My PhD research explores readers’ readings of specific British comics c.2005-17. This timeframe from the London bombings to the Brexit vote is a window onto constructions of British national identity understood as part of a longer focus on ‘Britishness’, citizenship, and values, with particular reference to David Cameron’s (2014) call to ‘be far more muscular in promoting British values’ and the Prevent strategy’s emphasis on what it calls Fundamental British Values. My research explores how comics readers (people) perceive themselves and others – as British, or as not quite British enough – seeing this as integral to their sense of self, affecting their learning not only in school but throughout their lives.
My conceptual framework combines sociocultural theories of learning, Critical Theory, and Cultural Studies, taking a fundamentally Marxist (Marx 1977; Gramsci 1971) approach to the study of comics as material culture. Whilst I maintain maintaining a Marxist focus on emancipation, not the doomed inevitability of oppressive cultural products, I draw on aspects of Frankfurt School Critical Theory and argue that specific writings on mechanisms and technologies (including Benjamin 1973) remain relevant. Entwined with this is my use of Critical Race Theory and Marxist anti-racist work in the field of Education, and Cultural Studies work on representation (Hall 1980). All this is within a sociocultural view that learning happens through language (Wells 1999; Barnes and Todd 1995) and that multiple, dialogic, meanings can be read from the same comic as text (Bakhtin 2001; Holquist 2002). This understands learning an ongoing process both in and beyond formalised education systems; whilst my research may have implications for the use of comics in the classroom, my main focus is on young adult and adult readers’ constructions of British national identity.
I also make comics: individually as an artist-writer, and collaboratively as Comics Boss of Applied Comics Etc (http://www.appliedcomicsetc.com/). My comics practice has a particular focus on how comics can communicate information (working with researchers, libraries, archives, and other specialists) and through collaborative comics projects including: Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic (with 76 contributors), Gertrude Bell: Archaeologist, Writer, Explorer (with a team of 6), Freedom City Comics (with a team of 13).