Decolonizing Comics and/as Activism
Call for papers for a non-guaranteed proposed session at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention on January 7-10, 2021, in Toronto, Canada. This panel is sponsored by the Comics and Graphic Narrative Forum.
Academic histories of comics are too often colonial, in their focus on America, France, and Japan and in the aesthetic criteria they favor. Yet, when we tell history in this colonial, Eurocentric way, we leave out many perspectives, particularly those of colonized and indigenous peoples. Ken Coats defines global indigenous people through their activism when he says indigenous groups have a history of “participating in protests organized against colonial powers, global influences, [and] environmental degradation.” Comics have activist histories around the globe: Kavita Daiya has noted how comics have been used to protest against gender violence and environmental degradation in South Asia; Margaret Galvan, Martin Lund, and Justin Green have detailed comics’ rich history within activist movements in the United States; and Jacob Høiglit has observed how contemporary Arab comics critique patriarchal society. This panel will explore the ways indigenous peoples and colonized people have used comics as part of their activism, in their fight to protect their cultures and resources, and in their efforts to speak up or speak back to colonizers.
Through this exploration, this session also interrogates the idea of decolonizing comics studies. To decolonize comics means, in part, to seek out comics from and about oppressed peoples, being mindful of the relative ease with which White, European/American authors can (inappropriately) come to speak for indigenous and colonized peoples. To avoid replicating colonialist power structures, we hope this panel brings attention to lesser-known comics, texts that have not been widely distributed in North America or Western Europe; in particular, we are interested in comics circulated through and by activist movements—comics for whom scholars are not the intended audience, such as the multivolume Kickstarter-funded Indigenous comics collection Moonshot, Highwater Press’s graphic novel series by and about Indigenous peoples, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaa’s Red: A Haida Manga, and many others. Proposed papers might consider the following questions and themes.
- How have comics been connected to activist movements resisting colonialism around the world?
- How have colonized and indigenous peoples and their allies used comics to call attention to environmental, economic, and social problems?
- What are the historical and material relationships between comic texts (e.g. Herge’s Tintin) and colonialism?
- How do comics articulate and challenge the legacy of colonialism around the world?
- What different forms–both print and digital–have activist comics taken in various cultures?
- How does the grassroots or self-published nature of comics in activist movements shape their content?