This second newsletter from NNCORE reports on the founding network meeting at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense on October 27-29, 2011.
As you will see, the meeting went very well, and the network members have now starting working in thematic groups, preparing for the first NNCORE anthology and joint research projects more generally. We will keep you informed through these newsletters.
NNCORE is open to new members. The requirements to become a member are that you are involved in some way with the study of comics and comics research, and either belong to a Nordic institution or study Nordic comics. You are welcome to contact Anne Magnussen, firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions in this regard or if you would like to sign.
Below, a general overview by Gunhild Borggreen is followed by reports from the different thematic groups within the network and a reflection on NNCORE and Nordic comics scholarship by Advisory Board member Roger Sabin.
NNCORE Meeting Report, University of Southern Denmark, October 27-29, 2011
By Gunhild Borggreen, Dept. of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen
The first meeting of NNCORE was attended by approximately 35 scholars of different academic backgrounds and at various career levels. Thanks to the efficient planning by Anne Magnussen and Rikke Platz Cortsen, the practical as well as the organizational aspects went smoothly during the entire event. The atmosphere among all participants was that of openness and curiosity, and everyone agreed that NNCORE should embrace the widest possible understanding of the “Nordic” aspect: comics produced and consumed in the Nordic countries, as well as scholars working in the Nordic context.
Day One started with a brief introduction by Anne Magnussen, and continued with a panel discussion on the status of comics scholarship. The panel consisted of three of NNCORE’s Advisory Board members: Ann Miller (University of Leicester, UK), Bart Beaty (University of Calgary, Canada) and Roger Sabin (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, UK), as well as two representatives from other comics networks: Laurence Grove from IBDS (UK) and Anne Hoyer from COMFOR (Germany). The discussions afterwards included issues such as the status of comics, the relationship between text and image, the relationship between fandom and scholarship, autobiography as meta-genre, and many other topics.
The panel discussion was followed by two presentations on didactics: Marianne Eskebæk-Larsen on visual literacy and Chris Kjeldsen on scientific work using comics as medium. After lunch the participants assembled in thematic groups. The official part of the day’s programme ended with a reception, while many NNCORE members met later for a beer at a famous local pub.
Day Two began with presentations in plenum of the thematic groups’ work and plans. After lunch, a panel of scholars with experience in collective research and fundraising opened the debate of how NNCORE can reach out to international research communities, including communication strategies and concrete plans for publications. This was followed by four presentations that outlined the status of comics in each of the four Nordic countries: similarities and differences due to local patterns of comics production and readership. A new Nordic anthology entitled Kolor Klimax was presented. Day Two ended with a dinner for all participants at a restaurant in town.
Day Three was devoted to presentations by PhD students: Mervi Miettinen, Kristina Arnerud Mejhammar, Erin La Cour, Frederik Byrn Køhlert, Ylva Sommerland and Rikke Platz Cortsen. With the research of eminent young scholars and the enthusiasm displayed by everyone at the NNCORE meeting, the initiative on Nordic comics research has started in the best possible manner.
Thematic group A: Telling Stories, challenging convention
By Fredrik Strömberg, Dept. of Media and Communication Studies, Malmö University
The group had a fruitful first meeting at the conference. All-in-all about 15 participants was able to take part in the discussions, introduce themselves, their respective backgrounds and future research interests. This was stimulating, as the group consists of people from many different academic fields, such as literature studies, film studies, art studies, media and communications, geography and so on – all with an interest in comics in general and how comics work in particular. The debate was productive, several new connections were formed and plans for co-written articles, and anthologies etc. were initiated.
The group will set up a timeline for working with our writing, giving and receiving help and feedback. There will be deadlines for submitting ideas, abstracts, roughs and so on, with a system for discussions, critique etc. at every stage. Many exciting themes will be researched in the group, by single researchers or groups of researchers. One area is the use of time and space in comics and how these two parameters interact. Several projects will look into this, from various angles. A specific and very interesting area is how geography can relate to comics, as a pedagogical tool but also on a more general level. Here a co-written article is in the plans, using knowledge from several different fields. Another area of interest is how style affects the narrative in comics. Again, several projects will be involved in this question, looking at things like thought representation, place construction, Tintin in movies and comics and so on.
Since the meeting, Group A has been augmented by Katja Kontturi, PhD student at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Jakob Dittmar, assistant professor at Malmö University, Sweden.
Thematic group B: Intertextuality / Intermediality
By Michael Prince, University of Agder
At the seminar in Odense, we were eight participants in the Intertextuality / Intermediality group. Some preliminary contacts and exchanges of interests and ideas began on the “google-groups” site “NNCORE Intertextuality” in September. The group members first discussed their interests and current projects. The “inter” in intertextuality and intermediality demonstrated multiple qualities in the course of the dialogue. The first was in terms of the stylized transitions from prose to image, including photography and illustrations; herein were references to illustrations in recent French realist novels, as well as the institutionalization of comics in museum exhibitions or free-standing installations. The second encompassed intertextual references as part of a satire/parody project, for instance, with popular culture manifestations of iconic canonical authorial figures within the comics medium. The third, deals with genre shifting (to and from comics to another medium such as film, television, drama, poetry), i.e. adaptations. This encompassed the use of comics for plot continuity in television series and the adaptations of canonical literary texts to comics, for example manga. A second discussion topic was a conversation around the various members familiarity with Scandinavian comics. The third topic centered information, comments and questions orbiting critical perspectives and useful paradigm sets for analysis.
Each of these has been addressed and worked on by the group members in the interim. With regard to critical materials, book titles, articles, chapters and links have been posted on the group site. Some of the “chatter” afterwards indicated that this has been helpful. The members of the group have also shared diverse titles of Scandinavian comics. The discussion of topics has coalesced around several collaboration projects: “Eric Drooker’s Howl: A Graphic Novel“; “Apocalypse Why? – The Neutralization of the Antichrist in Three Comics Narratives”; “Unwanted: Superheroes and Mutants Transformations of the cliché in alternative comics”; and a strongly stated willingness to investigate Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier & Clay. In addition, members of the group are working on individual articles for the much-discussed collection. Group B will be meeting for a work-in-progress seminar on the 24th of March.
Thematic group C: Contesting – and Creating – Identities and Communities
By Øyvind Vågnes, Dept. of Information, Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen
When the group gathered for the very first time I was immediately struck by its composition and of its potential – we had people from a variety of disciplines gathered there, and at the same time there were so many overlapping interests and various possible venues for collaboration. Five thematic streams seemed to emerge from the mapping of our interests:
1) Autobiographical Comics, Identity, Community. How does the form of comics challenge and destabilize dominant notions of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and the body in contemporary autobiographical comics? How do we link theories of minority autobiography with formalist comics studies? How do we study contemporary autobiographical/autofictive graphic novels made by young persons, and what characterizes the self-representation of these?
2) Costumed Heroes and Constructions of Identity. How can we map the relationships between subject identity and national identity in comics depictions of costumed heroes? What is the role and relevance of superhero comics in the popular geopolitics of American identity? How do such comics contribute to the popularized idea of what American identity is through their portrayal of superheroes?
3) Comics and Technology. Many outstanding robot scientists in Japan cite their childhood encounter with manga such as Tetsuwan Atomu (aka Astro Boy) or Tetsujin 28-go (Iron man no. 28) as their main source of inspiration for becoming a robot engineer in the first place. What are the implications of the influence of comics on visual robot culture, the visual and social relationship between human beings and technology? Has the science fiction genre of manga and anime, especially the robot and mecha figures, come to form a part of a “techno-nationalism”, and how do they contribute to (or contest) the notion of Japan as a haven for the development of robot technologies?
4) Comics Representation and Ethnic Identity. How do we study ethnic identities and communities through comics? How do we study comics from the Third World from a postcolonial perspective (i.e. Senegalese comics, in which that nation’s history and identity have been expressed in different versions)?
5) Comics, Political Struggle, and History. What is the role of comics in describing, addressing, and propagating political struggle from propaganda to comics journalism?
There are plans to meet in June 2012, probably in Oslo (and possibly at a time which coincides with the Oslo Comics Expo); that will serve as a good chance to discuss on-going work in person, to present something, and to look to the future – most immediately to the 2013 Helsinki conference. We have a listserv and I imagine this will be a productive forum for discussion, suggested reading, commentary, and all manners of collegial activity.
Thematic Group D: The power of comics: propaganda and censorship
By Michael F. Scholz, Gotland University
Before the NNCORE Meeting in Odense the “propaganda group” had a lively discussion about possible research projects and future collaborative writing at their own online project room (http://executive.hgo.se/). There was agreement that emphasis be put on comics and propaganda in Northern Europe. Among the possible topics discussed were: the comics debate in the 1950s, comics in Northern Europe during World War II, and comics and collective memory as well as comics and uses of history.
The group session in Odense (attended by advisory board members Roger Sabin and Laurence Grove) resulted in a long list of interesting topics. Besides the comics debate in the 1950s (coordinator: Ralf Kauranen) and wartime propaganda (coordinator: Michael Scholz) discussions focused on the use of comics in education, comics and censorship, how comic artists are compromised under undemocratic regimes, as well as anti-Semitism and racism in Comics. By studying how comics construe friend-enemy images and heroism, and how they use history to create identities, we will discuss the political and social power of comics and how they can influence society as state propaganda. A special topic for research could be how comics helped selling rationing during World War II.
The presentation of these ideas in the NNCORE-plenum got a positive response. The discussion broadened the interest to the current debates about manga as pornography. Three new members joined the group in Odense: Aske H. Nielsen, Odense, Carsten Fogh Nielsen, Aarhus, and Fredrik Strömberg, Malmö. The next group meeting will be held in September 2012 at Gotland University in Visby, Sweden.
Thematic Group E: Manga and the globalization of comics
By Svenn-Arve Myklebost, Dept of Foreign Languages, University of Bergen
The manga group, which was officially disbanded prior to the meeting, became resuscitated during the first NNCORE conference, albeit in a semi-official form. After discussing the matter it was decided that we should at the very least use this opportunity to maintain a network for scholars interested in the formal and cultural importance of manga. We did not have a thematic group meeting, nor will we develop specific manga projects in the foreseeable future, but we think it might be wise to have such a network in place, in order to share our work, readings, discoveries (of manga or scholarly work on manga) and new insights. Svenn-Arve Myklebost is the coordinator for the manga network.
Thematic Group F: Learning from and through comics: comics as a didactic tool
By Marianne Eskebæk, Centre for Children’s Literature, Aarhus University
The group only consisted of three people before the meeting in Odense and the future of the group was in question. In a plenary session Marianne Eskebæk and Chris Kjeldsen presented their experiences with comics in relation to didactics. Chris Kjeldsen talked about the use of comics when teaching students of the agricultural sciences. Marianne Eskebæk described her activities for promoting the use of comics by librarians and teachers in an educational context. Because of the rich response to the presentations it was decided that the didactic group would continue to exist. Marianne Eskebæk is the coordinator for the group. There was no group meeting in Odense, and it still has to be discussed what kind of activities the group will focus on, besides sharing our readings and experiences.
REFLECTIONS ON NNCORE 2011
By Roger Sabin, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London
The energy in Odense was amazing. There are more young scholars than I can ever remember getting into this field and having valuable things to say. The PhD seminar, in particular, was a highlight. I learned a great deal, and it reinforced the fact that the Network is a hugely important development. Which is not to take anything away from the other, more established speakers, who often came from great distances and gave the conference an international dimension and a solid foundation. (And, yes, Bart Beaty was probably right to say we should ban the phrase ‘young scholar’ because it makes the rest of us seem so old…)
But at the same time, I sensed an identity crisis. What does ‘Nordic scholarship’ mean? Often the speakers would not differentiate between ‘Nordic’ and ‘Scandinavian’. Also, does it mean scholarship about Nordic comics, or ‘scholarship about international comics’ that emanates from the Nordic countries? And, if it’s Nordic-based, does that include scholars who have non-Nordic passports, but who live there? These are questions that were discussed, but not resolved.
Similarly, Nordic comics scholarship is having to grapple with some of the questions that vex comics scholarship more generally. For example, does comics scholarship equal literary scholarship? (I, personally, would like to have seen more audience research.) Does comics scholarship equal ‘American comics’ scholarship? There were significant nods towards the Nordic traditions, but this perspective is not ‘natural’ – yet. Does comics scholarship equal ‘post-1930s comics’ scholarship? I happen to be interested in the Victorian period, so I welcome this kind of research. Does comics scholarship equal ‘adult comics’ scholarship? With a few exceptions, we seemed to be talking about graphic novel culture. The list could go on.
But these are not criticisms. They are talking-points. In some ways, Odense was ‘the next step’ from the now-famous Copenhagen comics conference in 1998 (also co-organised by the estimable Anne Magnussen). It represents a statement of intent – to put Nordic scholarship on the map. There are difficult times ahead for higher education in the wake of the banking crisis and the subsequent ‘attack on the Humanities’, but if the Network can stay focused there is no reason why it can’t achieve great things.
Edited by Ralf Kauranen, Dept. of Social Sciences, Åbo Akademi University, Finland