Call For Papers: Documenting Trauma: Comics and the Politics of Memory Symposium, Oxford

Nicola Streeten. Image courtesy Myriad Editions

Nicola Streeten. Image courtesy Myriad Editions

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), which offers the city’s humanities scholars to collaborate with researchers across other disciplines, and institutions, has issued a Call For Papers for a day-long symposium  to be hosting here in Oxford on 22nd June 2017. (The institute also runs a number of comic events through the year).

Titled Documenting Trauma: Comics and the Politics of Memory, the organisers are seeking abstracts for potential papers from comics critics, students and interested parties of all levels.

Keynote speakers at the event will be Harvard Univerity’s Professor Hillary Chute and comics artist Nicola Streeten.

Nicola is an anthropologist-turned-illustrator and comics scholar, the author of Billy, Me & You (Myriad, 2011), an acclaimed graphic memoir about her bereavement following the death of her two-year old son. It was initially serialised in Liquorice Magazine, a comic Nicola produced with her daughter, and it received Highly Commended in the Popular Medicine category of the 2012 British Medical Association Medical Book Awards.

Streeten is also co-founder (with artist Sarah Lightman) of Laydeez do Comics, a graphic novel forum with a focus on the new wave of comic work based on the drama of everyday life, which has been called ‘a combination between a book club and a series of TED talks’ (Julie Davis, A Woman’s Art Magazine, 2013).

In 2013 she was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Scholarship from the University of Sussex to undertake a research doctorate on British women’s comics from 1970 to the present. She continues to work on commercial illustration commissions. Every Friday, she adds to a regular cartoon strip series #ayearat50 on her blog. She’s working on her next book for Myriad.

Registration for Documenting Trauma: Comics and the Politics of Memory will open in March for what promises to be a really exciting day.

Here’s the Call For Papers details:

Waltz with BashirIn the graphic novel Waltz with Bashir (published in English in 2009 by Atlantic Books), adapted from Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s 2008 animated film, the traumatised protagonist attempts to come to terms with his personal experience of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. In so doing, he seeks help from a psychologist, who informs him that ‘Memory is dynamic. If details are missing and there are some black holes, memory fills in the empty spaces until it completely “recalls” something that never happened’.

Related in comics, its multi-panel construction and the inclusion of gutters or ‘empty spaces’ formally distinct from the continuous flow of the movie animation, Waltz with Bashir intimates an inherent connection between sequential art and the recovery of traumatic experience.

As Hillary Chute writes, “comics and the movement, or act, of memory share formal similarities that suggest memory, especially the excavation of childhood memory, as an urgent topic in this form”. By foregrounding the issue of representation in this way, Folman and Polonsky’s comic raises a number of important questions around the contingency of memory, the capacity to (mis)remember, and the politics embedded in the work of those who remember in the present. For example, though drawing attention to the massacre, the comic problematically foregrounds not the trauma of its victims, but of those complicit in its perpetration.

Furthermore, Waltz with Bashir concludes with photographic images, raising further questions about its representational strategies. Does the inclusion of photographs serve to verify the drawn images that come before them? Or does it in fact reveal their fictionality, emphasising the extent to which they are retrospectively constructed?

Beginning with a talk from comics artist Nicola Streeten, and concluding with a keynote from Professor Hillary Chute, this symposium will seek to address the following questions: why have so many comics and other graphic narratives, the production and publication of which has exploded in recent years, been framed as memoirs or non-fictional documentaries of traumatic events?

Is there a relationship between the comics form, as distinct from film and written narrative through its inclusion of multiple visual panels, and the remembrance and recovery of trauma?

How do the interpretive demands made by these disjointed formal attributes impinge on readers of comics and shape their relationship to historical traumatic events?

To this end, the organisers welcome abstracts of between 250 to 350 words for papers concerned with, though not limited to, the following themes:

  • depictions of social and (auto)biographical traumatic experience in comics and other graphic narratives
  • formal innovations in comics relating to the communication/recovery of traumatic experience
  • comics and the post-memorialisation of trauma, that is, responses to traumatic events not directly experienced by the author(s)
  • issues of genre and representations of genre, such as tensions and differences between graphic fiction, memoir and documentary
  • comics as archives, the inclusion and assimilation of historical documents and photographs
  • relationships between traumatic pasts and political presents in comics and graphic narratives
  • selective memory in comics narratives and the interpellation of readers

Abstracts should be sent to Network Convener, Dominic Davies, at by Friday 10th March 2017. The event is free, but registration is required and will open on 27th March 2017.

The link will be accessible from the TORCH Comics Network blog, where other updates will also be announced.

• Nicola is online at | Follow Nicola on Twitter @NicolaStreeten

Oxford Comic Creators Workshop, INKFISH, announced for June

Alongside this Symposium wil be two related events: INKFISH, a comics creators workshop on Wednesday 21st June: and a talk by comics journalist Josh Neufeld on Saturday 24th June.

A Comics Workshop co-hosted by the TORCH Comics Network and Oxford Writers’ House

Wednesday 21st June 2017

On Wednesday 21st June the Torch Network will be running a comics creation workshop called ‘INKFISH’, in collaboration with Oxford Writers’ House, a local, literature-focused, not-for-profit organisation.

INKFISH is a collaborative, full day workshop (10.00am – 5.00pm) designed to bring together budding and experienced comics creators in order to produce a finished piece of sequential narrative-art in just one day. After being organised into groups, participants will work together with a range of artistic materials to complete their comics- based creative project. Mentors, including artists, writers and comics creators will be on hand throughout the day to discuss ideas and offer guidance.

Participants are encouraged to push the boundaries of genre and form, with the only stipulation being that the final pieces tell a story through both the written word and visual arts. Ideally they will relate to the symposium theme of ‘documenting trauma’, but this is by no means a necessity. The final artworks will be on display during the academic symposium, and we hope to gather them together into a reproducible pamphlet for wider circulation.

Artists and writers of all abilities — “we emphasise all, from proficient drawers and writers to complete beginners”, says Dominic Davies — are welcome, and are invited to apply either as groups or individuals. All basic art materials will be provided, though participants are welcome to bring their own along as well. Space is limited and will be allocated predominantly on a first come, first served basis, though Torch will be keen to ensure diversity amongst participants.

• Participants are encouraged to attend both the workshop on 21st June and the symposium on the 22nd. Please email Dominic, and Asiyla Radwan,, with an expression of interest

A.D After the Deluge

‘Divided Cities: Culture, Infrastructure and the Urban Future’ Hosted by the British Council USA-TORCH Interdisciplinary Network

Saturday 24th June 2017

On Saturday 24th June, the Institute will also be hosting a day-long British Council USA-TORCH funded workshop entitled ‘Divided Cities: Culture, Infrastructure and the Urban Future’. The workshop will focus throughout on the interlocking themes of urban identity, top-down planning, environmental degradation and migration, exploring the ways in which cities and twenty-first- century urban cultures and infrastructures have come to embody wider global conflicts, inequalities and divisions, before asking how different cultural forms might allow us to imagine new urban futures.

Though not specifically comics-oriented per se, this workshop will include a morning presentation from comics journalist, artist and writer, Josh Neufeld, author of the graphic novel, A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge, with a response from Professor Hillary Chute. Attendees of the comics workshop and/or symposium are welcome to join, and registration will be available on the TORCH website in the coming months.

These events are ran in collaboration with the English Faculty and Astor Visiting Lectureship Scheme 2017, Oxford Writer’s House, the British Council USA, the John Fell Fund and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).

“It’s our hope that this week in June will be a very exciting, comics-oriented one, and we welcome participants from all over the UK, and outside as well as inside the university,” says Dominic.

• For more about the Torch Institute visit: or the TORCH Comics Network blog,


Item with thanks to Jenni Scott

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