Preface: constellations of urban comics
The geography of my relationship with comics has deep roots. As a kid, I remember waiting with my brother Davide for the next issue of Mickey Mouse to come out, particularly in the summer, when the issues of the comic book marked the passing of time. As we grew up, the never-ending wait became less exciting. I became a teenager and, apparently, I had more serious things to deal with. If I were asked to trace a map of my comic book geographies, that period would be a big ‘black hole’, very similar to that drawn by Charles Burns in his graphic novel to represent the terrifying metamorphosis of becoming an adult. Yet, I remember the precise coordinates of the moment in which I met comics again. It was Christmas 2006, when my cousin Lele gifted me with Babel Vol. 2 by French cartoonist David B. At that time, I was a first-year BA student of literary studies at the University of Padua, and this was the first comic book I read as an (almost) adult. A series of unforeseen events followed that gift. I bought Babel Vol. 1, of course, then the Italian translation of David B.’s autobiographical graphic novel, Epileptic, and from that moment on, I knew that comics were extremely serious. I liked the idea of exploring new types of narration, searching for the relationships between graphic novels and literature, between images and words, between fiction and reality. A fragmentary collection started to grow on my shelves, with works by international cartoonists like Chris Ware, Paul Karasik, David Mazzucchelli, Will Eisner, and Joe Sacco and Italian authors like GiPi, Manuele Fior, and Gianluca Costantini. My friend Gilda found an online ad from an Italian website specialising in comics and criticism, which led to me beginning work as a journalist and reporter for LoSpazioBianco. it (‘the white space’). I was fascinated by the underground comix scene, where I eventually met Claudio Calia, a graphic journalist and friend, who coordinated the Sherwood Comix festival. Thanks to him, I met Guido Ostanel and started to collaborate with the publishing house BeccoGiallo, often selling their ‘comics of civil commitment’ at a stand during festivals such as Komikazen, BilBolBul, the
Treviso Comic Book Festival, and BeComics, before becoming an author myself. All this happened while I was pursuing a master’s degree in literary theory and criticism and then a PhD in human geography. With my supervisor, Tania Ros- setto, constantly pushing me to value my interest in comics even from an academic point of view, I started to gradually merge my interest in comics with my academic research and practice. Not by chance, during the first year of my PhD I was also a student at the Scuola Internazionale di Comics - Academy of Visual Arts and New Media in Padua. Not by chance, only a couple of months later, in October 2014, I met Juliet J. Fall and Jason Dittmer in Bologna at a conference on space and gender. What came afterwards can be partially found in the pages of this book. Yet, if the disciplinary background from which I came is exposed in the chapters, through theoretical and methodological references, I need to make clear from the beginning that much of the impetus that led me to write this book comes from the many people, relations, and dialogues I had over the years outside academic boundaries.
Comics as a Research Practice: Drawing Narrative Geographies Beyond the Frame is not a book that contextualises comic book geographies within a broader dialogue between media and geography. Nor is it a book where you will find a diachronic perspective on the long-lasting relationship between comics and the city; nor does it propose a history of the entanglements of geographical thought and comics. You will not find accurate analysis of how fundamental works in the history of comics have represented urban space and geographic themes throughout the pages. I am sure there are more authoritative works that will help you to do this. Comics as a Research Practice is a book about how to bring comic book geographies into practice. This book suggests using comics as a research practice to compose counternarratives by assembling and disassembling geoGraphic narratives in public space. The book hopes to let theoretical and methodological reasoning emerge through ‘thought-in-action’ (Thrift 1996) and from empirical examples by proposing creative interventions to read cities differently and activate processes of narrative placemaking. What you will find, then, is a set of case studies that hope to stimulate further experimentations with urban comics, together with some initial attempts to do comics, integrating qualitative, mobile, ethnographic, mapping, and creative methods of research. You will see, then, interviewees becoming characters, walk- along interviews turning into plotlines, buildings speaking for themselves through it-narration, maps unfolding through creative practices, banal places becoming central narrative chronotopes, and transport means revealing themselves as archives of memories, practices, affects, and relations. Sometimes, you will find auto- or ethnofictional vignettes, short excerpts from fieldwork journals, original photographs, and comics pages. Do not trust them more or even less than you would trust a well-written theoretical paragraph in the book.
Chapter 1, ‘Introduction: enacting comic book geographies’, provides readers with a very brief introduction to the cross-disciplinary, processual, and practice- based approach proposed in the book. Here, readers will find a short introduction to comics as doings, to what a geocritical approach to comic book geographies implies, and to the core concept of the ‘geoGraphic narrative’ as a product and practice for creative geographical research. The empirical part of the book that follows is divided into two parts with two chapters each: Part I, ‘Assembling comics for creative interventions in urban space’, and Part II, ‘Moving comics from representation to practice’. In Part I, I focus on two urban comics projects that were realised through geo-artistic and transdisciplinary collaborations. Chapter 2, ‘Comics as assemblages: building urban stories in the public sphere’, presents a site- specific comics installation realised by Monica Bellido Mora for the geo-artistic exhibition Street Geography: Drawing Cities for a Sustainable Future, which took place in Padua in 2018. The chapter explores the opportunities and limits of research- art collaborations and presents comics as ‘narrative interferences’ in public space. With the train station of Padua as a site of artistic intervention, the chapter further explores assemblage, mobility, it-narration, and the interaction between human, non-human, and elemental forces in urban contexts through the insertion of photographs, interviews, and short autofictional paragraphs. Chapter 3, ‘Drawing urban comics: ethnoGraphic strolling across “peripheral” neighbourhoods’, revolves around the process of ideation, composition, and dissemination of the comic book anthology Quartieri: Viaggio al centra delle periferie italiane (Cancellieri and Peterle 2019) that I со-edited with Adriano Cancellieri. First, the chapter focuses on how scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds (sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, urbanists, and others) collaborated with cartoonists to realise five comics stories about five peripheral neighbourhoods in Italy (Palermo, Rome, Bologna, Padua, and Milan); second, it retraces the disparate methodologies that Cancellieri and I embraced during fieldwork in the Arcella neighbourhood in Padua, from go- along interviews to walking and mapping practices. Finally, it analyses the stylistic and narrative choices I made for the graphic realisation of the comics story, playing the role of both geographer and cartoonist. The analysis continues in Part II with a focus on comics, mobility studies, and the geohumanities. Chapter 4, ‘Graphic mobilities: mobile practices, bodies, and landscapes of movement in comics’, proposes ‘graphic mobilities’ as a potential field of interest within mobility studies, by understanding the comics language as an intrinsically ‘mobile grammar’. The chapter analyses some examples of graphic narratives on the move by contemporary comics authors, from Erin Williams to Jon McNaught, Nick Drnaso, Chris Ware, and Adrian Tomine, to see how mobile chronotopes, landscapes of movement, bodies, and everyday mobile practices are both represented and performed in comics. The chapter also illustrates an encounter between graphic mobilities and the geohumanities and introduces the creative geoGraphic narrative that is at the centre of the final chapter. Indeed, Chapter 5, ‘Doing comics on the move: an autoeth- nographic account of geoGraphic fieldwork’, focuses on the short geoGraphic novel Lines that I realised as a post-doctoral fellow for the international project PUTSPACE. The chapter moves into exploring the practice of doing comics by presenting many pages from the original comics story Lines, following the aim of the project to analyse ‘public transport as public space in European Cities’. Chapter 5 also explores the activities, methods, materials, and practices that were used to conduct geoGraphic fieldwork; it makes the process of composition explicit, showing the geographical reasons for some specific narrative and stylistic choices. The book, as a whole, is an assemblage of episodes, references, vignettes, facts and fiction, memories and thoughts:
What emerges is an ethic of theory-as-assemblage, i.e. as a constellation of singularities that holds together through difference rather than in spite of it, and that cultivates a provocative and fertile common ground.
(McFarlatle and Anderson 2011, p. 164)
Cancellieri, C and Peterle, G (eds) 2019, Qnartieri oiaggio al centra delle periferie italiane, Bec- coGiallo, Padua.
McFarlane, C and Anderson, J 2011, ‘Thinking with assemblage’, Area, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 162-164.
Thrift, N 1996, Spatial formations, Sage, London.