During the first seminar on Saturday, Yasco Horsman and Mathijs Peters will invite the audience to think and rethink collective traumas of Europe and the ways in which graphic novels and comics work through these traumas. We asked them about their love for comics, inspirations, and the seminar they have prepared for the Remix Comix conference.
You’re scholars of cultural studies in Leiden, exploring different cultural expressions across disciplines and borders. What is it that attracted you into comics, as a field of research?
Comics are in many ways a unique medium, but a specific aspect that interests us is the ways in which comic book artists have used their medium to reflect on the workings of memory. Because comics combine the visual with the verbal, they evoke images that straddle the line between mental images (conjured up by words) and pictorial images (drawings). They therefore feel very intimate and have an affective dimension. Reading an autobiographical comic is almost like peeping directly into someone else’s brain.
We are both also very interested in representations of embodiment and the role of affective dimensions of art. Comics have a very specific relationship with corporeality. Not only is there a specific link between drawings and the particular embodiment of the comic artist, but the moment that comic artists draw themselves an interesting ‘movement’ takes place as well: they visualize themselves as bodies (in the form of a drawn figure, as they imagine themselves from an external perspective), but at the same time this visualization is intimately connected to their own selves.
Which comics books have inspired you recently, and why?
Yasco: I admire Aimee de Jongh’s Days of Sand, a graphic novel set during the period of the so-called Dust Bowl. The book’s protagonist is a photographer, and its pages explores the differences between photography and drawing as different ways of recording reality.
Mathijs: I recently read Poppies of Iraq, by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim. I really enjoyed the mixture of history and personal memory. I also really liked My Favourite Thing is Monsters, by Emil Ferris (Yasco actually recommended this graphic novel to me). It’s beautifully drawn, and mixes aspects of a detective story, the aesthetics of gothic horror and reflections on coming of age in a very unique and touching manner that sometimes makes it feel like you are reading someone’s diary. Also, the drawings are amazing.
Could you share with us some of your plans for the seminar on memory through comics? What can the audience expect?
We will discuss the specific ways in which autobiographical comics (such as Maus, Persepolis and Barefoot Gen) deal with the past by using the figure of (what we call) the ‘autographic’ – the drawing of the self as a character. We will do this by relating this figure to several possible tensions, for example between history and memory, and between personal and collective forms of trauma.
Trauma is an important topic in your seminar. How could comics contribute to a different way, or a more inclusive perspective, on European memory and heritage?
We don’t think that comic artists should do anything. But we do think that the medium of comics, especially its unique mixture of words and drawings, of the highly particular and the more general, and of objective history and more personal memory, makes it possible to explore the complex aspects of trauma without reducing these aspects to general schemas or structures.
What do you expect from the Remix Comix conference?
We’re very much looking forward to be in a setting that brings such a rich variety of people together, ranging from artists, scholars, collectors, etc. And we’re keen to learn more about the local comics culture.