You may be surprised to read that the Imperial War Museum of London is hosting a conference about comics next week, especially if you have never read works by comic artists such as Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman or Keiji Nakazawa, to name just a few. This Comics & Conflicts conference is organized in the frame of a literary festival accompanying the museum’s new exhibition Once Upon a Wartime: Classic War Stories for Children (on until 30 October and which I will most certainly see during my next visit to London and write about it here), and will explore the ways in which comics around the world represent and articulate the experience and impact of war and conflict.
I remember having read Joe Sacco’s Palestine with enormous difficulty, so strong and heavy was the depiction of the Palestinian conflict. Yet, it is among the most powerful works I’ve ever experienced about this very subject. The late Edward Said wrote an introduction to Palestine, here’s a fragment:
“A political and aesthetic work of extraordinary originality, quite unlike any other in the long, often turgid and hopelessly twisted debates that had occupied Palestinians, Israelis, and their respective supporters… With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”
The conference will also show the documentary Comic Books Go to War -which includes interviews with Joe Sacco, exploring the journalistic, aesthetic and political implications of reporting war through comics.
Speakers will include David Collier who, in his work Chimo, depicts his decision to re-enlist in the Canadian army at 40; Francesca Cassavetti who has republished her mother’s wartime diary as a comic; Garth Ennis who depicts the 1980s Irish conflict in his strip Troubled Souls; and of course, the one and only Paul Gravett, Comica Festival director, who will chair a few sessions and is one of the organizers. You can read the complete program on the Comica Festival website.
Going back again to the importance of telling stories from my previous post, whether it is through novels, short stories, films, painting or comics… What makes these narratives most powerful is their authenticity and the fact that their authors, most of the time, take their personal experience of the war or conflict in question to the reader. And comics most especially, has a very particular way of telling certain stories that no other medium has.
I’d like to end this post by showing one example of a comic book from Turkey. I don’t believe this comic book has ever been translated into English or any other languages, however Nazim Hikmet‘s work is available in a wide number of languages. This story entitled Kuvayi Milliye, is a long poem written by Nazim Hikmet between 1939 and 1941 about the Turkish War of Independence. But this comic book version of Kuvayi Milliye illustrated by cartoonist and comic book artist Nuri Kurtcebe is not an adaptation. The text is word for word Nazim Hikmet’s. What Kurtcebe did here, and which I find most interesting, is that instead of trying to translate the long poem into a visual narrative, he used the already existing images generated by the poem to put them on paper. Just like Oguz Aral explains in his introduction to the work: “He committed himself to the war and to its epic” (Leman Yayincilik, 2001).
I hope to share more about Turkish comics on this blog in the coming months following a study/research tour to Istanbul I am planning to make later in November. In the meantime, if you happen to be in London next week, do visit the Comics & Conflicts conference and feel free to leave your links to blogs and other accounts of the event in the comment section.