There was once uncertainty about comics’ critical or artistic merit, and perhaps in some circles this is still the case, but here you will find no such doubt. Comics are a rich cultural and narrative medium that engages and explores the complexities and experiences of human life. Just look at the gothic pain of Batman‘s fractured identity, or the inspiring righteousness of Superman that exposes our human frailties, or the pondering on the possibility of morality in Watchmen, or the cathartic examination of holocaust survival in Maus, or the questioning of the boundaries of simply ‘being human’ in Appleseed. Comics are rich and diverse, and–indeed, like any narrative medium–have a predilection to engage with morality and human experience, as well as how we are able to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
Comics also have a distinct mode of communication that sets them apart from other narrative forms. Although there is debate over the specific definition of the medium, comics often involve the interaction of words and images, and this in itself can raise important questions about how we are able to represent and communicate knowledge through the use of rational language.
For law and justice, the experience of human life, the uncertainty of morality, and the use of rational language are all key concerns. Comics can bring insight into these important questions; and by studying them within their cultural context, we can also question the dominant ideologies they represent and why or how they have become so popular. The concerns of criminal justice permeate mainstream superhero narratives, and representations of law and order are similarly easy to find (there’s Batman again, but also Daredevil, Judge Dredd, DeathNote…). Criminologists and social psychologists interested in deviance and criminality may also find comics a brilliant resource for exploring the values of popular culture, or the representations of crime that surround us, or for examining the psychological make-up of criminals and crime fighters in the worlds of fiction. Comics may also have great potential for use in legal education (for example, in HE contexts), increasing engagement with students, helping demonstrate key issues, or simply as problem-solving examples. Indeed, the possibilities for the study of graphic justice may well be endless! (and I didn’t even have to mention copyright and contract issues for comics creators or the comic book legal defence fund…)
Following Inter-Disciplinary.net‘s first annual conference on the Graphic Novel, I have been greatly inspired not only to continue and expand my own work on comics and legal theory, but importantly to create a communal space where anyone interested in the intersection of comics and justice in general can express their thoughts, feelings and research on this disciplinary crossover. So, if you are a researcher or comics practitioner in this area, just have something to say about it, or simply want to get involved, you are more than welcome to contact me, either by the comments form below, or by email (email@example.com).
Any concern with justice or law is welcome: legal theory, jurisprudence, criminology, forensic or legal psychology, sociology of law, sociology of deviance, social psychology, legal aesthetics, particular substantive legal topics (such contract law or human rights), political theory, legal or moral philosophy, law and literature….
And any area of comics is welcome too: manga, bandes desinnee, comix, graphic novels, mainstream comics, transmedia comics, digital comics, ‘silent’ comics, photo novellas, old, new, your own expressions or creations…
…or indeed any other approach or intersection you have up your sleeve!
If you’ve got a post or a thought to share, then get in contact. If you’ve created a comic inspired by your life as a judge or a police officer, or if you’re secretly writing papers about comics when you should be writing ‘important’ research on law and justice, then get in contact. If you’re working on a study of how copyright or intellectual property law applies to comics creations, have written comics about your criminal experiences, or of being behind bars, or if you think this whole thing is a stupid idea, again, get in contact. If you run a blog or website or wiki on graphic justice, let me know and I’ll add you the links page. If you’re a scholar interested in graphic justice or any crossover between comics and law, or if you’ve written a book on them, please–get in contact. I am eager to hear from any and everyone, and to develop this exciting and expansive area of research.
The plan, as much as there is one, is entirely dependent upon levels of interest. Activities could range anywhere from a couple of seminars, or a seminar series, (leading to edited volumes), up to a conference stream or potentially a full conference on Graphic Justice. If you want to get involved, just drop me an email, and we will see what the future holds.