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Comics and Ecopolitics

Special issue edited by Armelle Blin-Rolland, Margaret C. Flinn, and Johanna Sellman

Argument

As awareness of climate emergency and the sixth mass extinction has permeated the mainstream in recent years, there has been an explosion of environmentally themed comics, in the context of a broader trend in cultural productions and debates. While this contemporary wave of ‘EcoComix’ (Dobrin 2020) is unprecedented in terms of its volume and visibility, the text-image medium has long been mobilised to address ‘green’ issues, and to comment on and take part in ecopolitics and activism, particularly since its rise in the 1960s and 1970s. As comics are beginning to draw more sustained attention from Environmental Humanities scholars (see for instance LeMenager 2013 or Heise 2016), there has been increasing academic interest within comics studies in the medium’s ‘ecocritical potential’ (Casper 2020; see also Blin-Rolland 2022, Dobrin 2020, and Flinn 2018).

This special issue invites considerations of comics’ ecopolitical potential. Ecopolitics, and the intersections between environmentalism and other political struggles for justice, have taken on renewed urgency in an era now widely known as the Anthropocene, a term that has been contested for its universalism as ‘the Age of Man’ and its erasure of the ways in which imperialism and inequalities have marked this new geological era. The history, and contemporary prominence of environmentalist engagements in graphic form shows the productivity of a dialogue between comics and ecopolitics with regard to what can be seen as a specific genre. Moreover, and more broadly, it opens an ‘interpretive approach’ to the medium, to borrow Elena Past’s words about ‘ecocinema’ (2019: 3). This applies notably to the art form’s imbrication in ideological constructions of ‘nature’, as seen for instance in the imaginary of African ecosystems in (neo-)colonial-era comics; and to the medium’s place in material culture and its own materiality as made from and with ‘natural resources’.

This special issue takes inspiration from ecocriticism’s move away from its early referential mode towards critical and subversive interpretations of the poetics and politics of meaning and matter (see for instance Iovino and Oppermann 2014) from a range of geopolitical contexts and intersecting perspectives. This thematic issue thus calls for innovative methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks to explore the complex ecopolitics of comics. This involves reading texts in context(s), entwined with or resisting ideological discourses of ‘nature’ and their material effects on bodies and territories. It also means understanding comics as both graphic narratives and material products, art form and industry, part of a print culture historically ‘complicit with the resource-extracting way of life’ (Puchner 2022: 73), and of an economic system in which the discourse of sustainability can quickly take on shades of greenwashing – as brought to the fore by the recent controversy around the FIBD’s 2022 Prix Eco-Fauve Raja for environmental comics due to its sponsorship by a multinational packaging company.

This special issue aims to examine different ways in which comics and ecopolitics intersect, in the contemporary context and throughout the medium’s history, and across a broad geographical range, with a particular interest in less-studied comics traditions. We invite contributions from, but not limited to, three interrelated angles:

Comics and situated ecopolitics

This first strand will focus on ways in which comics may express modes of being with the more-than-human world that critique and counter hegemonic narratives of nature and the ‘ostensibly perspectiveless perspective’ of ‘Anthropocene vision’ (Alaimo 2016). It will consider how comics can deploy ‘situated knowledges’ (Haraway 1988) from a broad range of regional/national/transnational contexts, including minoritized cultures; and from a range of perspectives such as feminist, decolonial, queer, and/or crip ecologies. How have comics been used to participate in environmental justice struggles in different geopolitical contexts and eras? How have comics artists resisted against, redrawn, and unsettled anthropocentric, gendered, imperialist, and/or heteronormative constructions of ‘nature’? Are environmental issues addressed differently across comics cultures, notably between the Global North and the Global South? How have comics engaged with the toxic legacies and ecological afterlives of colonialism, including in relation to the medium’s own history? What is the importance of the environment in productions by comics artists from minoritized backgrounds and communities? How have comics engaged with non-Western epistemologies such as Indigenous worldviews?

Comics genres and forms of ecopolitics

The second strand shifts the focus to questions of genres and forms. Documentary, a strong presence in ecopolitical comics, has generally allowed for more explicit engagement and call for action than fiction. Yet fictional narratives may ‘assist with the construction of new, more sustainable individual and collective self-narratives’ (Herman 2014: 131). What are the different ways in which non-fiction and fiction have been mobilised for ecopolitical engagement? How have different genres, such as science fiction, cli-fi, autobiography, thriller, adventure, or comedy, been deployed to articulate an ecopolitics? What ecopolitical readings does the genre of industry comics call for? How do text-image creations across different formats and modes of circulation and dissemination (e.g., comic books, digital comics, or editorial cartoons) engage with environmental issues and responses to these, such as environmental justice mobilisations, climate change denial, or climate anxiety? How are environmental politics articulated in terms of form, beyond questions of narrative-level representation? Does the overwhelming scale of the climate emergency push artists to play and experiment with form, and the codes and conventions of the medium? How have comics been used as a pedagogical tool to develop ecological awareness, for instance in workshops? What ecopolitics are developed in comics and comics magazines for children and younger readers? Beyond environmentally themed comics, have modes of drawing the more-than-human evolved with increasing ecological awareness? And, crucially, how may we measure the impact of comics’ ecopolitical engagement – are some genres or formats more successful than others in raising ecological awareness and/or inspiring individual and collective action?

Ecopolitical approaches to the materiality of comics

This third strand places the focus on comics’ own materiality and part in material culture, thus bringing an ecopolitical approach to the growing body of work in this area (see special issue of Comicalités). How has the comics industry responded to calls for sustainability, and controversies around green washing and green capitalism? What ecopolitical complexities and ambiguities emerge from texts that reflect on their own materiality as made from and with ‘natural resources’, and the fact that the circulation of visual art on paper is one ‘the oldest and most ecologically damaging industrial practices’ (LeMenager 2014: 121), requiring huge quantities of trees and water? How do comics artists reflect and act on their own environmental impact e.g., Philippe Squarzoni’s struggles with his own carbon footprint as an internationally renowned author in Saison brune, or Tom Tirabosco’s launch with other Swiss creators of a Charter of artists and cultural actors for the climate? What part have comics played in extractive culture – one may think here for instance of comics magazines such as, in France, Total Journal, or in Congo, Mwana Shaba Junior – and what does an ecopolitical approach reveal of comics’ instrumentalization within extractive capitalism?

Submission

This call for papers is open to all researchers, regardless of their status and origins. Abstract submissions should include two separate documents:

  • A short bio-bibliographical notice.

  • An anonymized abstract in French or English of no more than 3000 characters (with spaces). The abstract will present the theoretical positioning, corpus, and main conclusions.

We are also open to formats other than the standard scientific article and welcome shorter forms: interviews, short articles, presentations of archival items, etc.

Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously by the editorial board of Comicalités: after acceptance, and with possible suggestions, the article will be written for a total length between 15 000 (for shorter forms) and 50 0000 (for standard articles) characters, with spaces. Abstracts should be sent before June 1, 2023 to Armelle Blin-Rolland (a.blin-rolland@bangor.ac.uk), Margaret C. Flinn (flinn.62@osu.edu) and Johanna Sellman (sellman.13@osu.edu). Completed articles will be sent by December 1, 2023.

Bibliography

Alaimo, Stacy. 2016. Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Blin-Rolland, Armelle. 2022. ‘Towards an Ecographics: Ecological Storylines in Bande Dessinée’, European Comic Art, 15.2, pp. 107-131.

Casper, Cord-Christian. 2020. ‘What Grows in the Gutter? – About this Issue’, Closure, vol. 7 https://www.closure.uni-kiel.de/closure7/about

Dobrin, Sidney I.(ed.). 2020. EcoComix: Essays on the Environment in Comics and Graphic Novels. Jefferson: McFarland.

Flinn, Margaret C.. 2018. ‘Popular Terroir: Bande Dessinée as Pastoral Ecocriticism?’, Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1, Article 5. https://doi.org/10.4148/2334-4415.2041.

Haraway, Donna, 1998. ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’. Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 575-599.

Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.

Heise, Ursula K. 2016. Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Herman, David. 2014. ‘Narratology Beyond the Human’. Diegesis, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 131–43.

Iovino, Serenella, and OPPERMANN, Serpil (eds). 2014. Material Ecocriticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lemenager, Stephanie. 2016. Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

Past, Elena. 2019. Italian Ecocinema: Beyond the Human. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Puchner, Martin. 2022. Literature for a Changing Planet. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

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