21 July 2016

Melanie Stevens Interview: Artists against Police Brutality

Following the publication of Artists against Police Brutality, a quintessentially graphic justice project, here is a short interview between GJRA Member Bruno Conrado and Melanie Stevens, one of the creators involved in the project.
BC: The selection approaches a more than relevant topic, an urgent one. And, of course, these are real stories, hard stories to deal with. In spite of it, the comics have a similar tone of sensibility. For you, how was the process of finding the balance between the ‘heaviness’ of the subject and the sensibility of the final work?

MS: For me, the key to approaching the task of creating a story that doesn't get overwhelmed by the tragic nature of its subject matter was to center it in the humanity of the protagonists.  In real life, terrible things have happened, but the value and the beauty of those lives is *not* defined by the horrors that may have cut them short.  These were people who laughed and reveled in the minutiae of daily life and worked to create and build futures.  They hoped, dreamed, triumphed and struggled just like the rest of us.  That is what I chose to focus on and highlight, rather than the monstr
ous details and events that stole the potential contributions of these people to society, as well as the ability to see those hopes and dreams through to fruition.  

BC: The selection alternates comics and narratives, both very touching. How do you see the comics medium in terms of accessibility of information concerning the movement of “spreading the word” on Police Brutality? What about e-comics in that same subject?

MS: I feel that there is something that is both inviting and universal about the medium of comics.  It allows the artist to curate a potentially difficult subject matter by flattening the characters (both literally via 2D and metaphorically removing superfluous gravitas) and applying a stylized version of storytelling that is visually appealing and enables the audience to jump through multiple time periods, characters and perspectives in a very short amount of time.  This can also be applied to e-comics which, along with the aforementioned abilities, can also be distributed and disseminated amongst large amounts of people and accessed and shared almost momentarily.
BC: This whole work relies on the creative freedom of it creators, as a great example of independent art initiatives. We have been living in social and technological contexts that allow us to express ourselves on the subjects we find relevant - or even urgent, such as #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality - free from old chains that still rule, like great corporate publishers, with alternatives like crowdfunding. Do you agree with this description? How do you see this scenario? Are comics nowadays joining these new creative possibilities?

MS: Yes, I completely agree.  In an age in which one can own and control their own webspace for free, an artist no longer has to wait for traditional gatekeepers to provide them with an international platform on which to tell their stories, voice their concerns, or critically analyze societal norms.  Also, with the advent of social media, artists are also given the privilege and ability to interact with other artists AND their potential audience, which allows for stronger diversity and grassroots base support.  You can see this shift reflected in the comics industry via the exponential rise of webcomics, independent publishers, and smaller comics conventions that highlight self-published artists. 
See some of Melanie's comics work here.

28 April 2016

The Great British Graphic Novel

20 April - 24 July 2016
The Cartoon Museum, London

The Great British Graphic Novel is an exciting new exhibition opening in London's Cartoon Museum on 20 April 2016. Classic graphic novels will be displayed alongside lesser-known gems and visitors will follow the history of the form through exhibits, books, and over a hundred pieces of original art.

The Great British Graphic Novel will demonstrate the huge range of graphic novels coming out of the UK, with writers and artists creating romances, comedies, autobiographies, literary adaptations, and political thrillers for people of all ages. From comics without words to innovative combinations of text and image, graphic novelists have amused, terrified, educated, and enthralled, taking their readers to parallel worlds, worlds long past, and worlds we can only just imagine. Work will be exhibited by graphic novelists such as Nick Abadzis, Asia Alfasi, Rachael Ball, Hannah Berry, Brian Bolland, Eddie Campbell, Kate Charlesworth, Hunt Emerson, Garth Ennis, Kate Evans, Karrie Fransman, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, William Hogarth, David Lloyd, Colin MacNeil, Dave McKean, Jamie McKelvie, Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Woodrow Phoenix, Martin Rowson, Posy Simmonds, Nicola Streeten, Carol Swain, Mary M. and Bryan Talbot, Una, Ian Williams, and Oscar Zarate.


What better time to celebrate the British graphic novel? Watchmen began serialisation in 1986 and this text and others like it spurred book publishers and journalists to herald the dawn of the graphic novel thirty years ago. Written by Alan Moore, Watchmen was a landmark achievement and placed British comics creators at the forefront of international attention; The Great British Graphic Novel shows Gibbons's pencilled and inked art as well as John Higgins's coloured pages.

Visitors to the exhibition will see that Watchmen, and other major graphic novels such as Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta and Posy Simmonds's Gemma Bovery, are part of a much bigger and older body of texts. While the bulk of items are from the late 1970s to the present day, art going back to the eighteenth century will be shown alongside more recent material to underline the dialogue between creators from the past and present. British publishing faces significant challenges in the twenty-first century but graphic novels are one of its success stories: digital media is inspiring a new generation of graphic novelists and some of the work on display strains at the limits of what we think a comic or a book might look like.

The Great British Graphic Novel will display the powerful art and complex storytelling that have made the tradition so compelling for readers. Whether you are a devotee of comics or new to the form, your knowledge of the graphic novel will be surprised and enriched!

Funding for this exhibition is provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council with additional support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the University of Exeter.

For further information please contact:

Anita O'Brien, Director/Curator, the Cartoon Museum
+44 (0)207 580 8155

13 April 2016

SLSA 2016 Fallout

Last week, at the Socio-Legal Studies Association annual conference for 2016, there were two Graphic Justice panels. For those able to attend, it was a highly interesting and valuable engagement on some different uses and approaches to comics in law, and also some key issues of sovereignty and democracy engaged in a selection of comics examples.

It has already been announced that papers from this theme at SLSA2016 are going to be collected and considered for a special issue of the excellent and ever-growing Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. Details of this special issue will follow in due course, but never fear--even though you may not have been able to attend the SLSA2016 panels, you will still be able to experience the key dimensions of the papers involved.

On which note, there was one major technical hitch with the first SLSA panel. Marietjie Botes of the Visual Law Lab at  was unable to be at the event, but had sent in a pre-recorded PowerPoint presentation, carefully embedded with audio. But, sadly, the machine present at the SLSA was not able to decode this audio data. Marietjie, however, has given me kind permission to post her presentation here on the GJRA blog. Click on this handy link to download it.

18 March 2016

Comics, Morality, and Indigenous Youth

Hi all,

As the website title indicates this is a research alliance, I thought I might float my latest research interest to see if anyone else is thinking along similar lines. My research team and I are particularly interested in the ways comics can be used to transmit ethical behaviour and moral responsibility to Indigenous youth in remote communities of outback Australia. Furthermore, how traditional symbolism can inform the design without impinging on the intellectual property rights of a clan. Juxtaposed to this aim is a study of the ways in which Indigenous values and norms are being diluted to fit into Western norms of graphic design in comics and novels.

A recent visit by the Director of the Native American Storytelling and Writers Association brought forth a potential collaboration to research and teach courses relating to comics designed by Indigenous peoples. The research will carry out a skills analysis to ensure it fits in with the national curriculum frameworks in each country, but also critique the said framework for its capacity to prepare students for employment in the global market.

If you are interested in this project, please feel free to contact me on my university email: christine.black@cdu.edu.au