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View Full Version : It's time to take cartoon capers seriously ... even academically



Brian Boru
05-26-2007, 05:12 AM
by ALASTAIR JAMIESON
The Scotsman

HOLD it, Superman. Put down that pie, Desperate Dan. Get your magic thinking caps on.

Cartoons and the improbable calamities faced by their two- dimensional characters are a serious academic matter, according to experts who have turned comics such as the Beano into the subject of an international conference partly funded by the Scottish Executive.

Authors, illustrators and historians filed into a lecture theatre in Dundee yesterday to debate the literary and artistic merits of The Broons and hear that Dennis the Menace [i.e. the BRITISH version] was "a proto-punk".

Clutching plastic bags from Forbidden Planet, they concluded that Marvel Comics provide a link between childhood heroism and the post-9/11 realignment of global forces. It was the equivalent of having world leaders discuss Oor Wullie's bucket in between trade negotiations at the G8.

"Comics give us an insight into contemporary society, they reflect back the prevailing concerns and attitudes," explained conference organiser Dr Chris Murray, of Dundee University, whose postgraduate thesis studied the links between cartoons and propaganda in the last war.

"There are many layers of understanding behind comics. The work of Scottish comic book author Grant Morrison is post-modern, deconstructive and has references to William Blake."

Comic book creator John Chalmers told yesterday's audience: "Cartoons are pretty subversive. They can be inflammatory and upset people."

Such observations are not lost on Dundonians, whose relationship with comics published by D C Thomson goes back decades. Perhaps more than anything, it has put the city on the map. But if comics really reflected reality, Desperate Dan's biggest adventure would be a successful trip to the toilet - his comic, the Dandy, is 70 in December.

So is there really academic merit in analysing the Bash Street Kids? "Comic books are complex creations which work on a number of levels," said Paul Gravett, historian and author of Great British Comics. "They are also questioning of received wisdom and social attitudes and the relationship between right and wrong. Unlike the American superheroes, British characters don't always get punished for bad behaviour, they sometimes 'get away with it' which gives them great depth and subtlety. Look at Dennis the Menace and his spiky hair: he is a really subversive character... the proto-punk."

The conference, titled Bif! Bam!! Crikey!!, was backed by the Six Cities Design Festival and part-funded by Dundee University and the Scottish Executive. It celebrates Dundee's contribution to the world of storybook design, which nowadays includes the creation of computer games such as global phenomenon Grand Theft Auto.

BRIT WHO CONQUERED AMERICA

WHILE the Beano and Dandy have kept generations of British children amused, Grant Morrison is now making his mark.

Morrison, 47, from Glasgow, is seen as one of the most original and inventive writers in the medium. His life and work has already been the subject of five TV documentaries.

Morrison's first published works were Gideon Stargrave strips for Near Myths in 1978, one of the first British alternative comics.

He spent much of the 1980s struggling to find work with a major comic publisher. However, after writing The Liberators for Dez Skinn's Warrior in 1985, he started work for Marvel UK and has created groundbreaking and best-selling runs of stories for series such as New X-Men and Fantastic Four.

Animal Man placed Morrison at the head of the so-called "Brit Wave" invasion of US comics, along with such writers as Neil Gaiman, Peter Milligan, and Alan Moore. Morrison even wrote himself into the story, as a character in Animal Man's final issue.