Nordic Symposium on Comics and Norm-critical Perspectives

This year's symposium will take place on 18-19 June, 2024 in Norrköping. The symposium aims to explore the use of comics as a tool and material to advance norm-critical discussions.

Nordic Symposium on Comics and Norm-critical Perspectives.This includes the reading of comics as a way for students to discuss and problematize their views of social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and ability from different perspectives and the intersection of such categories. But also on the ways in which the comics themselves address issues of a norm-critical nature, including representations of race, sexuality, gender and more. We invite submissions from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds working with a range of different theoretical and methodological approaches as a way to engage with the medium of comics with a focus on norm-criticism.


The Creation of a Norm-Critical Comics Archive: Writing Finnish Comics History from a Minority Perspective

Ralf Kauranen, University of Turku

Comics history in general is written from a majority perspective, with the implication that the history of comics is construed in a normative fashion reflecting the values, interests, and ideologies of societies’ majorities as well as social power relations and hierarchies. In the last few decades comics history has been complemented with perspectives highlighting the roles and positions of minorities and minority representatives in comics cultures. Several studies have now highlighted the role of, for example, women, ethnic and sexual minorities, queer and Indigenous groups in comics history in different geographic and cultural locations. Comics history is currently actively diversified in comics studies.

My presentation describes a research project which has the norm-critical aim of analyzing the roles of minorities in Finnish comics history. In the project “Diversity in Finnish Comics History: Minorities and Self-representation” (2023–2026, University of Turku) the focus is on both the role and position of representatives of minorities in comics culture and on the ways in which the so-called minority creators have depicted and dealt with the minority position, identities, and the relations between majorities and minorities in their comics. The research centers on three major minority groups and their comics from the 1850s to the 2020s: women, gender and sexual minorities, and the Swedish-language minority in Finland.

The aim of the project is to complement and correct the understanding of Finnish comics history, which still is relatively under-researched and superficially documented. Simply stated, there is much more to be detected and said about Finnish comics history. An awareness of the power dynamics of the comics field, the unequal opportunities for comics production, and the focus on minority creators and representation suggests the study of materials and publication contexts that have been overlooked in the history-writing this far. Although the project is in its initial phase (at the time of writing this abstract), it is already clear that an empirical focus on publishing platforms for women’s comics, queer comics, and Swedish-language comics brings to light completely new information on and renews the archive of Finnish comics history (and at the time of the conference much more will be known).

While the project does not have an explicit pedagogical emphasis, a renewed understanding of Finnish comics history stressing the significance of minorities constitutes a basis for future educationally oriented uses of comics in the Finnish context. A non-critical perspective geared only towards majority interests and representation will be harder in the future than it has been to date, when, for example, using comics in syllabi on different levels of education or curating library, archival, or exhibition collections of Finnish comics.

Methods of Feminist Comics History: Towards a More Diverse and Inclusive Understanding of Finnish Comics

Leena Romu, Tampere University

As many researchers have noted, women comics artists have been underrepresented in comics histories and canons. Comics history has been presented as a field dominated by male creators, certain genres have gained more importance, and the canon of significant comics has included works mainly from male cartoonists. The comics industry and institutions have in several ways caused the imbalance, for example, by nominating mainly male cartoonists in prestigious comics awards and by excluding women artists from canonizing exhibitions. Seminal work by comics historians, such as Trina Robbins (e.g. 2013), has brought to light those female artists who have been overlooked or forgotten, and, in the 2000s, the interest in women’s comics history is a transnational and vibrant phenomenon in comics studies (e.g. Kohn 2017; McLeod 2021; Nordenstam & Wallin Wictorin 2019; Streeten 2020) alongside with a broader interest in feminist and intersectional approaches.

This presentation discusses what kinds of methods are used in writing the comics history from a feminist perspective. What kinds of epistemological and methodological questions do we need to ask and reconsider in the process of reconstructing the past? What kinds of feminist theories and concepts can be applied in order to form an inclusive and diverse comics history? On a more concrete level we can ask, for example: Where have women artists published their works, and how can we find them? Who have been able to make comics and why? What kind of comics have women made and how have they represented their lives in different times? I argue that these questions have direct consequences to our overall understanding of comics and their qualities regarding aesthetics and content. While it is important to ask how comics can be norm-critical themselves, it is as important to ponder the aspects, practices and methodologies of norm-critical comics history writing.

The presentation is part of my work in the research project “Diversity in Finnish Comics History: Minorities and Self-representation” (2023–2026, University of Turku), in which I study the history of women comics artists in Finland. In the presentation, I will test and demonstrate the applicability of international research to the Finnish context by discussing examples from different periods and parts of Finnish comics history. For example, in Sweden, women have been active illustrators for children's magazines which include a lot of comics (e.g. Magnusson 2005) and this seems to be the case in Finland too. Since children's comics and magazines have been scarcely studied, comics history lacks a significant portion of women’s contribution to the field.

  • Kohn, Jessica 2017. Women comics authors in France and Belgium before the 1970s: making them invisible. Revue de recherche en civilisation Américaine, Vol.6.
  • Magnusson, Helena 2005. Berättande bilder : Svenska tecknade serier för barn. Göteborg: Makadam förlag.
  • McLeod, Catriona 2021. Invisible presence. The representation of women in French-language comics. Bristol: Intellect.
  • Nordenstam, Anna & Margareta Wallin Wictorin 2019. Women’s liberation. Swedish feminist comics and cartoons from the 1970s and 1980s. European Comic Art. 12:2, 77-105.
  • Robbins, Trina 2013. Pretty in ink: North American women cartoonists 1896-2013. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books.
  • Streeten, Nicola 2020. UK feminist cartoons and comics: a critical survey. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Exhibiting the History of FinnishQueer Comics: Reflections on Curating Non-Normative Past and Present

Anna Vuorinne, University of Turku   

From an international perspective, the history of Finnish comics might look queer. The queer identities, topics, themes, and aesthetics of Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen) and Tove Jansson – who arguably are among the most internationally recognised Finnish comics artists – have been acknowledged widely, both in Finland and abroad. Beyond Tom and Tove, however, the larger history of Finnish queer comics remains largely unknown. It is important to shed light upon this history for several reasons. Writing the Finnish comics history from a queer perspective, may, among other things, diversify the common, often hetero- and cis-normative historical narratives of Finnish comics, produce new knowledge of the (historical) uses of comics among the Finnish queer community, and add to the larger, still ongoing project of making Finnish queer history visible.

In this presentation, I will explore the issue of Finnish queer comics history through a practical and empirical case study that involves exhibiting Finnish queer comics in a public space. The focus is on a free, public exhibition of Finnish queer comics that I am currently organising. The exhibition will take place at the Turku Main Library in May 2024, and it will display both contemporary and historical queer comics from Finland. The exhibition is related to the “Diversity in Finnish Comics History: Minorities and Self-representation” project (2023–2026, University of Turku) and is organised in collaboration with a colleague from gender studies and local queer comics artists. The main purpose of the exhibition is to showcase queer comics artists and the diversity of their artistic work and strategies. The broader pedagogical aim of the exhibition is to raise general awareness about the history of sexual and gender minorities in Finland.
In my presentation, I will discuss the work process behind the exhibition. This includes, first of all, practical issues – such as the cooperation with the library, the communication with the exhibited artists, and the archival work of finding the historical material to be exhibited. Secondly, there are theoretical and methodological issues to be considered, especially concerning curatorial work done in collaboration with a public, municipal institution. While the exhibition location – the entrance hall of the Main Library and an exhibition space located in the library’s Non-Fiction Department – offers a unique opportunity to bring queer comics to the attention of a large and diverse public, it also imposes limitations on what can be exhibited. The entrance hall, for instance, is a space used by all library customers and located next to the Children’s and Youth Departments, which means that no explicitly sexual or pornographic material is allowed to be displayed there. Indeed, even though the Finnish (as well as other Nordic) public libraries are well known for being inclusive and queer-friendly spaces, there are still norms and regulations that restrict and sanitize how (non-normative) genders and sexualities can appear in such spaces. In my presentation, I will reflect upon the tensions concerning the issue of popularising queer (comics) history for a diverse general public, and discuss how these tensions were negotiated during the curatorial process.

Critical Pedagogies of Desire in Swedish Feminist Manga

Mike Classon Frangos, Linnaeus University

Natalia Batista’s A Song for Elise (2010), the first published yaoi manga in Sweden, presents a powerful fantasy of girlhood in the guise of a narrative of gay male desire. This paper examines Batista’s manga, first written in English and published in German by Tokyopop, to understand the pedagogies of desire and identification made possible in the text’s transnational adaptation of the yaoi or Boys’ Love manga genre. Taking a point of departure in the critical comics pedagogy of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, I describe how comics enable multiple fantastic identifications as pedagogical possibilities. Then, I examine how Batista uses the form and genre conventions of BL manga to imagine a form of girlhood beyond the male gaze without turning away from the failures of cisheteronormative identification. Exploring how Batista uses the visual conventions of manga to articulate alternative identifications, I pay attention to the multiple meta-narratives in which A Song for Elise is embedded, from the text’s own allegory of aesthetic production , to Batista’s account of the manga’s creation in the book's epilogue, and finally, the transnational circulation of BL manga itself.

Comics and Mental Health in Teacher Education

Adriana Margareta Dancus, University of South-Eastern Norway

In the last two decades, research across academic fields has demonstrated the pedagogical value of comics. Quantitative and qualitative studies in graphic medicine show how analyzing and creating comics help medical students develop their listening, communicative, collaborative, creative, and empathetic skills in addition to making them more prone to accept ambiguity and avoid preconceptions, which are essential abilities in medical practice (see Green, 2015; Matmaan et al. 2019). In school research, there have been extensive studies that prove that comics can motivate struggling and reluctant readers, can be successfully used in the teaching of sciences and in second language acquisition, and can develop pupils’ multimodal literacy as well as their critical thinking in relation to among others social norms (see Aman & Wellner, 2022; Hill, 2017; Letizia, 2021; Serafini, 2013; Schwarz, 2010). Less explored in education research is how comics can facilitate important learning about health, including mental health and how parameters such as gender, sexuality and ethnicity impact our health. In this talk, I will present a pilot project in which analytical and practical work with comics was integrated in a literature course in the teacher education program at a university in Norway. The overall aim of the project is to develop new pedagogical approaches to comics thematizing mental health and a set of concrete learning tools that can be used in the teaching of the interdisciplinary topic health and life skills in the Norwegian curriculum. I will discuss some preliminary findings from the running of the pilot and concrete implications for the design of learning resources in language and literature teacher training.

  • Aman, R. & Wallner, L. (Eds.) (2022). Teaching with Comics: Empirical, Analytical and Professional Experiences. Springer Nature.
  • Green, M.J. (2015). Comics and Medicine: Peering into the Process of Professional Identity formation. Acad Med, 90(6): 774-779.
  • Hill, C. (2017). Teaching Comics Through Multiple Lenses. Critical Perspectives. Routledge.
  • Letizia, A. (2021). Empirical Drawings: Utilizing Comic Essays in the Social Studies Classroom to Teach Citizenship. SANE journal:
  • Sequential Art Narrative in Education, 2(6).
  • Maatman, T.C., Prigmore, H., Williams, J.S. & Fletcher, K.E. (2019). BMJ Qual Saf, 28: 934–938.
  • Serafini, F. (2013). Exploring Graphic Novels, Comics, and Cartoons. In Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy (p. 136-142). Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Schwarz, G. (2010). Graphic Novels, New Literacies, and Good Old Social Justice. The ALAN Review, 71–75.

Crip Histories and Imaginaries: Disability Comics as Agents of Social Justice

Radu Harald Dinu, Jönköping University
Ylva Lindberg, Jönköping University

The innovative use of comic art as a medium for exploring and “cripping” historical narratives is a compelling approach that has been gaining momentum in recent years. This paper delves into the ways in which various disability groups themselves are narrating their history and how history is envisioned in the realm of comics through the lens of disability.

In taking a comparative and transnational perspective, three examples will be examined, including “Seger!” which delves into the history of the Deaf community in Sweden, “Epileptic,” a graphic novel that provides insight into a family’s epileptic child, intricately interwoven with France’s post-war history, and “Freaks,” offering a contemporary adaptation of the 1932 film by Tod Browning.

What unites these comics is a pervasive theme of emancipation, a stark departure from the typical narrative of “overcoming” disability often depicted in mainstream superhero comics, as exemplified by characters like Marvel’s Daredevil. Instead, they strive to foster a disability identity and are closely linked to what Robert McRuer has termed “crip,” a strategy aimed to “resist the contemporary spectacle of able-bodied heteronormativity,” and to reclaim disability. By applying Rosemary Garland Thomson’s analytical framework of “staring”, we also aim to scrutinize how the able-bodied gaze on disability perpetuates exclusionary narratives and highlights ableist norms.

Ultimately, the core objective of this paper is to enhance norm-critical discussions on ablebodiness and normalcy. It also wants to trace how disability comics aim to foster social justice. In doing so, we aim to contribute to ongoing scholarly discussions on how disability, identity formation, and the pursuit of social justice are fostered within the realm of comics.

Zines for addressing and challenging norms, discrimination and privileges

Mario Faust-Scalisi, University of Bayreuth

There are various forms of comics that can work in norm-critical or non-normative ways. These are inter alia comics allowing for a perspective otherwise silenced – as indigenous perspectives on history, as for example for Rapa Nui – or comics propagating new or not established norms – as for long years women’s or reproductive rights. But both ways there is a need for publisher, distribution channels and a certain financial background. Taking this, some norms cannot be challenged easily by comics alike. A different story are zines here, since they do not necessarily need a major financial background, drawer, author and publisher can be one and distribution can be done by just spreading it in circles of friends or activist. This reaches even further with e-zines / e-comics.

Especially when there is a certain state control on content and topics, or financial barriers for publishing comics are high, zines can be an alternative, particularly to challenge strong norms and fight inter alia established structural sexism, racism or classism. Here zines and some underground comics can be an alternative. When organizing these in collectives, challenges as distribution are even easier to tackle. One example from my research for this is the collective Tetas Tristes of South America, working against sexism, but racism, classism or adultism, too.

However, often zines have only a limited circulation and reach, are difficult to spread widely, but at the same time are difficult to control or censor. At times this even allows to connect along diasporic lines along questions of experiences of discrimination in constructed ‘home countries’ and diasporic centers at the same time.

These various topics are focus of my postdoctoral research project on the use of zines and some underground comics – without always being able to draw clear lines between – in the Central American Caribbean, on Jamaica and connected diasporic centers in the USA. Specifically, intersectional experiences of discrimination and privilegization are in focus and the potential to address these via zines and some comics. Problematizing norms, deconstructing established norms and the idea and reach of norms as such, these zines can be of various kinds but come together in being intersectionally non-normative. Some de- or reconstruct history, others have a very personal approach, but the challenging of norms, intersectional discrimination experiences and resistance are uniting.

My approach in this project – as postdoctoral researcher at the Doctoral College for Intersectionality Studies, University of Bayreuth, Germany – is to bring together contemporary history, political, sociological, and philosophical perspectives in comic studies.

There is no place like home - Visualizing heritage, race, and class through the personal story of international adoption

Cecilia Hei Mee Flumé, Konstfack

My research project explores how to use illustration and storytelling as a method of communicating norm-critical perspectives of image hierarchies and languages. That means looking into what history, norms, values, and trends are embedded in our images and also our ways of working. Framed by the graphic novel as a format, I am voicing the experience of race, class and betweenship as a narrative compass. My storytelling examines the journeying of assimilating into Swedish culture, a working-class upbringing, a critique of international adoption, and the loss of Korean identity. In the history of illustration, there has been a hierarchy between the written text and the (drawn or painted) image, where text has been considered more thorough and factual. Because of this, I wish to linger with the aesthetics of the graphic novel, and in doing so put into view what we might have talked less about, what we have not seen as often and why. Values formulated in fine art and design contexts are present in graphic novels too though rarely dissected. Graphic novels associated with critical, historical and socio-political themes are often in the dress of black and white, prominent linework, flat and bold. It is being separated from the soft, pretty, ornamented, and colorful, which is associated with the feminine but also with visual culture for children, like children's books. I find this divide and polarisation limiting and obsolete and therefore work with mediums and styles that are varying and dynamic without the desire to choose one. In my research, just like in many autobiographical graphic novels, autoethnography is a central method where I use myself as the subject to tie images to my cultural background(s), speaking both in terms. Where we come from matters, and my research addresses how the romantic, detailed, colourful and painterly can represent class. The project aims to have a strong focus on the craft and readability and to be pedagogical, accessible and open. I put focus on the vehicle of the images, rather than the text, to acknowledge illustration as a discipline which needs to be recognised as an independent critical academic field and discourse. I want to open up the page of the graphic novel and work beyond the grid, panels and speech bubbles, promoting color, ornament, and craft. I am putting the capacity of illustration to the test by imagining my PhD thesis being my graphic novel. But I also firmly believe that this choice of format and adjustment of language can make academic research accessible and (more easily) approachable by people who would not be in proximity of, or encouraged to read a monograph, textual thesis, thus also questioning how knowledge production is shared from within Academia.

Latin-American characters in a non-Latin-American setting

Stef Gaines

In-betweenship is an experience which occurs when you are between established norms surrounding national and cultural identities. This becomes visible as an outcome of migration (den Besten 2010; Liu 2014), transnational adoption (Hübinette, 2007) (Wyer, 2021) and other forms of movement across borders. But it can also occur when you are a child with one or two immigrant parents. As of 2022, 34,62% of the Swedish population has some form of foreign background and 816 209 (7,8%) of people born in Sweden have one immigrant parent (SCB, 2022).

With the concept of in-betweenship as a guiding principle, I would like to start a research project on how to presents inbetweenship and mixed languages in a non-hierarchical manner. For this purpose I will analyse Swedish publications of comics by Jaime Hernandez, Amalia Alvarez, Patrick Rochling and Li Österberg, Amanda Casanellas Donoso, Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom and Mats Källblad who all portrait main characters with a latin american background living in a non-Latin-American setting. I have chosen these comics as they have different presentations of being Latin-American. In Epix publications (1992) of Hernandez's work, chicano culture in Los Angeles was presented which influenced Swedish artists, most notably “Johannasviten” by Rochling and Österberg. “Johannasviten” and “Den uppgrävda jorden” both portray Latin-Americans living in Sweden with little or no connection to their heritage. “Den uppgrävda jorden” portrays a robbed heritage in a case of illegal transnational adoption. Casanellas Donoso and Källblad include characters with Chilean parents and the racism they’re subjected to in Swedish society. Last but not least, Amalia Alvarez presents the experience of Latin-American immigrants presented in Swedish, English and Spanish simultaneously. The parallel presentation of mixed language is important. Having access to your mother tongues improves your ability to access a new language as well (Tidigs & Huss 2017) and comics are a great additional language when no other languages are shared (Ailaskar et. al. 2019). Jaime Hernandez’s use of brackets allow the readers to get familiar with the different characters one uses depending on which language you have to use.

In this study aim to focus on presenting how the characters' in-betweenship and languages are portrayed and how the different presentations influence the reader’s ability to connect with their stories. To explore the latter, I will use other studies of similar themes and interviews with the comic artists in question.

Exploring Social Class, Dystopia and Violence through the Lens of Comics: A Pedagogical Approach in Estado de Mexico

Carolina González Alvarado, Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey

This abstract presents a comprehensive exploration of the utilization of comic books as a pedagogical tool to facilitate critical discussions among undergraduate students regarding their perceptions of social class and violence in the context of Estado de Mexico. Drawing on the dynamic intersection of visual storytelling and socio-cultural analysis, our research aims to shed light on the potential of comics to serve as a catalyst for nuanced conversations and the problematization of prevailing perspectives on these societal issues.

The state of Estado de Mexico, characterized by its diverse socio-economic landscape and complex historical context, provides a rich backdrop for this study. Within this location, we propose to employ an innovative pedagogical framework that integrates comic book narratives into the educational curriculum. By connecting the visual and narrative elements inherent in comics, we seek to engage undergraduate students in a reflective and critical dialogue that goes beyond traditional approaches to discussing social class and violence through the analysis of the graphic novel Ecatepunk by the Mexican author, Joshua Hernández.

Ecatepunk by Joshua Hernández is a graphic novel situated in a dystopian future in Ecatepec, nowadays one of the most violent and dangerous municipalities in the country. The author represents, through dystopia, the current social and environmental state in which the inhabitants of this place live.

Therefore, our methodology involves the analysis of Ecatepunk which not only encapsulates diverse experiences but also challenges prevailing stereotypes associated with social class and violence in Estado de México. Through a combination of narrative analysis and participant observation, we aim to evaluate the impact of incorporating this graphic novel into the educational setting. Our analysis will delve into the ways in which students engage with and interpret the visual narratives, exploring the potential for increased empathy, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of the complexities inherent in the issues under consideration.

Furthermore, our research acknowledges the importance of fostering a safe and inclusive space for dialogue within the classroom. We will examine the role of educators as facilitators, exploring their experiences, challenges, and successes in guiding students through discussions prompted by comics readings. By documenting these experiences, we aspire to contribute insights into effective strategies for integrating comics into educational practices and promoting meaningful conversations around social class and violence.

The implications of our study extend beyond the immediate educational context. By fostering critical thinking and empathy among students, we anticipate a ripple effect that could contribute to a more informed and engaged citizenry in Estado de Mexico. Additionally, our findings may inform educational practices globally, showcasing the potential of alternative pedagogical approaches in addressing complex socio-cultural issues.

In conclusion, this research endeavors to bridge the realms of education, literature, and visual studies, offering a perspective on the use of comics as a tool for fostering critical consciousness and dialogue among students. Through an in-depth exploration of the intersections between visual narratives and societal issues, we hope to inspire educators and scholars to consider innovative approaches in addressing the multifaceted challenges associated with social class and violence in diverse educational settings.

On Languages of Quality and the Maintenance of White Supremacy in Comics Studies

Martin Lund, Malmö University

This talk focuses on two mutually reinforcing tendencies in comics studies. First, the continuing use of “languages of quality,” or the unreflected reproduction of cultural capital, distinction, and hierarchies of taste from within the field of comics production, reception, and circulation. Second, the oft-repeated but rarely qualified assertion that comics history (in the US in particular, but elsewhere as well) is a primarily white and male history. These two tropes feed into each other: languages of quality naturalize the structural white supremacy and patriarchy that have allowed certain creators to secure a place in an emerging comics “canon” by reducing success and canonicity to individual skill, while formulaic laments about the male whiteness of the field can make it seem like it could never have been any other way.

Considered together, these tendencies form the basis for an interrogation of how we as comics scholars might be reproducing this pervasive whiteness of comics by assuming that the way we have been writing comics histories is the only possible way to do it. “Quality” discourse is not a neutral language, and the continuing hierarchization, celebration, and study of comics along lines that fail to challenge white supremacy hinders recuperation of marginalized voices. There are historical reasons why some things are deemed “seminal” and others “forgotten,” and I argue that in employing languages that naturalize rather than critically interrogate the whiteness of the field, we risk continuing to largely ignore structural white supremacy in comics production and consumption, fandom, and in the academic study of comics.

Unlearning neuronormativity through comics

Nafiseh Mousavi, Lund University

This paper discusses the potentials of comics as a medium for producing and communicating knowledge about neurodiversity and neurodivergent lives, with a specific focus on ‘autism’. The paper gives an outline of the way autism is represented in English-speaking printed and web-comics and discusses specific examples for illustrating the potentials of comics in knowledge production about contested autism-related notions such as ‘spectrum’.

Autism, ADHD, ADD, synesthesia, and similar conditions have, till recently, been conceptualized as medicalized conditions of abnormality and disorder. Characters with traits believed to be associated with these conditions have appeared in popular culture as tropes for uncanniness and abnormality. In recent years, however, a fortunate move from a discourse of stigma to one of difference has taken form at the heart of which rest the concepts of ‘neurodiversity’ and ‘neurodivergence’. Going against neuronormativity, a neurodiversity-informed approach acknowledges the diversity of brain makeups and communication patterns instead of pathologizing some as “normal” and others as “abnormal”, while also recognizing differences and special needs of some with the concept of ‘neurodivergence’ and a critical understanding of disabilities.

A considerable amount of knowledge production regarding neurodivergence, has been performed via personal investigations and narrations outside medical research. The multiplicity and recurrence of narratives have contributed to a move towards less medicalized understandings of neurodivergence that acknowledge the difference while also asking for change in the social environments to better accommodate the non-normative. In this context, comics play a significant role by providing formal and social tools for creation and dissemination of such narratives.

Comics have proven to be a popular and attractive medium for telling stories about depression, anxiety, OCD, loneliness, and many other types of mental distress. The well-established genre of autographics has laid the grounds for narration of innermost feelings, including mental health struggles, in innovative ways. More recently and with Instagram becoming the crucial platform for comics artists to put their work on display and build an artistic career as well as a lively fandom, the genre of graphic diary has gained shape and popularity. Comics on neurodivergent lives build up on this repertoire of bringing pain and humor and word and image together to visualize the distress which is most often invisible. By discussing several examples, this paper will demonstrate how affordances of comics as a medium enable it in representing nuances of autistic experiences that are not so easy to communicate and how visual storytelling can be specifically fruitful for those not comfortable with verbal communication.

Feminism for the People? Tympeät tytöt Defying (and Deferring to) the Norms of Capitalism

Aura Nikkilä, University of Turku

Riina Tanskanen’s Tympeät tytöt (Grumpy Girls) is a feminist art project that started as an Instagram account in 2020 and has since expanded to a published comic album, multiple art exhibitions, and a clothing collection. Tympeät tytöt is, according to Tanskanen herself, a form of “girly social criticism”, combining cute and kitsch aesthetics with poignant observations on the norms of living as a girl and a woman in a capitalist society built on patriarchal structures.

Tympeät tytöt can be perceived as a feminist and anticapitalist educational project: the Instagram posts indicate that Tanskanen is inspired by feminist theories and uses themes from literary history, but the drawings and accompanying texts are usually quite popularised – one does not need to be highly educated to read and understand them. Additionally, Tanskanen sees Instagram as a platform that is available for anyone and through which the message of Tympeät tytöt reaches all sorts of audiences. Tanskanen’s feminist comic art is indeed extremely popular: the Tympeät tytöt Instagram account has more followers than many Finnish social media influencers, while the Tympeät tytöt comic album gained a lot of attention in press media, and the first edition sold out in just one week.

In April 2022 it was announced that Tanskanen is working on a second Tympeät tytöt comic album – as well as co-authoring a book on anticapitalism. Curiously enough, these news were accompanied by a publication of a joint clothing collection between Tanskanen and a popular Finnish clothing brand Makia. This collaboration can be seen as a form of popularising feminism, since Tanskanen has declared that her mission is to spread feminism as wide as possible. But at the same time the subversive nature of Tympeät tytöt is at risk as the comic is franchised and capitalised. How does the commercial and materialistic nature of the clothes collection go together with the feminist norm-criticism Tympeät tytöt represents?

Feeling bad. Comics by Moa Romanova and Marie Tillman

Anna Nordenstam, University of Gothenburg

Depicting women who feel bad is a trend in Swedish feminist comics. It could be the young woman in Moa Romanova’s Alltid fucka up [Goblin Girl] (2018) who is in crisis with symptoms of panic attacks and depression. It could be the women in Marie Tillman’s singel panel comics in the albums Tänk positiv annars kan du dö [Think positive or you might die] (2018) and Fråga Livscoachen [Ask the Life Coach] (2021) who are suffering from the pressures of daily life. These comic albums are feminist using various visual and verbal strategies commenting on the neoliberal Swedish society’s demand for all to be happy and do whatever they want. Romanova and Tillman are educated at the Comic Art School in Malmö and have developed their unique visual style (El Refaie 2019). They both use humor and irony, though to different extents and in different ways. For example, Romanova's humor is mild, but occasionally also funny, while Tillman’s is sharper with a frequent use of irony. This paper uses intersectional perspectives (Hill Collins & Blige 2020) to analyze how the comics portray how to feel bad and depression. Romanova’s internationally award-winning debut Goblin Girl and Tillman’s single panel comics in the two albums provide both quick and sharp criticism of the current pressure on women to fit in, be unique, and happy. The comic albums are humorously disarming and profoundly human representations of a society where happiness is an ideal (Ahmed 2010, Frangos Classon and Österholm 2023). The paper ends with a comment on the potential of these comics to be used in schools as many young people struggle with their lives and health. (Hill 2017, Nordenstam forthcoming, Ringarp & Tillman 2022).

  • Ahmed, S. 2010. The Promise of Happiness, Duke University Press
  • Classon Frangos, M. & Österholm, M. M. 2023. ‘Misery is actually the only thing interesting’: Happiness Critique in Swedish Feminist Comics, MAI (online)
  • Colebrook, C. 2004. Irony. Routledge.
  • El Refaie, E. 2019. Visual Metaphor and Embodiment in Graphic Illness Narratives, Oxford University Press.
  • Hill, C. 2017. Teaching Comics Through Multiple Lenses. Critical Perspectives. Routledge.
  • Hill Collins, P. & Blinge, S. 2020. Intersectionality, second edition, Polity Press.
  • Nordenstam, A. (forthcoming), ”Ge allt!” Feministiska tecknade serier och känslor i gymnasiet, In: Litteraturdidaktik och känslor, Stockholm University Press.
  • Ringarp, S. & Tillman, M. 2022. Ångest för alla, Natur & Kultur.

"The World Needs me!”– Comics as Norm-Critical Sex Education

Rikke Platz Cortsen, University College Copenhagen

In recent years, comics have been discussed as excellent material for teaching a wide variety of topics (see for instance Matuk, C., Hurwich, T., Spiegel, al.,2021; Aman and Wallner, 2020; Green, 2013), and in the Scandinavian countries feminist comics that challenge gender stereotypes have been prominent with artists such as Liv Strömquist, Nanna Johansson, Jenny Jordahl and Anne Mette Kærulf Lorentzen examining gender and sexuality. This presentation analyses Danish comics creator Kristine Tiedt’s two titles Orgasmebogen (2020) [The Orgasm Book] and Hvad er porno? (2023) [What is porn?] to identify the formal and generic traits that Tiedt employs in her works. Information comics draw on the history of comics in using specific elements such as for instance anthropomorphic animals, having an expert as guide throughout the narrative, as well as humor to deliver their message (Jüngst, 2010; Cortsen, 2016),and in my close reading of the two volumes, I will discuss the ways in which Tiedt mixes genres and establishes a fact based comic which serves as sex education material from an explicitly norm-critical perspective. By orchestrating the comics as a conversation between the three characters The Woman, The Expert and The Pussy, different positions can be visualized and given voice, so the discussions about sexuality, gender, sex and pornography are underpinned by facts, fun and desire. Kristine Tiedt carries out sex education workshops with comics in schools, and this presentation documents the ways in which her work re-invents the genre of sex education through the medium of comics.

  • Aman, R. and Wallner, L. (2022). Teaching with Comics: Empirical, Analytical and Professional Experiences. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Cortsen, R.P. (2016). "Sagprosa i tegneserieform – en præsentation af informationstegneseriers status, værdi og didaktiske potentiale" in Sakprosa vol. 8, nr. 2, 2016
  • Green, M.J. (2013). “Teaching with Comics: A Course for Fourth-Year Medical Students”. J Med Humanit 34, 471–476 (2013).
  • Jüngst, H.E. (2010). Information Comics: knowledge transfer in a popular format. Frankfurt am Main; New York: Peter Lang.
  • Matuk, C., Hurwich, T., Spiegel, A. et al. (2021). “How Do Teachers Use Comics to Promote Engagement, Equity, and Diversity in Science Classrooms?” Res Sci Educ 51, 685–732.

PriyaComic Series – A Voice for Gender Equality and Activism

Dwaipayan Roy, National Institute of Technology Mizoram
Dr. Kirk Curnutt, Troy University

This research article focuses on the first Indian female superhero, Priya. The article critically analyses three adventures of Priya, a rape survivor and an ardent devotee of Goddess Parvati. The critical investigation reflects the pain, social stigma, and isolation encountered by female rape survivors, acid attack survivors, and rescued trafficked women universally, particularly in Indian society. The narrative of the comics is interwoven with Indian Mythology where Goddess Parvati is angered to see the sexual exploitation of women in daily life and is determined to change the scene. The Goddess Parvati enters Priya's body and seeks revenge on the men who raped her. Firstly, this article lenses the message of women's empowerment, condemning gender-based violence and challenging the deeply rooted patriarchal norms of our society through the character Priya. Secondly, the critical piece highlights the reinterpretation of female mythological characters as portrayed by the Amar Chitra Katha series, breaking the fixed stereotypes of women's power dynamics, gender and sexuality. Since its release, Priya Comics has been included in the school curriculum in India.

Constructed Realities– Can YA Comics Help Create a New Societal Paradigm?

Houman Sadri, University of South-Eastern Norway

Scholars of YA and Children’s Literature have long held that as adult authors have no frame of reference to identify with their supposed target audience, it is therefore necessary for them to instead construct an imagined audience – in other words to construct for their own reference the identities of the children to whom they are writing. All successful examples of literature for younger readers, though, use language and formulations to which their intended audience is attuned – as Peter Hollindale puts it, such narratives are ‘audible’ to children (29) – so the implication must be that there is a correlation between the constructed and actual audiences in successful texts for younger readers. Further, as the intended reader of these works is essentially still a child, and thus engaged in the process of both negotiating and building the parameters of their own childhood, it follows that these texts also go some way toward constructing the readers’ actual childhoods, in as much as they set the boundaries, rules and expectations for their experiences of growing up within their society and the world in general. Historically, there has been a tacit understanding that this constructed audience is fundamentally straight, white, and CIS-gendered, and to an extent this has served to underpin societal norms and dominant patriarchal ideologies.

In an echo of Hollindale, though, Ramzi Fawaz argues that comics “invent or create the world anew in the ways that they shape, inform, or influence how people see themselves, their bodies, desires and attachments” (89) (italics in original), asserting that comics constitute social relations. Fawaz cites early Marvel Comics titles such as Fantastic Four and Uncanny X-Men as examples (however inadvertent) of queerness and difference, ones which in their time spoke to specific cross-sections of the audience and allowed them to feel a kind of kinship with the characters, and a sense of community with each other. The Marvel titles of the sixties and seventies, though, tended not to be used as educational materials. Today, however, Comics and Graphic Novels are increasingly in use in schools, with texts as diverse as Heartstopper, American Born Chinese, Persepolis, and even Maus assigned to students, and there is evidence to suggest that both Comics and Manga remain popular reading choices for children and teenagers in a way that traditional prose novels are not. This paper aims to explore whether the progressive and humanist messages at the heart of these texts help now to construct both the childhoods and the realities of the young people reading them, with the possible result being the creation of a societal paradigm shift in generations to come, and whether Comics as a medium is uniquely situated to affect such construction.

  • Fawaz, Ramzi. “Desire Without End: On the Queer Imagination of Sequential Art.” The LGBTQ+ Comics Reader – Critical Openings, Future Directions, Edited by Alison Halsall and Jonathan Warren, University Press of Mississippi, 2022, p.89.
  • Hollindale, Peter, Signs of Childness in Children’s Books, Thimble, 1997, p.29.

Constructing Empathy with Comics in Swedish Upper Secondary School

Robert Aman & Lars Wallner

Empathy is generally fostered within education, through a variety of materials. Here, we explore how students can use a comic text in upper secondary school to construct empathy towards ‘the other’. The study builds on observations of 91 Swedish students discussing the comic story “Report from Ukraine”. Results show that students construct empathy through ‘otherness’ as being both similar and different to themselves, and how imagery is used to construct this, related to students’ previous knowledge. This is indicative of how comics can engage students in discussions on empathy, relating current global events and issues of ethnicity and otherness.