Graphic Novels and Comics as Media in Religious Cultures
(Edited by N. Riemer, F.T. Brinkmann, J. Ahrens)
Comics are a set part of the late-modern text and sign systems. They have offered simple stories and epic cycles, myths, icons, and heroes. Their sometime construction of anti-heroes, too, and the consequent creation too of anti-myths, merely serves to reinforce the thesis of the comic-literary quest, whose meaning and function has been pointed out by scholars of both religious studies and media studies (J. Campbell, J. Hammann, among others).
Comics as a medium has changed reception habits and remade strategies of reflection. Popular narrative templates have been influenced by both comic strips and cartoons’ triviality and banality just as intellectual discourses have been influenced by graphic novels’ metatextual constructions of reality. Reading comics involves a completion of the text by the reader as well “reconstructing meaning”—and thus becomes a topic for idealistic theories of the subject, social-constructivist models, and literary critical and semiotic concepts.
Postmodern discourses have hardly engaged explicitly with the comics medium in its entire range of aesthetic, formal, and narrative possibilities. Nevertheless, they offer impulses for the design of interpretative templates, the creation of criteria, and the development of methods that permit reflection on comics as one of the central media of modern popular culture. As early as the 1980s, an interest in comics began which refused to address comics through the a preformed and normalizing belief in its triviality as a medium. Instead, comics has long become accepted in literary, media, and cultural studies as a medium of cultural self-reflection and self-realization.
The volume to be published, whose proceedings we desire to publish in this volume, wants to make visible the significant relations between the medium of comics and religious structures and motives. Primarily, we want to look at how world religions became a subject on the one hand, and on the other can stage and place themselves strategically within the medium.
From this vantage point, the possible sources of contribution may be placed in three large groups:
The first group contains comics that are actively used as modern and urban media by religious groups to teach traditional knowledge about one’s own religion and culture. Christian groups, for example, are spreading manga bibles, manga biographies of Jesus, or the Chick-Comic-Tracts with publication runs in the millions to win people to Christianity. In Strasbourg, France, the Catholic publishing house Éditions du signe publishes biographies of saints, significant people in church history, and histories in the comics medium. The Kuwaiti psychologist Naif Al-Mutawa created The 99, stories of Muslim superheroes that made childrens’ hearts beat faster even outside the Arab world, but also raised heckles in conservative Muslim circles. Anant Pai was so irritated by his students’ lack of knowledge of Indian mythology and culture that he began drawing comics series with that content. Jewish Orthodox authors and collectives, such as Gadi Pollack, Aryeh Mahr/Esteve Polls/Joe Kubert, whose works are published among others by Mahrwood, specifically chose the modern medium to interest their audience in (ancient) Jewish (hi)stories and to spread ethical and moral instruction.
A second group of artists is concerned with the question of religious origins and the relationship between God (gods), man (or people), and world(s). Thus, for example, Riad Sattouf, who spent his childhood between Paris, Algeria, Libya, and Syria, uses Ma Circoncision to come to terms with traumatic experiences between puberty and circumcision. The protagonist of Craig Thompson’s Blankets grows up between Sunday School and Church Summer Camp in a Christian home, and seeks to escape his outsider status in his first love. Miriam Libicki, among many others including Will Eisner, Ben Katchor, and Joann Sfar, makes religious aspects of Jewishness her subject. She describes her encounter of the rough world of the Israeli army outside the protection of her religious childhood home. Marc-Antoine Mathieu’s outstanding grotesque, Dieu en personne, throws up questions on the philosophy of religion: when God returns as a man to Earth, he comes into a journalistic and scientific crossfire and finally must justify himself in the dock of a trial.
A third group, finally, picks up on religious, spiritual, and mythopoetical subjects and translates them into timely narratives and aesthetics of a popular cultural mythology of modernity. Among these comics are most prominently the diverse cosmologies of American superhero comics. More subtle approaches can be found in the works of David B., Guy Davis (The Marquis), Didier Comes and in numerous versions of the French and Belgian science fiction comic.
All three groups may be covered by contributors. Contributors may pose questions from a variety of perspectives, leading to contributions permitting a wide discussion, the result of which will lead to a multiperspective view of the entire discourse:
What religious ideals, values, and societal views are being promoted or critically questioned? How are heroes and/or “saints” idealized or deconstructed? Are the transreligious commonalities in those comics with regard to themes, genre, or artistic design? Are internal and external views consciously reinforced to reconstruct one’s own identity or to create or sustain enemy images? How are believers of other religions, non-believers, or religious people depicted? Are they a threat, or are they the addressees of (religious or secular) missionizing, or simple fellow human beings with individual characteristics? How are men and women depicted? Are their cooperations between religious and secular authors or authorial collectives? How do religious authors deal with the challenge of making a medium initially perceived as part of a problematic, secular-Western youth and popular culture usable for their own interests? Do explicitly religious comics target adults or mainly children and teenagers? Are their traditional motivations for this? How is “canonical” literature retold? Are their forms of conscious and unconscious “self-censorship” or a leaving out of non-conformist content?
We leave the choice of perspective entirely to the contributors and explicitly request contributions from a broad variety of disciplines in the humanities. The languages of publication are English and German.
You are cordially invited to submit your proposals as a simple exposé (abstracts of a maximum of 500 words) together with a short resumé (or a link to your CV) by January 15th, January 2013 to comicsandreligion[at]gmail.com.
If your proposal is accepted, you will be asked to submit a formatted (according to the style sheet) contribution to the email address above by June 15th, 2013.
Institute of Sociology
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