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Secret Identity: Community Comics and Cultural Identity

November 29th, 2016 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Secret Identity: Community Comics and Cultural Identity
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facebook_hashtag-ecaf_logoAs part of Book Week Scotland 2016, the Edinburgh Comic Art Festival took place on 26 and 27 November. Infected by several comic book enthusiasts in our class, I jumped at the opportunity and immersed myself in the glorious world that is comic art. The festival, which was situated in Summerhall, offered free talks and workshops as well as a comic book fair where local artists presented their works. In short, it had everything a comic book lover’s heart desires.

For this blog, I chose Paul Bristow’s talk on Secret Identity, which explored the link between community comics and cultural identity. Paul is part of Magic Torch Comics, an arts and heritage group from Inverclyde, who have made it their mission to work with communities and schools to reconnect people with their local heritage. According to Paul, restoring community heritage can reshape the view of a community and strengthen its identity by winning back its self-esteem. Involving the members of a community in the research means recognizing their authority and insider knowledge that “can be just as valid as academic research” (quote Bristow). As a result, Magic Torch approach their project with a “dig-where-you-stand” mentality, which means that they let students and/or other members of the community look for traces of history and folklore in their immediate surroundings.

img_20161128_145426-minAs an example Paul chose his collaboration with the community of Greenock, a historic industrial town once well-known for its shipyards. Although the area can look back on a rich cultural history, the community’s heritage was overlooked in favour of progress and future development. Magic Torch brought their project to local schools and asked students to research historical events that had happened near them. The team then helped them to create the characters and develop their stories. The result was 4,000 copies of a 64 pages full-colour graphic novel that, thanks to funding, could be distributed for free to schools and other places in Greenock.

Apart from the focus on heritage, Magic Torch’s collaboration serves another purpose: improving students’ literacy and language skills. This has resulted in comic books about a Space Princess written in French (Le Mystère de la Princesse Sorcière) and the comic adaptation of a Gaelic song about a shinty match back in 1877 (Camanachd Ghrianaig). All of these works are available for download on Magic Torch’s website.

by Katharina Dittmann