alley play to this ‘distracted gaze’ through anti-sequentiality and the accumulation of peripheral details that reveal themselves on re-reading. This will demonstrate the formal and conceptual significance of marginality and the periphery in comics, how this discourages interpretive stagnation and mirrors what Balzer sees as the transience of modernity. Specifically, I will be looking at the copycat Yellow Kid strips created by George Luks in the 1890s, George Carlson’s Jingle Jangle stories from the 1940s, the ‘chicken fat’ aesthetic of Mad in the 1950s, and the echo of Outcault’s crowd scenes in Jordan Speer’s recent QCHQ.

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