A geocritical reading of comic book geographies

Through its hybrid visual and textual essence and spatial grammar, the language of comics inherently asks for a multifocal disciplinary perspective and is a perfect environment for cross-disciplinary research practice (Peterle 2017, p. 44). Moving from visual to urban studies and from the social sciences to the humanities, this book aims to respond to an imperative already inherent in comics’ multiple modalities, that is, ‘to think nimbly and creatively across conventional disciplinary boundaries’ (Ball and Kuhlman 2010, p. xxi). In terms of positionality, this attempt comes from a cultural geographer working within the geohumanities, which is intended as the ‘rapidly growing zone of creative interaction between geography and the humanities’ (Richardson et al. 2011, p. 3), and with the intent of embracing ‘geocreativity’ as an inventive mode for thinking, designing, and practicing geographical research. Therefore, the different chapters in the book embrace some of the strategies of geohumanities, such as ‘a proclivity to transgress disciplinary boundaries; to accumulate layer upon layer of transdisciplinary data, and then make connections; to imagine the world as well as describe it; and to produce scholarship, art, poetry, community, and politics (often simultaneously)’ through methodologies developed in disparate disciplinary contexts (Dear 2011a, p. 7). If, as Micheal Dear affirms, ‘the greatest enemy to academic creativity is disciplinary boundaries’, this book is one of the many voices that react to the ‘call for an interdisciplinarity based in the ability to speak simultaneously in many intellectual tongues’ through practicing creative interdisciplinary exchanges (Dear 201 lb, pp. 11-12).

Despite a proclivity to think across disciplinary boundaries, my positionality is inevitably defined by both the disciplinary and geographical context in which I am working. They influence the way in which I interpret comics and the references I will use in my reasoning. I am sure that visual anthropologists, sociologists, experts in media and comics studies, and even geographers working on the geographies of media and geopolitics would all approach comics from different perspectives

(Dell’Agnese and Amato 2016; De Spuches 2016; Dittmer 2010b; Dittmer and Bos 2019). Therefore, I will present my geocritical, narrative, and creative approaches in the following paragraphs, giving readers a kind of roadmap to follow the reasoning throughout the book. At the same time, I would like to immediately stress that my geographical positionality plays a significant role in the book. Since I am living and working as both a geographer and comics author in north-eastern Italy, my empirical case studies will be mostly situated in the city of Padua in the Veneto region, except for the one presented in Chapter 5. These geographical coordinates also influenced the network of collaborations I have built over the years in the Italian comics scene; the presence of the BeccoGiallo publishing house in Padua and the trust and friendship established with the editorial board and with many of the authors publishing with them represents a significant starting point for many reasonings and collaborations proposed in the two parts of the book. For this reason, images from works by some of the comics authors that have deeply influenced my geoGraphic thought - like Eliana Albertini, Claudio Calia, Gianluca Costantini, and TAMassociati - are inserted in this chapter, and the reproduction of their comics in these pages represents their steady presence as points of reference during my research practice and fieldwork activities. Throughout the book, readers will find works by Italian authors that were not translated into English together with internationally well-known cartoonists like Nick Drnaso, Nora Krug, Jon McNaught, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, and Erin Williams. I believe Sheila Hones’ reflection on the literary geographies of inspiration, creation, and production, but also of promotion and consumption, is extremely important even for a processual understanding of comic book geographies, as, in fact, ‘an author producing fiction will in practice usually be drawing on a complex network of extended sociospatial relations’ (2014, p. 133). The same applies for a geographer-cartoonist. Recalling Hones’ words, the event of the geoGraphic narrative is always situated, and its intratextual, intertextual, and extratextual geographies, which means the sociospatialities of its ideation, creation, and reception, are equally important to consider for comic book geographers (p. 130).

My critical perspective is inspired by seminal works in literary geographies by Jon Anderson (2014), Marc Brosseau (1994, 1995, 2017), Sheila Hones (2008, 2014), Angahard Saunders (2010), Robert T. Tally Jr. (2011), and Bertrand West- phal (2007), and by interdisciplinary dialogues happening within the Association of Literary Urban Studies (ALUS) (Ameel et al. 2015; Finch et al. 2017), in the open- access e-journal Literary Geographies, which is, according to the journal’s website, intended as a ‘forum for new research and collaboration in the field of literary/ geographical studies’. Of course, my perspective is also situated within a specific geographical and disciplinary context. Therefore, theoretical reflections by Italian scholars working on the relationship between geography and fiction (Lando 1993; Tanca 2020), on comics and literature from an interdisciplinary spatial perspective (Guglielmi and Iacoli 2013; Luchetta 2020; Papotti and Tomasi 2014; Ros- setto 2014), and the conversations that have emerged in two thematic groups of the Association of Italian Geographers (AGel), namely devoted to ‘literature and geography’ and ‘comics and geography’, are of great importance for the content of this book. Yet, the aim of this volume is not to provide you with an exhaustive theoretical framework on literary or comic book geographies; my scope is rather to move comic book geographies from representation to practice, from the perspective of critical readers to that of the author.

Thus, from a disciplinary perspective, the idea of the ‘geoGraphic novel’ as both a product and practice of research comes from the reforged connections between geography and literature (Saunders 2010) and from broader reasoning on what I call ‘narrative geographies’. My focus on narrative geographies starts from the interdisciplinary field of literary geographies and from a ‘geocritical’ and ‘carto-centred’ (Peterle 2019; Rossetto 2014) approach to not only texts but also disparate forms, genres, and practices of space-centred narration. Thus, a ‘narrative geographical’ approach analyses the entanglements between real and fictional, textual and material spaces; it explores the prolific exchange between the narrative representations of space, place, maps, and mobilities, and the spatial practices that are activated by them; it experiments with narrative forms and textual and visual storytelling practices as creative ways to deconstruct dominant discourses about cities, places, and spatial identities and to activate the plurivocal composition of spatial-meanings. Moreover, a ‘narrative geographical’ approach rejects an instrumental use of literature, texts, and narrative or artistic representations and tries to consider both the contents and peculiar forms of different languages, types, and genres of narration to see how they shape unpredicted geographical visions. Narrative geographies are explored through a processual and relational approach (Saunders and Anderson 2016) that reads narrative representations as emergent spatial practices that are situated in space and time and performed in different contexts (Thrift 1996, p. 3). In this context, the role of authors and readers is equally important, as are their different engagements and positionalities; thus, ‘narrative geographies’ explore representations as processes, from the moment of ideation to the moment of composition and circulation. A narrative geographical approach is thus a critical interdisciplinary perspective for analysing narratives from a space-centred point of view; it is also a creative mode of thinking and practicing cross-disciplinary research, interpreting spaces as archives of stories, and using stories as tools to actualise different spatial meanings and activate new trajectories for spatial action.

 
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