Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Archaeology in Popular Comics and Graphic Novels" - My Contribution to the Public Archaeology Twitter Conference, 28 April 2017

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the international Public Archaeology Twitter Conference organized by Lorna Richardson. Dozens of papers were tweeted, in 12 or fewer tweets, by people working at the intersection of archaeology and public engagement. My paper fit into the "Archaeology and Media" (#archmedia) panel. 

I'm reproducing my abstract and paper here. I got some great feedback during the #PATC but would welcome other thoughts and conversations on the topic of archaeology in comics.
My Twitter handle is @am_christensen or leave a comment below.

The public face of archaeology in popular culture is commonly represented by the Indiana Jones-type archaeologist as portrayed by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The recent appearance of Doctor Aphra (first Darth Vader issue #3, (March 25, 2015) and in her own spin off series Doctor Aphra (December 7, 2016) in Marvel’s Star Wars comic universe demonstrates this, overtly playing with links between Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indy and Han Solo in the original Star Wars films (1977-1983). The work of archaeologists and scholars like Johannes Loubser (Archaeology: the Comic, 2003), Cornelius Holtorf (Archaeology is a Brand, 2007), and John Swogger (Comics and Archaeology, 2011-ongoing) have made clear the advantages of visual narrative for archaeological scholarship and publication. Within the framework of these two diverse uses of comics that portray different ends of the archaeological spectrum, I would like to examine how the graphic novels by Richard McGuire (Here, Pantheon Graphic Novels 2014) and Peter Kuper (Ruins, SelfMadeHero, 2015) provide another face of archaeology in comics. These graphic novels present an alternative to the pop culture archaeologist represented by Doctor Aphra, but they are not scholarly works that aim to focus on archaeology per se. Instead both McGuire and Kuper address the relationship between sites and human activity over the course of time. As both authors unfold their visual narratives, McGuire’s in one corner of a living room in the northeastern United States and Kuper in the pre-Columbian ruins of Monte Albán, we as audience can see the interconnectedness of time and place. I propose that both authors present us with experiences of Tim Ingold’s concept of the “taskscape,” (“The Temporality of the Landscape,” World Archaeology, 1993), allowing their audiences to unpack the layers of local activity and visualize each within the longue durée.

1 Comics genre=ideal medium to convey archaeo content&concepts. Text+image. Pop genre=pub appeal.

2 But archaeologist, not archaeology is primary focus of popular & its scholarship. E.g. Holtorf’s 4 themes:

3 Popular reflect society’s views abt discipline. So public not necessarily looking @ archaeology. According to Jordan:

4 If we shift from archaeologist-focus to Ingold’s “dwelling perspective,” we can think more meaningfully about archaeology in comics.
5 scholarship can learn from , especially in considering interactions between player & game landscape.

[Addendum: Had I listened to it before hand, I would have included a link in this tweet to The 8 Bit Test Pit Podcast, episode 8, "Representation, Hoyuk, and Procedural Generation." 18 March 2017.]

6 These interactions are Ingold’s “acts of dwelling” or “tasks” playing out across a landscape or “taskscape” thru varying timeframes.
7 Comics are ideally suited to illustrating Ingold’s concept of this temporality of the landscape, more so than Bruegel’s painting.

8 Many , especially archaeologist-focused comics, do so in a highly abbreviated form:

9 McGuire & Kuper provide 2 excellent exmples of the temporality of the landscape, or, as in Ingold’s conclusion, what archaeology is:

10 McGuire’s work perhaps best represents the totality of Ingold’s concept:

11 Kuper plays more irregularly and imaginatively with aspects of Ingold’s concept:

12/12 The role of the archaeologist is almost non-existent in Kuper & McGuire, allowing the archaeology to rise to the surface.

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