Call For Papers: ‘Beyond the Graphic’ suggests Al Ewing and PJ Holden’s banned mobile comic “Murderdome” for study

Murderdome by Al Ewing and PJ Holden
Murderdome by Al Ewing and PJ Holden

U.S. Studies Online has extended the deadline for papers for a special blog series edited by Dr Harriet Earle entitled ‘Beyond the Graphic’ – considering Violence, Sexuality and Obscenity in Comics – and one possible subject could be the controversial Murderdome mobile comic created by Al Ewing and PJ Holden, banned by Apple back in 2008.

Since the 1970s, the comics form has skyrocketed in popularity and the types of comics we are reading – and how we are engaging with them – has changed dramatically. This new and developing type of comic is often referred to as a ‘graphic novel’, a term that is not universally accepted but allows readers to understand the ways in which the form is being used to tell multifaceted stories. However, it is a problematic term because it is so often applied to comics that are not fictional (as most novels are) and the word ‘graphic’ comes with a host of connotations related to sex, violence, swearing and ‘mature themes’.

Additionally, despite a growing academic interest and a huge number of critically acclaimed comics being published each year, the reputation of the form has not developed accordingly; for some, comics is still a cheap, ‘pop’ form that does not engage with authentic social history and intricate narratives and themes. In truth, the comics form is ideally suited to the retelling of complex, nuanced stories and to the effective and affective representations of sex and violence. Rather than disposable, needlessly ‘graphic’ stories of no value, a vast number of comics narratives are finely constructed, rather than straight-up debased, providing a platform for the telling of ‘difficult tales’, of which there is no shortage in America!

This USSO blog series aims to provide a side-long look at comics and the ways in which the form engages with both traditionally ‘graphic’ narrative themes and arcs, and also its own ignominious past. Comics studies is a multi- and inter-disciplinary field that incorporates aspects of comics history, publications and media history, textual & visual analysis, questions of reception & reader response, sociological theory, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism and theory.

The editors invite contributions from researchers and academics in any field within the remit of comics studies. Suggested topics for posts may include:

  • Physical violence on the comics page
  • Violence and social comment
  • Crime comics
  • Sexual violence and rape
  • Swearing, ‘obscenity’ and the ‘grawlix’
  • The history and development of comics as a form for ‘difficult stories’ (especially the rise of autographics and historical conflict narratives)
  • Representing sex and intimacy
  • Porn comics and Tijuana Bibles
  • Controversial texts and debates around reception (e.g. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent or the debacle surrounding Murderdome, a mobile comic created by Al Ewing and PJ Holden that was banned by Apple, but the app framework was picked up by US network NBC for its Heroes comics

Artist PJ Holden, whose credits include Judge Dredd for 2000AD and Dept of Monsterology, seemed a bit bemused that he was the potential subject of academic study, but also told me via Twitter that he’d love to complete Murderdome one day.

Working collaboratively with leading international scholarly networks, U.S. Studies Online provides a direct link between BAAS and other academic organisations, provoking conversation and collaboration within the American Studies community. U.S. Studies Online aims to bring ground-breaking scholarship directly to the public through regular open access blog posts, book and event reviews, and monthly public twitter-based discussions through our #bookhour forum.

Drawing upon the interdisciplinarity of the American Studies community, U.S. Studies Online publishes innovative research by postgraduate and early-career researchers covering a broad range of topics, incorporating history, literature, politics, cultural studies, film, art history, and gender studies. They also feature posts from established academics, as well as non-academic specialists, offering advice and support to provide professional and pedagogical skills advice.

• Please refer to the USSO submission guidelines for further information on style: http://www.baas.ac.uk/usso/blog-3/submission-guidelines/ | c. 250 word abstracts should be sent to drharrietearle@gmail.com by 31st October 2016.

The series is due to be published in March 2017. Submission of abstracts must be made by 31st October 2016. Notifications of abstract acceptance will be made by 13th November 2016  | Submission of full posts: 31st January 2016

Read a 2008 Newsarama interview with artist PJ Holden about the Murderdome comic

Fortune, 27th August 2008: Apple bans a comic book, firestorm ensues

Wired news item, 27th August 2008

BBC News, 1st June 2009: Northern Ireland comics heroes find US success

How the banned comic book about a futuristic sport where opponents are decapitated to score a goal has led to a Belfast company’s iPhone software being picked up by US television giant NBC (and in March 2009, the platform was described as a pioneering web innovation)

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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