I recently stepped into the wonderous world of graphic novels and comics at Comix Creatrix – an exhibit that is running till the 15th of May 2016 at the House of Illustration in London. The Comix Creatrix project aims to tell the ‘Her-story’ of the industry by displaying the works of female graphic novelists and artists from around the world.
With a hundred artists on display I could go on forever describing their work and its subtle yet powerful impact but I have restricted myself to a few pieces that stuck out to me personally. Like Jacky Flemings work in her book ‘The Trouble with Women (2015). With satirical captions like, “In the Olden Days there were no women, which is why you don’t come across them in history lessons at school” Flemmings draws our attention to the absence of women in history. It makes us realise that the common sense assumption that women just weren’t doing enough, didn’t have opportunities etc etc. is only part of the story. It opens up the more uncomfortable possibility that women are simply written out of history and cultural narratives that are so important to our day-to-day social identities.
Projects like Comix Creatrix remind us that women are part of every historical and cultural narrative despite these obstacles. As early as 1925 artists like Nelly Brinkley were working to shape the industry with their interpretation of femininity and what it means to be an independent woman.
What really supposed me was the breath of topics that graphic novels deal with. I’ve only every read comics as a child, traveling to Bangalore on the Udyan Express and getting my granddad to buy me Archies comic books. So it didn’t strike me as a genre that spoke about the ‘serious’ stuff of politics, identity and gender politics (apart from its satirical role in newspapers and magazines).
But of course, when you think about it its inevitable. There is definitely something about the visual that lures people in and doesn’t let them go – think about the hours you spend on Instagram staring at other people’s photos…
Graphic novels and comics are an exciting space through which artists challenge identity politics. Jackie Ormes with her comic ‘Torchy in Heartbeats’ (1954) and her character Torchy Brown opened up a space to talk about both women’s lives and racial politics in 1950s United States.
On another level, Comix Creatrix walks the walk amongst all the talk about ‘intersectional feminism’. There is wide array of work from all over the world that deals with of struggle of defining feminism and the way that patriarchy takes different form in different context. Like Kaveri Gopalkrishnan from beloved namma Bengaluru. Her work ‘Basic Space’ (2014) comically expresses the everyday struggles of living in public spaces dominated by the masculine.
Comix Creatrix is a powerful advocate for women telling their own stories rather than being spoken about, to or for! It is a reminder of the way in which literature, here in the unique combination of humour, visual art and storytelling is an effective space for counter narratives. It is definitely a new genre I will be exploring in my reading and adding to my shelf!
For those in London this weekend – here are the details – they are also comic festival for their closing weekend!! http://www.houseofillustration.org.uk/whats-on/current-future-events/comix-creatrix-100-women-making-comics
Free App! For those who can’t be there in person Sequential is free iPad only app that has a digital version of the exhibit all free to download.
 In Imagined Communities (1991) Benedict Anderson reveals the importance of media platforms in constructing and reproducing of our collective identities – like national identities.
 Sujata Moorti in her article ‘Desperately Seeking Identity’ speaks of visual cultures as an alternative imaginary space that allow us to reimagine and question social boundaries and norms.