Transitions 8

Saturday 10th November 2018

Main Building, Malet Street

Birkbeck, University of London

The Centre for Contemporary Literature is delighted to announce the programme for Transitions 8: our eighth symposium dedicated to comics and graphic narrative. Details follow. They can all be viewed as a PDF here.


Transitions was originally conceived and launched by Tony Venezia in 2010, while writing his PhD at Birkbeck. The symposium  is organised with support from the Centre for Contemporary Literature and the Department of English and Humanities. Since 2010, Transitions has become an important fixture in the landscape of UK comics studies, and increasingly also attracts participants from further afield. Our aim has been to maintain the spirit of inclusivity and support for emerging research that informed the original ethos of this event. After a brief absence in 2017, the current team: Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck), Nina Mickwitz (University of the Arts London) and John Miers (Kingston) are pleased to welcome you to Transitions 8. We are also delighted to welcome Dr. Maggie Gray (Kingston), author of Alan Moore, Out from the Underground: Cartooning, Performance and Dissent (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) as this year’s keynote speaker.

You will need to make your own arrangements for refreshments and food during the day, but beyond the coffee shop just inside the Torrington Square entrance to the building, there are also various shops and cafes in the close vicinity of Birkbeck. Thanks to the generosity of the Centre for Contemporary Literature there will be a small wine reception at the end of the day, as per tradition. This event is free of charge and open to all, but in order to gauge numbers we ask that you register your attendance in advance, using this link at EventBrite:


9.30 – 10.00 Registration

10.00 – 10.20 (B20) Brief Welcomes Joe Brooker and Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck)

10.20 -11.20 Keynote by Dr. Maggie Gray (Kingston) + Q&A. Chair: John Miers.

Break 10 minutes

11.30am – 1.00pm PANELS 1A AND 1B

1A Speculative fictions (532) Chair: Joe Sutliff Sanders

Barbara Chamberlin (University of Brighton): ‘What Lurks Beneath: the spectral reader and the witch in comics’

Kevin Hoffin (Birmingham City University): ‘Magick as Transgression through DC/Vertigo’s “John Constantine”: An ultra-realist approach to the discussion of comics as cultural criminology’

Corinna Lenhardt (University of Münster): ‘The Final Frontier: Futurism and survivance in Indigenous sci-fi comic book stories’

1B Maternity and comics (B20) Chair: Nicola Streeten

Roundtable discussion convened by Sarah Lightman (Birkbeck). Speakers to include:

Camille Aubry (Toddler Moments, A Journey to Motherhood); Francesca Cassaveti (The Most Natural Thing In The World); Dr Isabel Davis (Birkbeck) and Anna Burel (Conceiving Histories); Dr Hattie Earle (Sheffield Hallam); Karrie Fransman (The House That Groaned, Death of The Artist); Amber Hsu (Tiny Pencil, One Pound Poems); Kripa Joshi (Miss Moti); Simone Lia (Fluffy/Please God, Find Me a Husband!); Zarina Liew (Rosie and Jacinda, The Sun and The Moon); Dr. Sarah Lightman (Birkbeck, The Book of Sarah); Penelope Mendonca (Central/St Martins); Amelie Persson.

1.00 – 2.00 pm LUNCH (own arrangements)

2.00 – 3.30 PANEL 2

Power and Politics of Representation (B20) Chair: Harriet Earle

Paul Fisher Davies (University of Sussex): ‘Comics and Power: Towards a critical discourse analysis for comics’

Keisha Fraser-Bruce (University of Nottingham): ‘Black Political Cartoonists: Satire, the Politics of Race and the Classification of the Black Cartoon in Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks’

Sara Gancedo Lesmes (Complutense University, Madrid ): ‘The Comic as a Revulsive: El Roto’s comic strips as counterhegemonic art’

Break 10 minutes

3.40 – 4.40 PANELS 3A and 3B

3A Autographics, truths and conceits (B20) Chair: Sarah Lightman

Eszter Szép (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest): ‘Lynda Takes the Line for a Walk: Attitudes and philosophies of drawing in Lynda Barry’s comics’

Chantal Cointot (Nottingham Trent University): ‘An Affair with Judith Forest: Framing the male gaze with impossible selfies’

3B Contemporary comics subcultures (532) Chair: Nina Mickwitz

Dom Davies (City University of London): ‘Global Cities, Urban Forms: Comics as infrastructure’

Debanjana Nayek (Presidency University, Kolkata): ‘Drawing a Subculture: The dissenting voices of the Indian digital graphic narratives’

Break 10 minutes

4.50 – 5.50 PANELS 4A and 4B

4A Digital comics and hybrid story-telling (B20) Chair: Ian Hague

Daniel Goodbrey (University of Hertfordshire): ‘Disruptions of Word and Image’

Simona Spinelli (King’s College London): ‘Comics and the Case of Madefire: The evolution of a hybrid form of storytelling’

4B  Microhistories (532) Chair: Hallvard Haug

Guy Lawley (University of the Arts London): ‘Surviving until Superman: the US comic book as printed object, 1933-1938’

Mark Hibbett (University of the Arts London): ‘Doctor Doom as The Avatar Of Villainy in Not Brand Ecch'

6.00 – 6.30 RESPONSES: Roger Sabin, Joan Ormrod, Ian Hague, Nicola Streeten.

6.30 – 8.00 WINE RECEPTION



Barbara Chamberlin: What lurks beneath: the spectral reader and the witch in comics

In her application of Gothic literary theory to comics, Julia Round (2014) suggests that the comics page can be viewed as a ‘haunted space’, where time becomes compressed and extended and, like haunting, where past, present and future become co-present within a single space. In negotiating this haunted space, the reader too becomes a spectral presence by being able to access and move between time periods within that space, as well as by becoming ‘the ghost in the gutter’ (ibid: 96) in weaving a cohesive whole from the fragments provided. Readers also bring affective and experiential knowledge which may be triggered through nostalgic or textual association when, ‘two different temporal moments, past and present, come together (and) carry considerable emotional weight’ (Hutcheon, 2000: 5). Nostalgia and transtextuality become tools that enable the reader to become more deeply embedded within the narrative.  A ghost is ‘that which interrupts the presentness of the present, and its haunting indicates that, beneath the surface (…), there lurks another narrative’ (Weinstock, 2004: 5), and so texts may draw on reader knowledge and emotional association of other narratives or representations that ‘lurk beneath’ the one told. The ways that these narratives and ideas rupture the surface create palimpsests of representations and ideas. The past remains ever in the present.

How then does haunting and spectrality offer a potential useful lens to interrogate representations in comics? And how is this made even more complex when exploring representations of an archetype so familiar yet so diverse to many of us, that of the witch? How might the witch be considered a haunted space? And how does reader engagement with form, content and nostalgic or transtextual reference of witch representations and the stories she inhabits create additional narrative layers, allowing text, character and reader to be considered spectral?

Barbara Chamberlin is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities at the University of Brighton. Alongside her role as a teacher-trainer, Barbara teaches a module on graphic novels and contributes to undergraduate and postgraduate courses on media, sociolinguistics, narrative and creative writing, allowing aspects of comics studies to explored in different contexts and disciplines. She is also one of the co-curators of Graphic Brighton. Barbara is in her third year as a part-time doctoral student at the University of Sussex where she is exploring representations of the witch in post-millennial comics.

Kevin Hoffin: Magick as Transgression through DC/Vertigo’s ‘John Constantine’: An ultra-realist approach to the discussion of comics as cultural criminology.

In this paper, the case will be made for the rebirth of the Victorian literature metaphorical device of using magic(k)al and supernatural elements to portray criminality and other taboo subjects, themes that writers could not freely express. The entirety of this paper will pursue the comic as a model of popular criminology (Rafter & Brown 2011). Here, it will become apparent that the late 20th Century comic book series 'Hellblazer' (DC Comics/Vertigo) with its litany of paranormal demons and macabre magicks, uses such mysticism in much the same way. The protagonist, John Constantine, an exceptional street-level mage, crosses paths with all manner of evil ephemera, spits and devils, and while he possesses the skill to 'out-magick' these threats, he is far more likely to use cunning and guile to out-manoeuvre them. Constantine regularly engages the reader directly 'breaking the fourth wall' and talks about how magick is essentially a ploy to ‘trick the universe into handing us effects without the cause (Lemire 2013).

Kevin Hoffin is a lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University. His main research interests are transgression, comics, graphic justice and cultural criminology. He is often found reading from an ever-growing collection of comics and is currently an active researcher in the “From Villain to Hero Initiative” comic book project which involves creating a comic book to teach criminological theories, with the intention of future contributions from offenders which will aid them in their rehabilitation and therapies.

Corinna Lenhardt: The Final Frontier: Futurism and Survivance in Indigenous Sci-fi Comic Book Stories

Arigon Starr’s (Kickapoo-Creek, Cherokee, and Seneca) and David Cutler’s (Qalipu Mi’kmaq) short comic book story, “Ue-Pucase: Water Master” (first published 2015, re-published 2016 in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection), is a fascinating renegotiation of an old Muscogee Creek story. Set in a post-earth age of space travel, two Muscogee Creeks return to earth to find and collect useful “junk.” Carefully blending visual signposts of mainstream science fiction graphic world building with the Indigenous origin story of the “Water Master,” one of the characters is fast morphing into a gigantic snake after failing to heed an essential warning: “No off-world food!”

Starr and Cutler’s sci-fi comic book story negotiates the Water Master story by insisting on both the actuality and futurity of Indigenous story telling and Indigenous culture. The comic book medium, “which breaks boundaries in its marriage of text and image” (Nicholson 7) and, thus, opens up very unique spaces of fictional world building, becomes the perfect medium for instantiating oral Indigenous storytelling, aesthetics, and cultural agency both in the present and the future. If we also take into account the mainstream comic book medium’s long history of misrepresenting Indigenous peoples as stereotypical “fringe-and-feather-Indians” (Sheyahshe 9), as fantastically overdrawn relics of times long gone, the critical potential and the high level of political agency involved in claiming and re-building science fiction worlds from an Indigenous perspective become visible.

In my paper, I will focus particularly on “Ue-Pucase: Water Master” and connect it to both the underlying Muscogee Creek story telling tradition and the sci-fi comic genre. Bringing in my backgrounds in Indigenous Studies as well as in the fantastic, I will work out the innovative and critical potential of the specific short comic book story before offering a glimpse into the contemporary American Indian sci-fi comic book scene. Indigenous storytelling vis-à-vis the sci-fi comic book genre will not only be understood as an effective way to share traditional stories with a younger target readership; rather, the revival of Indigenous myths and cultural histories will be read as powerful instantiations of Indigenous futurism and survivance.

Corinna Lenhardt is a lecturer and research assistant at the University of Münster, Germany. Her research and teaching interests include ethnic studies, digital cultures, race, gender, and Gothic fiction. Corinna has published papers on American Indian Gothic fiction, “pseudo-Indian” vampires in U.S. mainstream film and television, Indigenous online activism, and on Larissa Lai’s Gothic poetry. She is a member of the editorial team of the Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung, the most important forum for research in the fantastic in German-speaking countries.


Presentations and Discussion Convened by Dr. Sarah Lightman (Birkbeck).

11 comics artists and academics present (their) experiences of maternity. What historical, medical, social and cultural aspects of maternity are recorded in these comics? And what experiences are not shown?

Speakers to include: Camille Aubry (Toddler Moments, A Journey to Motherhood), Francesca Cassaveti (The Most Natural Thing In The World), Dr Isabel Davis (Birkbeck) and Anna Burel (Conceiving Histories), Dr Hattie Earle (Sheffield Hallam), Karrie Fransman (The House That Groaned, Death of The Artist), Amber Hsu (Tiny Pencil, One Pound Poems), Kripa Joshi (Miss Moti), Simone Lia (Fluffy/Please God, Find Me a Husband!), Zarina Liew (Rosie and Jacinda, The Sun and The Moon),

Dr. Sarah Lightman (Birkbeck, The Book of Sarah), Penelope Mendonca (Central St Martins), Amelie Persson.


Paul Fisher Davies: Comics and Power: Towards a Critical Discourse Analysis for comics

Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), as first outlined in his Language and Power (1989), seeks to critically examine the ways in which power relationships are encoded in language, deliberately or otherwise. The linguistic frameworks used to approach this task derive from M.A.K. Halliday’s systemic functional categories of language, which focus on the use of language to enact social relationships as well as to represent ideational content.

An account of comics form which uses this Hallidayan framework might be recruited to likewise examine how comics forms might encode power and political positions. This suggests the possibility of inaugurating a Critical Discourse Analysis for comics which goes beyond the roles played by language in comics, to account for the functions realised by visual forms too. This paper will outline just such a project, and sketch a framework within which we might perform CDA, with illustrative examples. It will explore such questions as: How are hierarchies of voices indicated by enclosure and fronting, framing the action with a governing voice? Who tells the story? Whose thoughts do we hear? Which characters are we focused on? Who is redrawn most? Who is drawn realistically and who is abstracted more? Who is silhouetted, substituted, elided? Who gets larger panels and splash pages? Who exceeds panel borders? When and why? Who addresses the audience with words or gaze? Speech or thought? What forms of engagement does the comic recruit the reader in, and to what effect? What metaphors are used, and on what grounds? What does that reveal about the underlying beliefs of the text?

Paul Fisher Davies has recently gained his Ph.D. with the thesis title Making Meanings with Comics: A Functional Approach to Graphic Narrative in the school of English at University of Sussex, where he has also been an associate lecturer and student mentor. He teaches English Language and Literature at Sussex Downs College in Eastbourne, UK. As well as studying and writing about graphic narrative form, he has written a collection of graphic short stories, with previews archived at

Keisha Fraser-Bruce: Black Political Cartoonists: Satire, the Politics of Race and the Classification of the Black Cartoon in Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks

Aaron McGruder’s syndicated comic strip, The Boondocks (1996-2006), was best known for being controversial in its left-wing political agenda, and satirisation of African American culture. This paper examines the methods of satire that are used within the comic strip and the ways in which the Black cartoon is classified. I am interested in the ways that the comic script is communicated in its on-screen animated adaptation, and also how an African American writer re-imagines African American cartooning and caricaturing, therefore this paper will draw examples from the comic strip and its animated series. In this paper I investigate the ways that The Boondocks critically responds to the erasure of an African American satirical, comic voice. In order to do this, I examine some of the political and racial content within The Boondocks and discuss how the strip operates as a self-reflexive, postmodernist text, which responds to a contemporary landscape of satirical cartoons that benefit from caricaturing blackness, yet simultaneously omit discussions of race. McGruder values these discussions of race and blackness and views them as opportunity for satirical content, which can only be pushed to the extreme as he is an African American author. Developing on this, I explore McGruder’s visual depiction of African Americans, and analyse his subversion and adaptation of racial stereotypes. I investigate how McGruder’s characterisation intervenes on the legacy of black caricaturing to satirise African American culture. McGruder’s use of dark humour and “truth-telling’” – which I explore within the paper – creates a space which governs a dynamic representation of African American characters and addresses racial issues which develops on a foundation of work curated by 20th century Black political cartoonists such as Oliver Harrington.

Keisha Fraser-Bruce is a first year Black Studies PhD candidate at The University of Nottingham (M3C/AHRC funded). Her research offers a transatlantic study of digital blackness in social spaces to prove the existence of a fluid racial identity. Her research interests include Black Feminism, Black Pop-Culture, Transatlantic cultures and the African Diaspora.

Sara Gancedo-Lesmes: The comic as a Revulsive: El Roto’s comic strips as counterhegemonic art

Can comic produce opinion? To what extent can graphic humour intervene and modify the public sphere? In this paper, I will focus on these questions through the work of Andrés Rábago, better known as El Roto, and the comic strips he published between 2008-2011, compiled in the volume Viñetas para una crisis  (Random House, 2011).

The eclosion of the financial crisis in Europe in 2008 was a collapse of the material conditions of life that produced the stagnation of the dominant discourse and set the conditions of possibility of new emergent ones. Following Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe[1], we understand this moment as the opening of a fault in the discursive totality that constitutes the social sphere, and therefore a context in which the hegemonic thought, the horizon of what is politically thinkable, became contestable.

It is in this margin for action where El Roto's work takes place. I will defend that he is a key contributor in the emergence of new cultural frames to conceptualize reality and politics in the Spanish context, that would eventually lead to the social movement of the 15M. Through an analysis of his Viñetas para una crisis we will examine the main literary and graphical resources that towards this objective, i.e.: the use of graphic humour, especially irony and paradox, as the representation of a systemic tension; its visual universe, that breaks away from the traditional satirical caricature to prioritize the creation of social types and reinforce notions of identity and alterity; and the production of metaphors, symbols and a language critical with capitalism that helps to articulate counterhegemonic discoursive practices. Eventually, establishing a dialogue between El Roto’s work and the artistic representations of the 15M will reflect on the role of graphic humour and comic strips within political changes, generation of opinion and social transformation.

Sara Gancedo Lesmes (Madrid, 1996) graduated in General and Comparative Literature at Complutense University and in Philosophy at UNED. Her interests concentrate on the intersections between both disciplines and cultural studies, and, above all, on the dialogue between the Academy and the social and conceptual contemporary demands. That is why she attempts to link research work, e.g. in the University of Granada, with activism and the organization of activities of alternative formation within the university.


Eszter Szép: Lynda Takes the Line for A Walk: Attitudes and Philosophies of Drawing in Lynda Barry’s Comics

Lynda Barry’s What It Is (2008), Picture This (2009), and Syllabus (2014) are not simply educational or self-help books on making comics, they reveal Barry’s theory about drawing and about creation. In my presentation I examine what Barry’s explanatory texts, creative exercises, and autobiographical comics inserts reveal about her philosophy of drawing.

In her exercises designed for either students or readers to engage in making drawings, Barry emphasizes the importance of bodily engagement in thinking and in creation. This idea appears in comics scholarship as well, but, unlike scholars, Barry thinks of the line as a trace of one’s personality. This way Barry engages in an ongoing discourse on the authenticity/conventional nature of the line in comics. Authenticity in non-fiction storytelling has become possibly the most overinvestigated term in the study of comics autobiography and journalism, but the relationship between the line and the drawer and the line and the story has not been studied that much.

While approaching Barry’s work, I reach back to theories of drawing by Jan Baetens, Hillary Chute, Jared Gardner, Simon Grennan, Philippe Marion, Nick Sousanis, and parallel theories in contemporary approaches to drawing in contemporary art, namely by Karen Kurczynski, Elizabeth A. Pegram, Katherine Stout. Philip Rawson’s Drawing and Laura U. Marks’ recent article “I Feel Like an Abstract Line” have shaped my understanding of the line and provide the starting point of my analysis of Barry’s work.s

As the title of the presentation hints, I believe Barry’s idea of drawing a line is closely related to that of Paul Klee. I will show that, similarly to Klee, Barry considers the line as a partner of the drawer. I also offer close readings of some of the drawing exercises Barry designed for her students and for the reader, and these pages will serve as prompts to illustrate the already mentioned theories on the nature of the drawn line.

Eszter Szép completed her PhD at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest in 2018. Her doctoral dissertation is about drawing non-fiction comics and vulnerability, and her upcoming book is about non-fiction comics as embodied dialogue between artist and reader. She is a board member of the Hungarian Comics Association and is one of the main organizers of the yearly International Comics Festival, Budapest. She is one of the curators of the first major exhibitions on Hungarian comics at a major institution, “Comics as Narrative: The 9th Art and Its Icons In Hungary” in the National Széchényi Library, Budapest (14 May – 26 July 2018). She is a reviewer for Studies in Comics, and co-editor of the volume Gendered Identities in Contemporary Literary and Visual Cultures (2018). Further info at

Chantal Cointot: An Affair with Judith Forest: Framing the Male Gaze with Impossible Selfies

In this paper, I study the collaborative work of three Belgian male cartoonists, William Henne, Thomas Boivin and Xavier Löwenthal, 1h25 (2009) and Momon (2010), both published as a French artist named Judith Forest’s autobiographical comics. A close-textual examination of both 1h25 and Momon uncovers some of the expectations and assumptions that lie with an autobiocomic written by a young female artist after the Franco-Belgian boom of autobiocomics in the late 1990s-early 2000s. ‘Judith Forest’ is textually and visually constructed both as a subject and an object of an autobiographical project in an assemblage of references to Neaud’s Journal, (Jean-Claude) Forest’s Barbarella and Tiqqun’s Premiers matériaux pour une théorie de la Jeune-Fille (2006). While 1h25 successfully passed as an autobiocomics, it oscillates between performances of the female voice and traces of the male gaze. As for Momon, it further explores the relations between the textual author construct and ‘her’ autobiographical project, and between the authors and their ‘object’ of study. I examine in both texts the tensions between the autobiographical subject as an object of study and as an object of consumption – and the question of the consumption of both the autobiographical text and of the female body.

1h25 presents the textual construct of a young female voice resisting traditional feminist stances. What seems to be the expression of sexual freedom leans towards a form of compulsive and compulsory sexuality, and arguably it becomes a site of further alienation and submission to the male gaze. Since this voice is produced by three men, should the text be reassessed as reinforcing patriarchal views?

I suggest that, as the text is framed as produced by a female artist, it holds a mirror to the male spectator – and its reader – to expose the objectification of female characters. Free from any frame, the full-body naked portraits of ‘Judith’ seem offered to the reader’s viewing pleasure. The absence of frames to delimit panels raises questions about the complicity of the reader in these acts of interpretive framing and their effects. With ‘her’ deconstruction in Momon, this lack of formal framing invites a reflection of the ubiquity of the male gaze, questions its normative process and keeps it under scrutiny.

Chantal Cointot is a PhD candidate at Nottingham Trent University.


Dominic Davies: Global Cities, Urban Forms: Comics as Infrastructure

In a forthcoming book, Urban Comics: Infrastructure and the Global City in Contemporary Graphic Narratives (Routledge, 2019), I compare and contrast the infrastructural  strategies of governance in a number of ‘emerging’ global cities, including Delhi, Cape Town, Cairo, Beirut and New Orleans. In their attempts to achieve ‘world class’ status, such cities are increasingly obsessed with ‘image’, concealing their deeply unequal and often discriminatory urban forms behind the smooth, glass-fronted aesthetic of neoliberal architectural trends.

Meanwhile, a subcultural and distinctly urban comics production in these cities has blossomed. Redefining the ‘urban’ as a public space of co-mixing and interaction, rather than a private space reserved only for a socioeconomic elite, these comics challenge through their graphic work the neoliberal rebranding strategies of global city governance. Creators work both individually as journalists and auteurs, and collaboratively as part of artistic, social and political collectives and urban movements. While often responding to dynamics highly specific to their local context, the formal strategies of these different creators and collectives align in their subversive interactions with the cities they both inhabit and depict.

This paper pivots away from the US and Global North to make the case that what it terms the ‘infrastructural form’ of urban comics—that is, a form adept at exposing the ‘infrastructure’ of social and political narratives, as well as physical urban spaces—is being recalibrated from the South upwards. Just as future modes of urbanism and city-living are increasingly to be found outside of the US and Europe, so too is a new graphic cultural field emerging, one poised to represent and even rebuild such cities toward more socially just and sustainable ends.

Dominic Davies is a Lecturer in English at City, University of London. He recently finished a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford, where he also completed his DPhil and established the TORCH Network, ‘Comics and Graphic Novels: The Politics of Form’. He is the author of Imperial Infrastructure and Spatial Resistance in Colonial Literature, 1880-1930 (Peter Lang, 2017) and his second book, Urban Comics: Infrastructure & the Global City in Contemporary Graphic Narratives, will be published by Routledge in 2019. He is also the co-editor of Fighting Words: Fifteen Books that Shaped the Postcolonial World (Peter Lang, 2017) and Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructure, Literature & Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). He is currently editing a collection of essays and comics entitled Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories & Graphic Reportage, which is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan in 2019.

Debanjana Nayek: Drawing A Subculture: The dissenting voices of the Indian digital graphic narratives

‘Subcultures represent “noise” (as opposed to sound): interference in the orderly sequence which leads from real events and phenomena to their representation in the media.’

                                                  –Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige.

In the essay, “Webcomics: The Influence and Continuation of the Comix Revolution”, Sean Fenty, Trena Houp and Laurie Taylor propound how webcomics possess the spirit of Underground Comix movement of the 1960s with its ability to subvert comic book conventions and to deal with issues that the mainstream industry and audience reject. While Fenty et al. have constructed this theory by analysing only the webcomics of the Global North, in the Indian cyberspace the graphic storytellers have also been producing some very avant-garde digital works. This paper aims to explore the Indian graphic narratives of the digital sphere which are creating a space for the marginalised voices and are concerned with those issues which get discarded or censored in the mainstream culture. These polemical graphic narratives are not only restricted in the format of a webcomic strip but also in the style of memes.

By using the concepts of Fenty et al. as well as the theory of Dick Hebdige’s “subculture”, this paper will analyse the way in which the Indian graphic narratives are developing a new kind of digital subculture. For instance, Royal Existentials and Inedible India are two webcomic sites which employ the famous artistic works of Raja Ravi Verma and the Mughal era paintings to ask questions about the contemporary political, economical and social issues. They create both webcomic strips and memes to depict a problem. Green Humour is another webcomic site that uses single and multiple comic strips to raise issues about climate change, biodiversity and the declining condition of the environment. Rachita Taneja’s Sanitary Panels deals with socio-cultural problems of Indian women and the rights of women. One of the major concerns of this artwork is the taboos around menstruation and the everyday struggles of women related with it. While the current mainstream socio-political culture of India is heavily dominated by the deep currents of Hindutva and the caste politics, many of these webcomics and memes are going against the hegemony to raise a dissenting voice and to infuse radical ideas within the society. On the other hand, there are “subculture” webcomics by the Indian diaspora as well, like Fried Cheese Balls and Sikh Park. The latter is a webcomic which is modelled on an American sitcom, South Park, only to give emphasis to the racist experiences of a Sikh man in a country of the Global North.

Debanjana Nayek is an Assistant Professor at the Presidency University, Kolkata and is pursuing her PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. She has contributed to a number of conferences and has published in journals. Two upcoming publications are chapters in a book, to be published by Routledge India. Her interest areas lie in the field of Indian printed and digital graphic narratives as well as popular culture.


Daniel Merlin Goodbrey: Disruptions of Word and Image

Today the form of comics is consumed across a range of different formats in print and digital media. Although not necessarily present in all comics, the blend of word and image is commonly acknowledged as one of the key characteristics of the form and can be found at work in many of these formats. However, there are aspects of some of formats that can potentially lead to disruptions of the usual word and image relationship. This paper makes use of a practice-based approach to examine the interrelation of words and images across a range of modern formats. It presents a series of case studies in which the usual relationship between word and image has been disrupted, drawing examples from print, digital and architecturally mediated formats.

The paper begins by establishing some common approaches to the combination of word and image in comics, giving a particular focus to the presentation of words in terms of their role, placement, font design and visual embellishment. In then examines five areas of potential disruption for the normal word and image relationship. These are:

The combination of sequence of comics with sequences of prose.

The integration of audible sound and animation with words and images in digital comics.

Approaches to dynamic composition of word and image in digital comics.

Font considerations when adapting work across multiple formats.

Challenges of architectural mediation for word and image integration.

The examination of these areas is further informed by the analysis of a series of experimental works created as part of a practice-based inquiry into the relationship between word and image in the comics form.

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey is a principle lecturer in Narrative & Interaction Design at The University of Hertfordshire. A prolific and innovative comic creator, Goodbrey has gained international recognition as a leading expert in the field of experimental digital comics. His hypercomic work received the International Clickburg Webcomic Award in Holland in 2006 while his work in print was awarded with the Isotope Award for Excellence In Comics in San Francisco in 2005. His smartphone app, A Duck Has An Adventure was shortlisted in the 2012 New Media Writing Prize. In 2017 he was awarded a Professional Doctorate for his study of the impact of digital mediation and hybridisation on the form of comics. An archive of his work can be found at

Simona Spinelli: Comics and the case of Madefire: The evolution of a hybrid form of storytelling

The rich tradition of comics provides interesting insights into narrative practices in a multimedia and multiplatform environment. Printed and animated comics have developed hybrid methods comprising a combination of media forms and narrative techniques, which contribute to create a unique storytelling experience. The use of rich contents and transmedia techniques have a crucial place in creative strategies for producing media contents over a number of domains, from traditional media to online and interactive contents. In the current decade, digital and online media technologies are so advanced that the practice of combining visual and textual modes of expression with animation has been applied to a wide number of creative contents in such a way that the distance between comics and other storytelling forms e.g., web documentaries, electronic fiction, online games is significantly less pronounced than in the past.

A consistent and coherent understanding of how comics can be analysed as a storytelling object within the broad domain of the digital and interactive entertainment, and in how animation and interactivity impact on their narrative potential is currently missing.

In the current paper, I examine the case of Madefire, a motion comic platform that provides users with authoring tools to create enhanced comics which leverage digital techniques. The analysis is carried out using the Multidimensional Storytelling (MDS) framework that I developed in my doctoral research. MDS investigates storytelling strategies that are used for creating online and interactive contents across different media industries. The analysis will show how Madefire leverages rich contents, transmedia techniques and community sharing in order to create an enhanced experience for its readers. Additionally, it will be discussed how Madefire is forging strategic partnerships with large tech players such as Oculus to bring comics to Virtual Reality.

Simona Spinelli is a PhD candidate in Arts and Humanities, department of Culture Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London. Her current thesis is entitled: “Multidimensional Storytelling: New Interactive Narrative Models of Digital Entertainment”. Simona’s research is focused on how storytelling techniques are applied to the development of digital and interactive fictional artifacts. Specifically, the research areas she covers are Transmedia Storytelling, Interactive storytelling and Digital Storytelling.


Guy Lawley: Surviving until Superman: the US comic book as printed object, 1933-1938

This paper looks at the formative years of the US comic book from a new perspective, focusing on previously overlooked aspects of its production as a colour-printed object which proved to be fundamental to its early survival. Launching an untried new species of periodical in the depression years 1933-34 was a financially precarious project; some publishers who climbed aboard this shaky bandwagon fell by the wayside. If the nascent comic book had not lasted until Superman’s arrival in 1938, the multi-million-dollar superhero boom would never have occurred. Nor would the rich new world of graphic narrative which followed, including Eisner’s Spirit, Carl Barks’ ducks, EC comics, the Undergrounds, Maus and the graphic novel as we know it.

The comic book, crucially, was independent of the newspaper business, which previously provided the only regular venue for the US comic strip. In the papers, both the content and narrative form of the comic strips were significantly constrained; on the one hand by cautious, conservative editorial policies, and on the other by their publication in short daily or weekly episodes.

Early comic books were printed on the very same colour presses as their Sunday newspaper predecessors. To historians this has implied complete continuity of practice in terms of printing and colour production. In fact the comic book publishers were driven to find cheaper production methods. Notably they abandoned the costly Ben Day dots used to colour newspaper strips, incidentally creating an enduring new colour aesthetic of their own. This paper will show how and why this achievement came about, and consider the evidence that it saved the comic book from financial failure.

Guy Lawley is pursuing a PhD at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, with supervisors Roger Sabin and Ian Horton. Preliminary findings from his research can be seen at He contributed a chapter on punk and comics to Roger Sabin (ed.) Punk Rock, So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk (Routledge, 1999), and his interviews with comics creators Alan Moore and Peter Bagge appeared in the University Press of Mississippi’s Conversations series of books, in 2011 and 2015. Previous presentations include Transitions 7, Nov 2016; International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference, University of Dundee, June 2017 and Bournemouth University, June 2018; ImageTech: Comics and Materiality, University of Florida April 2018.

Mark Hibbett: Doctor Doom as the Avatar of Villainy in Not Brand Ecch

For two years in the late sixties Doctor Doom, Marvel's most popular villain, disappeared almost completely from the company's mainstream continuity and instead became a regular background character in the humour magazine Not Brand Ecch.

This paper will examine Doctor Doom's emergence as a wandering character during this period, free from the constraints of a regular series or creative team of his own, before focussing on his appearances in this peculiar, and under-studied, magazine. It will look at the way that Not Brand Ecch developed from its initial concentration on re-telling Marvel's own stories to its final form as a superhero-tinged copy of 'Mad' Magazine, and show how Doom's constant appearances in the series, at a time when he was almost entirely removed from the rest of the company's output, led to him becoming the main exemplar of super-villainy in a way that would be utilised again and again in Marvel's wider fictional storyworld for decades to come.

Mark Hibbett is a PhD student at University of the Arts London. He holds an MA in Creative Writing, and publishes the weekly 'Marvel Age Doom' blog at



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