Fifth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference

Last week I attended this conference at the British Library. The conference was held in conjunction with an exhibition there entitled Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK. Held almost 60 years after the National Union of Teachers anti-comic book exhibition at their headquarters, which is literally two minutes around the corner from the King’s Cross address of the British Library this conference and exhibition seemed special to many because it lent some of the Library’s prestige to comics.

BL_Comics_POSTER1FinalSmallBL_Comics_SuperheroesSmallIndeed the exhibition is on track to being the Library’s most popular exhibition ever (I think this means since it was split from the British Museum). Due to an illness in the family exhibition organiser and conference mainstay Paul Gravett was a fleeting presence on the opening day and alas not able to attend afterwards. Also absent were Chris Murray, Lawrence Grove, and Matthew Screech the latter two being more on the bande dessinee side. But there were many regulars there like Roger Sabin, Nichola Streeten, Nina Mickwitz, Simon Grennan, Laurike in t’Veld, Ian Hague and of course conference organisers  Damon Herd, Julia Round, Joan Ormond, David Huxley. The key notes from Pascal Lefevre and Scott Buktaman were riveting. The evening conversation on Day One with Posy Simmonds and Steve Bell revealed one of the most the subtle English cartoonists and one of the most blunt as a fine match and a nice balance for each other.  On Day 2 Mike Carey, Dave Baillie and Mike Perkins took the audience through their careers with some emphasis on their encounters with the American big 2 DC and Marvel. Other highlights included catching up with and hearing the papers of friends like Bart Beaty, Ben Woo, Lim Cheng Tju, Paul Williams, and Michaela Precup. One of the things that stood out for me most was that the conference was indeed international. Manga received a lot of attention and I was fortunate to chair a panel with four excellent papers including one from the very busy Fusami Ogi who previously has organised small scale conferences on women’s manga in Singapore, Hanoi, and Hong Kong with another coming up in Sydney. Next year  the conference will be in Paris in conjunction with the Bande Dessinee Socirty’s conference and I am looking forward to that.

Oh and if you have the Sequential app there is a free 150 page catalogue of sorts from the British Library exhibition you can download.

 

Comics Scholars

This past week I attended the Billy Ireland Library and Museum Cartoon Festival in Columbus, Ohio. The event marked the opening of a brand new facility that provides excellent research facilities, display space, and auditoriums. The Festival featured many greats like Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, Stephan Pastis, Matt Bors, and the Brothers Hernandez. The first two days of the Festival consisted of an academic conference. All together it was a gathering of the Comics Nation. In July I attended a comics conference in Glasgow. At that meeting a young scholar unselfconsciously called comics studies a field. At that moment I realized comics studies had indeed become a field. But last week I saw a major part of that field in action and recognizing itself as having reached a point of maturity. Not all papers were to my taste, but that is the way it goes at this things. Others were unexpectedly excellent. The over all joy people were having just being at the gathering was palpable. The day after the event ended Facebook is lighting up with folks commenting what an amazing event it was and their pleasure at putting faces to names they have long known. I had that experience too. I had many other fabulous moments in the week, and those will be stories I tell for years, but I think this may have been the moment when comics scholars found themselves as a field. To be sure there are already disputes between scholars, and these will only increase, but in this magical moment everyone was just so happy to be there and see the existence of the field. Lucy Shelton Caswell, Jared Gardner, Jenny Robb, and Caitlin McGurk all should be aglow at what they have accomplished. And Lucy who over 30 years patiently built a collection that required a building you are amazing.

http://cartoons.osu.edu/

https://www.facebook.com/TheBillyIrelandCartoonLibraryAndMuseum

The Last Hurrah

I promised my mother on her 89th birthday that I would take some of her ashes to London. My mother spent three years in London: a year in about 1933, a year in 1965 and a year in 1974. She long felt a connection to the city particularly to the areas around Muswell Hill and Highgate Village. She used to enjoy a beer at The Flask in Highgate (not the pub of the same name in Hampstead) and The Spaniards Inn in Hampstead.

So in April I did as I promised. As I told my sister my mum had one last great journey. I took a portion of her ashes with me from Sydney (she had already journeyed up from Melbourne) to Singapore where she stayed for six months. She had always wanted to come to Singapore where her Great Uncle spent some time as a guest of the Japanese during WWII. She was meant to be here in 1961 but that did not pan out. Then she flew on the A380 to London and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington. All firsts. And then by underground and the overground (which she last rode when it was a British Rail train in 1965) we went to Richmond. A walk upstream towards Hampton Court Palace and I found a nice place for her to enter the river. In she went and I scrambled back up the bank and started walking back towards the station.

The container she was in is meant to dissolve within a few minutes of hitting water and that is what happened in the ocean in Sydney in September. But 10 minutes into my walk back I saw her floating down the river.

So at the end of her journey she took a nice jaunty ride down the river. Then a duck or some sort of water fowl took some interest but then abandoned the pecking and looked elsewhere.

The last I saw the package was breaking up and the ashes no doubt shortly floated into the river and began their long journey to the English Channel. I spent a good part of the day thinking about my mother’s London years.

US Presidential Election

Unfortunately for the 2012 election I had a class scheduled on Wednesday morning here in Singapore so was unable to follow the results live as they came out. Fortunately though after midday I could catch up and although MSNBC is not on cable here I found a web link to some dodgy rebroadcast and I could watch Rachel Maddow and her crew of commentators. Later that night I did some commentary myself on radio and then television. The sound is not the best but someone posted a clip on youtube:

Festival of Mum

On Saturday September 29 we farewelled my mother in Sydney at Camp Cove, where my father proposed to her, and then later at the Watsons Bay Hotel. The previous day my sister, brother-in-law, and I put the bulk of her ashes with my father’s. It was a poignant moment for Sandy and I since it was the first time we had ever been to my father’s resting place. As Sandy said it was mum’s first time too. Indeed the first funeral my mum went to was her own.

Woronora Cemetry

Saturday was a gorgeous Sydney Spring day. Nineteen members of the family, across four generations, gathered at the pub and made our way to Camp Cove. Annika, my mum’s great granddaughter, read a selection from Sea Fever and I gave a Eulogy. We then scattered some ashes into the sea in biodegradable containers.

Me watching ashes

We then returned to the pub for lunch and memories. My mother’s brothers Ted and Rowley were there. Norma, Ted’s wife. My cousin Moira from the Newcastle Gordons. And then a mass of folks below 70 including my cousin David his wife and boys, Mathew and Henri, their girls, Emma and Chris and their daughter and Joanne. We sat and chatted from noon until 8pm and then went for pizza. 15 of us saw out the evening. It was a wonderful celebration of a life and a gathering of the family on a scale we seldom manage.

And so that we all carry the memory a little longer Sandy and Evan arranged for commemorative book marks

A Death in the Family

My father died when I was young. My mother died today. She was 89. In May I spent her 89th birthday with her in her room in the nursing home (along with my sister and her husband) and we had meat pies for lunch and a glass of red wine. Over the last few days it’s been clear that this time she would go. She had a bad episode when I was at conferences in Bournemouth and Paris in July but after a bad day she got through that. My sister sat with her through a terrible night then and she sat with her again over the last days. This has not been an easy death and my sister has borne the brunt.

But the minutia of a life’s end is not my purpose here. I want to remember what my mother gave me as a person.

My mother loved to read. Until the last two years of her life, when she could no longer hold a book for a long period or as time went by remember what she had read, my mother always had a book at her side. I remember learning to read by reading  street signs and Disney comic books. The first my mother would patiently explain and the second she would happily get me because she believed reading them or anything would lead to wider reading habits.

My mother was a home economics teacher. She loved to cook, and was an excellent cook, but she hated the other aspects of teaching home economics like needle work. She was a great friend of Molly Breaden author of the Commonsense Cook Book, and who made a much better birthday cake than my mum. She was also friends with a good number of lesbians who (ironically?) worked in the NSW Education Dept teaching young women to be homemakers.
When I was 10 my mum explained my “Aunty” Dene’s love for her partner Phyllis.

My mum also loved music and unlike me  could hold a tune.

My mum singing the blues.

I also remember her on a packaged tour of Europe in 1965 befriending Mr Smith from Jamaica and Lily and Evelyn two African American school teachers from Philadelphia. Sure she was a white liberal, but I don’t remember anyone else happy to sit at dinner with those three, other than Pietro the Italian tour guide who had a thing for Lily or Evelyn.

When she was younger, which is to say sometime before she turned 60, she could talk to all sorts of folks and make friends quickly. As a kid I remember meeting the Australian political cartoonist Les Tanner because my mum had started a conversation with his wife Peg in a Melbourne supermarket and discovered that she too was from Sydney. Many a butcher, green grocer, and liquor licensee in Sydney, London, Melbourne, and Castlemaine, where my mum lived at various times, enjoyed a chat with her. I wish I had her easy rapport but unfortunately I am closer to her older self with a tendency to judge too quickly and perhaps harshly.

At the end she didn’t believe in heaven or an after life.  She faced death squarely having wished it seriously for a year or so. She told my sister on a Friday she was going and by the next Wednesday  she was dead. My sister was with her and told me it was a death eased by morphine and that she looked very peaceful.

Bye  mum and thank you for the many things you gave me.

Superman and Batman in Southeast Asia

Two weeks ago I was in Kuala Lumpur for a short break. I stayed on Jalan Bukit Bintang next to the Pavilion a fairly recently built shopping mall. The Pavilion is full of upscale stores like Louis Vuitton, some bars, restaurants, and also the DC Comics store. Yes the DC store. Indeed the DC Comics store is a prominent occupant of the mall as you can see in this photo taken from my hotel room:

DC Store Pavilion Mall

DC Store Detail

The Superman and Batman logos are highly visible from the street and shine brightly in the evening.

The KL store is not the only DC Comics store in Malaysia or Southeast Asia. There are stores in Melaka and Singapore.

Melaka Store

ION Orchard Mall

All of these stores are in new or centrally located malls. These stores are somewhat reminiscent of the Warner Bros stores (DC’s parent company) that used to be a ubiquitous presence in American shopping malls before mostly shutting down in 2001. I am not sure how well these stores are doing but the one in Melaka has been there two years at least which suggests some degree of success.

There is a story here about the success of American comic book characters in English speaking Southeast Asia. Indeed American comic book movies do well in this part of the world too. It would seem that the Superman and Batman logos are familiar enough signs that they can be used to draw customers to the KL store.

But another experience in KL, about five minutes walk from the Pavilion on the other side of my hotel, opens up this story a little. Here in a small shop in a very large complex of tightly packed shops and where a shopper would be more likely to find fake Louis Vuitton goods than genuine products, I discovered these tee shirts:


 

 

 

 

 

 

To me these suggest a familiarity with the characters and a playful irreverence. Although labeled as official DC product complete with copyright and trademark registered symbols I doubt these are the sort of products DC would license.