8 November 2017

Komos and Nomos: Paper at University of Dundee, 15 November 2017

Some notable GJRA-related events are happening soon. If you want to advertise anything related to Graphic Justice, please get in touch!

See the below shameless plug for Thomas Giddens' paper, Komos and Nomos (Comics, Law and Disorder), to be given at the University of Dundee on 15th November 2017.
The Scottish Centre for Comic Studies and the Centre for Critical and Creative Cultures are delighted to welcome Dr Thomas Giddens (Senior Lecturer in Law at St Mary’s, London and founder of the Graphic Research Alliance) to discuss, ‘Komos and Nomos’ (Comics, Law, and Disorder). Dr Giddens’ lecture will take place on Wednesday, 15th November 2017, 4-6pm in Dalhousie 3G02, LT1. To accompany this exciting event we have created a short comic with Dr Giddens that will be given away on the day. Earlier in the day we will also be running a comics workshop around the theme of Law and Disorder. The workshop will take place in the Dundee Comics Creative Space, 2-3pm, and is open to all (adults only). Please see below for further information on Dr Giddens’ work:

“Thom's work focuses on the intersections and interactions between comics and legal theory. Comics, graphic novels, and manga represent a rich, varied and sophisticated cultural medium. Comics have had a huge impact of many aspects of popular culture, from cinema and books, to television and the internet. They deal with many themes important to law and justice, from criminal justice and morality in superhero narratives, to explorations of all walks of human life in the wide variety of comics beyond this dominant mainstream. The intersection of comics with law and justice is an under-researched field, and Thom’s work aims to promote and develop this rich and important cultural crossover. His ground-breaking edited collection, Graphic Justice: Intersections of Comics and Law, was published by Routledge in 2015.

Thom’s currently major project deepens the concern with comics and legal theory, taking a specifically philosophical and aesthetic turn. Building on previously published work around the aesthetics and metaphysics of the comics form, and its significance for law and legal theory, Thom is expanding and developing the core of his PhD thesis into a monograph that examines the boundaries of the rational and textual nature of legal knowledge. This work will explore the problems of legal knowledge-making through critical engagement with a variety of comics and philosophical sources, demonstrating the profound critical value of the comics medium for legal studies.

7 November 2017

'Graphic Justice: Law, Comics, and Related Visual Media' stream at the Socio-Legal Studies Association 2018

Great news - for the third year running, we will be convening a stream at the SLSA conference. This year it is in the wonderful city of Bristol from 26-28 March 2018. Further details here:  https://www.slsa2018.com/graphic-justice. Here is the call:

This stream invites submissions exploring the intersections of law and justice with comics, graphic fiction, and related visual media.

Critical interest in the comics medium has exploded in recent decades, and is steadily growing within the legal academy. Indeed, comics and graphic fiction—and their related visual emanations, including film, video games, and wider ‘geek culture’—are of huge and on-going significance to law, justice, and legal studies.

On a socio-cultural level, comics are historically embroiled in debates of free speech whilst today they inspire countless pop culture adaptations—from television to cinema to video games, as well as performance activities such as cosplay—and can be seen to reflect and shape popular visions of justice, morality, politics, and law. On the level of content, from mainstream superhero narratives tackling overt issues of justice, governance and authority, to countless themes related to morality, justice, and humanity in stories within and far beyond the mainstream, comics are rich with legal material. On the level of form, the comics medium’s unique and restless blending of different media and types of representation (text, image, visuality, aesthetics, inter alia) radically opens up discourse beyond the confines of the word, enabling greater critical engagement amidst our increasingly visual age. On the level of production, comics are a complex art-form, with multiple creators working in individual, group, commercial, and industrial contexts, raising questions of ownership and exploitation—issues exacerbated by comics’ transmedia proliferation.

In short, comics and their related visual media bring rich cultural, practical, and aesthetic contexts and mediations to long-standing and emerging legal problems and settings. Broad questions framing this ‘graphic justice’ intersection might include:
  • ​What are the relationships between comics and related visual media, and law—culturally, socially, formally, theoretically, jurisprudentially...?
  • How can we use comics and related visual media in law—in practice, education, theory, research...?
  • Can we consider comics as objects of legal regulation in their own right—raising issues of definition, ownership, consumption, value...?
The crossover between law, comics, and related media is an expansive and open one. The examples above are merely indicative of possible issues and questions; the graphic justice stream welcomes submissions for papers that traverse any potential intersection between law and comics or related visual media—all broadly defined.

Information about previous conferences, including the programmes from the Lancaster and Newcastle conferences - which include the titles of our previous streams - is available on the SLSA website here: https://www.slsa.ac.uk/index.php/past-conferences.

For further discussion and please contact Thomas Giddens, Angus Nurse, or David Yuratich, whose emails can be found here: https://www.slsa2018.com/graphic-justice

13 July 2017

Lynsey Black: The Victimisation of Barbara Gordon: Violence Against Women In Comics

Fresh from our conference last week, the we are delighted to host the following guest post from Lynsey Black (University College Dublin): The Victimisation of Barbara Gordon: Violence Against Women in Comics.

The treatment of women in comics is often described by reference to the Women in Refrigerators trope a term made famous by a 1999 website, the brainchild of Gail Simone among others, which documented the often shoddy treatment meted out to women in the medium, particularly within the superhero genre. In this style of storytelling, the most indigenous form of story to the medium (Gabilliet, 2010: xii), women were frequently killed, maimed or assaulted to further the plot, usually the plot of the male protagonist. This less than ideal utilisation of women has been noted in a genre which has often resorted to hyper-sexualised depictions of female characters (Garland et al, 2016a), reliance on rape myths, and which has typically represented women as childlike and in need of saving, usually by a male saviour (Garland et al, 2016b).

Within criminology, the spaces opened up by cultural criminology, and the visual turn within criminology (Carrabine, 2012), have created legitimate spaces of enquiry in which to consider the representation of crime and punishment in comic books. The example of Philips and Strobl (2013) stands as an example of what can be done in this vein; their investigation of a large sample of superhero comics uncovered a genre that leaned towards the conservative, and the hegemonic, in its portrayal of crime and crime-fighting. Within this paradigm of justice, it is perhaps hardly surprising that women are often infantilised and victimised as a means of depicting a Manichean dichotomy of good versus evil.

Criminology can therefore meaningfully embrace the medium of comics to explore how the content frames issues of crime and punishment. However, not only the content but also the responses of readers is of interest, particularly taking into account the active online fan communities associated with comics. Criminological investigation can follow the representations to the online sphere, and assess how they are discussed and understood. Further, such enquiry could also extend to exploring the online harassment that exists within these spheres. As noted by Pustz (1999), comics fans feel a strong sense of ownership over favoured characters, something made very real in the recent #HydraCap controversy in which Captain America was revealed to have been an agent of Hydra all along (through the magic of an altered reality, see Riesman, 2017). Changes to much loved characters can therefore provoke strong, often abusive, speech online.

Within this framework, the victimisation of Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) in 1988s The Killing Joke (written by Alan Moore, art by Brian Bolland) offers an illuminating case study. My paper explored this case study with regard to its content as well as reader responses.

Regarding content, in The Killing Joke Barbara is shot in the spine by the Joker, leaving her paralysed, she is then stripped naked, and photographed. The Joker has undertaken the attack to prove his thesis that one bad day is all that separates good from evil. By targeting Barbara, he seeks to break her father, Jim Gordon. The victimisation of Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke remains controversial, and stands as an example of the objectification, sexualisation, and minimisation of women within the superhero genre. My paper explored how the assault on Barbara was understood only through the eyes of the men in her life her father and Batman. Further, the paper highlighted the sexualised and gendered nature of the violence within the comic.

Beyond discussion of the content of the comic itself, the many iterations of The Killing Joke in the decades after its release, and the ways in which it continues to be mediated by fans offers a further lens through which to view the work. For example, in 2015 a variant cover for Batgirl #41 with art by Rafael Albuquerque referenced the events in the book. The cover depicted Batgirl being held at gunpoint by the Joker the image portrayed Batgirl as tearful and vulnerable, with a smile painted across her face in blood. The variant cover provoked significant negative reactions, reactions which resulted in the cover being pulled, particularly following the artists preference that it be withdrawn. The debate about the appropriateness of the cover offers scope for reader views on violence against women to be investigated. An initial examination of online debate about the variant cover, for example, throws up genuinely nuanced discussions of the depiction of gender-based violence.
Although at a very preliminary stage, the paper I presented at Graphic Justice Discussions 2017 therefore sought to outline how The Killing Joke can be read both as a marker for its time, as well as emblematic of changing understandings of violence against women in comics. Through exploration of both the content and representation within the comic, as well as the reader responses, my research will attempt to trace the contours of the debate on sexual violence within comics.


Eamonn Carrabine (2012) Just Images: Aesthetics, Ethics and Visual Criminology, British Journal of Criminology, 52(3), 463-489

Jean-Paul Gabilliet (2010) Of Comics and men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books, translated by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen (University Press of Mississippi)

Tammy S Garland, Nickie Phillips, Scott Vollum (2016a) Gender Politics and The Walking Dead: Gendered Violence and the Reestablishment of Patriarchy, Feminist Criminology, Online First, 11 March, 1-28

Tammy S Garland, Kathryn A Branch and Mackenzie Grimes (2016b) Blurring the Lines: Reinforcing Rape Myths in Comic Books, Feminist Criminology, 11(1), 48-68

Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (1988) Batman: The Killing Joke (DC)

Nicki D Phillips and Staci Strobl (2013) Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice and the American Way (NYU Press)

Matthew J Pustz (1999) Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (University Press of Mississippi)

Abraham Riesman (2017) First Captain America Became Evil, Then The Comics World Erupted, Vulture, 27 June http://www.vulture.com/2017/06/marvel-hydra-captain-america-nick-spencer.html

Women in Refrigerators (1999) http://www.lby3.com/wir/

29 June 2017

GJRA Abstracts: Lucy Finchett-Maddock, The Art/Law Network

Our final post before the GJRA Discussions next week is the abstract by Lucy Finchett-Maddock (Art/Law Network, University of Sussex). It's a great introduction to the 'Art/Law Network', website here: http://www.artlawnetwork.org.

Following the theme of this conference, I would like to discuss the increasing convergence of art and law, in both legal research and pedagogy, as well as within the thematics of artists and their work, resulting in the setting up of the ‘Art/Law Network’.

There have been an increasing number of collections and events engaging art directly with the theme of law, such as the 'Art and Law' exhibition and workshop at the Copperfield Gallery in London (June, 2015) showing the legal conceptual work of the Carey Young amongst others; the brilliant ‘'White Paper' (The Law)’ art, squatting and legislative convergence of artist Adelita Husni-Bey (May, 2015), as well as the use of art in resistance movements and the more recent TateExchange ‘Who are We Project’ (2017) focusing specifically on migration, borders, politics and law, to name but a few.

Artists hold a unique place within culture where they can transmit and transmute the political, their art providing a space of advocacy and learning, orchestrating a performative meeting point for the happening of law and politics. Likewise, lawyers occupy a similarly unique position within culture and society, where their work is not confined to wealthy city commerce but are the original privy for advice, counsel, rights protection, advocacy – they are the voice for the subaltern.  

Art/Law, will be discussed as an emerging legal methodology and pedagogy, striating theory and practice.  It is argued as a form of legal pedagogy that invites art into law in a critical art-led law practice where a culture of empathy for the Other can be fostered by critically demonstrating the divisive and often violent role of law in forces of social exclusion. 

27 June 2017

GJRA Discussions 2017: Jill Marshall's Legal Ideas Factory

Today’s preview of the papers to be given at the GJRA Discussions next week comes from Professor Jill Marshall, who will be discussing her fantastic ‘Legal Ideas Factory’: see the website at http://www.legalideasfactory.com. Here's her abstract:

Using the tag line Law, Life, Global Action, I have set up a new venture called the Legal Ideas Factory. It is a website containing legal information which each month will focus on a specific area of law with blogs, comics, animation and other videos. There are virtual events such as the Book Club and the Film Club where books and films will be reviewed. One of the sections will analyse legal issues through comic or graphic depiction. The aim of the website is to enable law to be seen and done differently, to probe its potential through alternative methodology to text. In particular, this method is used to enable us to face up to violence and harm, oppression and injustice, so we can aim to deal with it, investigate and do something about it. This chimes with the Graphic Justice call for papers description of ‘the value or use of popular, visual, and ‘geek’ media in understanding law, justice, and related questions.’