Intrusive comic book research, literary misbehavior & pop-cultural observations.
May include nuts, personal opinions and non-academic language.

keskiviikko 13. heinäkuuta 2016

Sing, Study, Stitch

Research blogging challenge again. Task 4: Name a song that describes you as a researcher.


"Grand Experiment" by No More Kings nails so many things so well, I suspect one of the band members has been a grad student at some point. I found no evidence of that with a quick googling, however.

Please observe how naturally the first verse slides from easy socializing with co-workers to the initial, tentative steps of a writing project. And then, deeper into processes and ambitions. ...Until it abruptly skips back to procrastination again! This is my regular work week in a nutshell:

These idle conversations 
let me off the hook
Simple observasions
jotted down in my book
Takes all my concentration
It takes perfect aim
No time for PlayStation
Well, maybe just one game.

...And I could almost quote the chorus in the "methods" and "aims" sections of my research plan:

Run on the wheel,

jog through the maze
I'll break the seal
maybe one of these days
Boil it down,
flatten it out
Distilling the essence
of what life's all about.
I'm still waiting for the evidence...

On bad days, when you can't see the trees for the forest, "Too Far to Turn Back" by my favorite band Abney Park is easy enough to identify with as well:

We're way in over our heads, it seems 
This place is coming apart at the seams
Can't stop or control our direction
The further we go, the less protection.

The song's a great metaphor for a typical researcher's career. Not only because of the lovable expedition theme, but because it describes the growing uncertainty so well: most of the time, you really have no idea what you're doing, so you just go with the flow. The more you complete, the more you are assigned, and the further you get, the harder it becomes to get grants. (Maybe, if you got tenured, you could pick a different theme song at that point...)

Of course, if I was able to see my dissertation as gendered and male, "Frankenstein" by Stitched up Heart would be an distressingly apt alternative:

He's made of staples 
and broken bones
Bruises from chapters
Stories untold
If I had a wish,
it'd be make him whole
He's barely alive.

But I'm gonna call him mine...

Here, the lyrics misuse the name "Frankenstein", so I'm not going to quote the rest of the chorus. But a compilation dissertation is certainly a prime example of "hideous progeny"! 
And this is exactly how I feel about mine at the moment:

I'm not a doctor,
I can't make him better.
All I can do
is try to put him together.

tiistai 5. heinäkuuta 2016

Research, Meet Fandom; Fandom, Meet Research

No rest for the wicked - or the academic. We've finally reached the heart of summer, and most people I know are enjoying their well-deserved holidays. As for myself, however, I spent the best part of last week in Tampere, working hard at the annual sci-fi convention Finncon and FINFAR's Fantastic Paper Workshop.

Now, I allocated about as much time to commenting on students' papers and discussing with colleagues as to enjoying the informal program or stalking the writer guests, but different geek cons remain the high points of my summers. So, I'm not sure if last weekend counted as play or responsibility. I know most researchers have a very different opinion on this, but for me, life = work is not that tricky an equation. It simply means I spend most of my time doing something that is both useful and fun! And Finncon surely fit the bill.

The books I hoarded from the scifi jumble sale were also more or less work-related.

One of the perks of attending as a researcher, rather than as a fan, is that we got to start convening a day early: FINFAR, or the Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, likes to coordinate the schedule of its annual paper workshop with Finncon. The idea is to invite students and researchers of all levels and disciplines to submit short works-in-progress that have something to do with speculative fiction. Since a bunch of more advanced researchers will trickle to town for the con anyway, it's usually easy enough to find commentators that are experts on whatever topics the papers cover. 

I have now attended these workshops as a presenter and as a commentator. (I'm not necessarily a very advanced researcher, or even a sci-fi researcher of any sort, but I do know a thing or two about unnatural narratology, specualtive comics and Frankenstein!) The atmosphere has been very relaxed and collegial, and the discussion very dialogical and in-depth, from both perspectives. So, if you have a hard time finding people who would be willing to engage in serious debates about the philosophical differences between vampires and zombies - or folks who are happy to ponder the narrative structuring of dreams and time loops - get in touch! We had sessions in both Finnish and English this year, and are planning to gear more of our Facebook and Twitter communication towards international audiences. The society is very welcoming towards comics researchers as well - there's currently two of us in the board, and FINFAR's own journal, Fafnir is publishing a comics theme issue at the end of the year. (There's still some time left to the CfP deadline!)

I couldn't possibly summarize everything we discussed in one and a half days, over eight promising papers, but here's some of my favorite insights

"Don't trolls offer an alternative to the posthumanist hybridity of mutants and cyborgs?"

"Are realistic human characters ontologically different from characters that openly present themselves as fantastical creatures? (In other words, does Koskela in The Unknown Soldier exist more than Pessi the troll and Illusia the fairy?)"

"Are FinnWeird and realist fantasy - our local equivalents to magical realism - genres, brands, writer groups or all of the above?"

"Always, always have a copy of your finished dissertation with you, so you can convince PhD students it's a perfect source for them."

"Sure, people are upset when unconventional plot twists happen, but on another level, they also enjoy it: 'Oh, how horrible! Now everyone's dead! This is so cool!'"

"Do clones and genetically engineered humans reside in the Uncanny Valley? Are they manufactured monsters, or does their (assumed) monstrosity develop later in their lives?"

We did not find satisfactory answers to these questions - but mapped out a few roads one could take to find out...

Right after the workshop ended on Friday afternoon, it was time for another work duty: our academic geek culture panel! Geekery has become a hot topic of late, and as I've reported before, me and a few of my colleagues wish to raise an academic voice to the rampant media discussion about who gets to call themselves a "True Geek". We organized a course and a seminar on the topic last spring, and decided to throw in a "roadshow". That is, we signed up for Popcult Helsinki and Finncon 2016 to tell the hordes of self-confessed geeks how their group identity is currently defined by media and by research. Both panels went well, and we have received some very heartfelt feedback: many have found the discussions important, insightful and empowering.

I have to commend the Finncon audience for bringing up a few very interesting points: Under what circumstances could we consider, for example, (Finnish populist right-wing politician) Timo Soini a geek? Is it okay to call grown women 'geek girls'? And are "geeky" hobbies already so widespread we should start identifying some a-geek areas of interest instead?

All these will be at the core of our future inquiry, if only we get funding to research the evolution of contemporary Finnish geek culture a bit further... It is clear that the meaning of the word has undergone some dramatic changes both globally and locally in the 21st century. As many seem to have very personal, even emotional responses to social labels like "geek", it would be important to investigate why and how the cultures and discourses around them are changing. (Ahem, foundations! Are you listening to this!?) What is more, we all know that the mainstreaming of fandoms has caused certain problems in the fields of digital games, comics and science fiction literature... Joss Whedon's Twitter account has also become one of the casualties. Why can't everyone just play nice?!

Here's my opening slide to the Geek Culture Panel.

As per usual, the program also featured an academic track, which starred many familiar faces. This year's theme, selected by the sadly topical Dystopian Fiction research project, wasn't really my area, though: I have no power in fairytales, nor in dystopias - I was kicked out of both realms long ago. However, I had the chance to listen to a couple of very interesting papers about eco-dystopias and the emotional aspect of dystopian literature. And the chair's ray gun from Archipelacon made a comeback!

The Academic Track was kicked off by University of Tampere's own PhD Juha Raipola.

The Finnish branch of The World Hobbit Project also had considerable presence in the con program. Preliminary analysis of the huge questionnaire data suggests that many viewers have linked the Hobbit films to a larger, transmedial Tolkien storyworld, which I find superbly intriguing. Many also seem to have thought that Tauriel had potential as a (function) character but was, in the end, handled poorly: the physics-defying elf fighting styles and the unlikely romance plot are simply pushing it too far.

Oh, and hot dwarves are...well, hot dwarves. To each their own.

At the end of the first Hobbit panel, Liisa Rantalaiho was pronounced honorary member of FINFAR. Surprise filking happened.

Whenever I had time, I did my best to catch a few interview sessions featuring Jasper Fforde, one of this year's guests of honor. I've been meaning to read his Thursday Next series for ages, because it bears certain similarities to The Unwritten. (I was surprised to find that the guy even looks a bit like Mike Carey!) Fforde sounded even wittier in person than on paper, which really seals the deal: Thursday Next's going to be next on my miles-long TBR list! I'm also going to follow his great writing advice and set myself a few narrative dares over the summer... (If there's one thing I learned from the GoH interviews, it's that lonely childhoods make original writers.)

Bookmark by the ever-wonderful Myrntai - the artist in charge of this year's Finncon graphics.

TL;DR: Finncon was fun again, FINFAR was fun again. Sci-fi fandom and sci-fi research are great resources to each other. Geek culture is coming to the neighborhoods near you, with a bang and and a roar. We should all read more, and "Write. Better. Books."

Please stay tuned for the CfP of Worldcon academic track! It's in the works. *a barely swallowed squeal of enthusiasm*

keskiviikko 22. kesäkuuta 2016


Third question on the research blog challenge is: What do you absolutely need to get into the zone?

Ah, The Zone! My favorite haunt.
I'll tell you a secret: the most accessible portal is at the bottom of a teacup.

Let's not pretend any one of us would get anything done without caffeine. So, of course, tea is  essential. And Club-Mate is another favorite of mine. Obviously, ice tea and hot mate would do as well. But I've never been a coffee cultist. While I rather enjoy the fumes of my colleagues' brew, the taste is simply too overwhelming. Like when something is too garlic-y.

Besides, tea and mate have great health and psychoactive benefits that coffee can't give you. In addition to fairly low levels of caffeine, tea contains fairly high levels of L-theanine, which helps to produce a more calm and lasting sort of high. It's believed to be so good for brain boosting and mood stabilizing that it's even sold in concentrated pill form. But there's no way a pill could give you the same aesthetic pleasure as brewing a fragrant London fog latte in a pretty cup. <3

Another easy, natural way to manipulate your mood and alertness is light. I prefer to have loads and loads of natural light, especially for reading. Lucky for me, I have huge windows at home as well as in the office hallway. On the other hand, when you really have to lower your creative inhibitions - in order to write the first draft of something, for example - an atmospheric gloom works, too. I've often thought about adding some candles and following Hemingway's advice to write drunk and edit sober, but I guess I haven't reached that level of desperation yet.

I wouldn't underestimate the power of romantization and aesthetization, though. Sometimes the only way to feel like you are really doing something is to do it like people do it in the books. So, if your mental prototype of writing is taking a yellowed notebook and a trusted fountain pen to a park or a shadowy pub, why not do just that? And wear a dapper scarf while you're at it?

Writing is a very holistic activity, and I'm a huge believer in analog methods: pen and paper simply have a very different feel to them than a keyboard. Sure, it's slower, but that often makes it easier to find the right words. I usually plan and brainstorm on paper and do the actual writing with a computer. But I get the notebook out again, if I hit a writer's block at any point.

So, to sum: having lots of inspiring notebooks for different purposes is hugely important!

One for conference notes, one for literature notes, one for miscellaneous doodling, one for brainstorming, one for fleeting ideas...

Inspiring, interesting postcards are great, too. In most projects, there's a phase when you will mostly stare at a wall. And it's much less depressing to stare at a decorated wall than a blank one. Cool, hand-picked pictures also make me feel more at home. They personalize the space, mark the territory, all that.

That blanket cardigan (100% cotton) has also proved useful in every season!

Finally, if silence is at short supply, good headphones are a must. Classical is always a good, neutral choice for background music, but I might just as well go for one of my many mood-tuned Spotify playlists. Especially, if I'm tired or bored. I've filled one playlist with particularly encouraging songs, like Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", Muse's "Uprising", Björk's "Army of Me" and Doom Unit's "Killing Time". But let's talk more about music in the next episode.

lauantai 4. kesäkuuta 2016


Research blogging challenge!
Round 2.
Fight!, I mean: complain! The second task is to identify three of my least favorite things about my job. And here they are:

1. Money, money, money
I often say that most problems we have in the society sprout from two blights humans have set upon themselves. One is the illogical over-importance of gender. The other is the illogical over-importance money.

I feel the former has played a surprisingly insignificant part in my career so far, thank goodness. But the latter is a constant annoyance on every possible level.

On practical level: Writing grant applications is the only regular work assignment I dislike. It's boring, repetitive, time-consuming and pays off sooooooo rarely. I don't understand why, instead of doing my actual JOB, I should go through so much trouble just to receive an email that says: "Unfortunately, we are not granting your disgustingly humanist, weird-ass research a scholarship at this time. The foundation does not give feedback or rationalize its decisions. Maybe you should reconsider your functionality as a human being and do your taxes."
I could write an entire article in the time I use on grant applications each year. WHY can't there be a joint application process? Or AT LEAST unified forms and regulations? That is, why can't I send just ONE kick-ass application to all the foundations once a year (and receive just one depressing rejection slip, and eat just one pint of ice cream to dampen the burn)? It's in no way productive to rearrange my research plan into a variety of slightly different lengths every few months. I actually counted the files in my "PhD" folder, and I have over 70 files under "Grants". For contrast: I have only 17 files under "Dissertation". Yet, I'm sure my current employers would also rather pay me for doing research than for courting other financiers.

On an individual level: It's impossible to build a stable life on funding that's measured in months, not in years. I'm one of the lucky ones: I've scored three 12-month research periods in a row! Many have to scrape their living together from 3-month periods and part-time jobs. Graduation will be especially hellish. After that, the competition is even stiffer and most opportunities require moving to a different city or country. Who knows where I'll be updating this blog from in two years! Again, I'm one of the lucky ones: I never really wanted a stable life anyway, and I've always romanticized nomadic lifestyles. The thought of having my life all planned out at 25 and living in the same little town all my life would be FAR more depressing than not having a clue which continent I'll be living on and which research question I'll be trying to solve next year. Having to change to a completely different career (a freelance journalist? an editor? a translator? an antiquarian?) because of the lack of funding is a major concern for me, though.

On communal and ideological level: Nothing is more important to a society in the long run than research, science, culture and education. NOTHING. And I'm proud to be working for all four in one form or another. That the government sees them as a waste of resources is INFURIATING. I'm not saying that I, personally, save lives - although many scientists and educators do. I'm more in the life-building business - and this time, I don't mean that in a Frankensteinian way. Professor emerita Leena Kirstinä said in a speech she held two weeks ago that "literary research is a part of cultural infrastructure". We build, structure, define and examine what culture is. And in doing so, we build, structure, define and examine what makes us who we are. Without culture, we wouldn't really have lives to save. And a society that sees no value in anything I value and am is no society I want to be any part of.

"I feel you, ex-flower. You're the only one who gets me."

2. Distractions
Nothing ruins a regular work day like not being able to concentrate when you really have to concentrate. Growing up, I've gradually learned that my nervous system was built to react at a very low threshold: my attention is drawn to anything and everything that jumps from the background in any way. If we were a troupe of hunter-gatherers, I would be the one keeping us all alive, since I would detect an approaching saber-tooth tiger by a small snap of a twig, or possibly even the smell. But since we are a troupe of researchers, having this fine, fine skill is mostly a huge pain in the ass. A loud bang of a door or a fit of laughter derails my train of thought immediately. So does the smell of food. If I'm especially sleep-deprived and irritable, I might have a hard time reading and writing if anything even moves in my field of vision.

It's no wonder, then, that I prefer to isolate myself when I'm working. Since I'm much more efficient when I don't have anyone in my immediate presence, I prefer to work evenings and weekends. And when isolation is not an option, I insulate with ear plugs or head phones - and an extra-grumpy face that discourages everyone from engaging with me.

Luckily, I only need that isolation for 30 to 60 minutes or so. Once I get going, I can mentally block things out quite well. And when I'm really deep in the zone, you could probably detonate a bomb in the next room without me realizing it. So, okay. Maybe I wouldn't have been the best night watchman for the gatherer camp after all...

(Many have put me on Elaine Aron's HSP-spectrum, but that doesn't feel right to me somehow.)

"What is this "sunlight" you speak of?"

3. Deadlines
Coming up with a third point was surprisingly difficult. I guess I could have opted to complain about the soul-crushing humanness of academia; how frustrating it is when personal relationships, grudges, ambitions, envy, fear, sloth or big egos thwart good sense and good research. But that would be unfair. It's not necessarily a problem with this particular job, but a problem you probably counter in any job imaginable.

So, I chose deadlines, even though I really have a love-hate relationship with them. They do help with prioritizing, setting concrete goals and getting things DONE, so I often take them on on purpose. However, the deadline days are always stressful days. It starts right when you wake up: "Uaaaagh, it's past noon already and I really, really, really have to send that thing out today... Oh, god, it's shit. Oh god, why didn't I take my time with it earlier in the week? Hurry, hurry hurry...and let's make sure we have enough food and tea to last us until midnight...!"

It's the worst when you have many on the same week. Or when they are so tight to begin with you could never do your best work in that time frame, not even with zero procrastination.

I'm pretty good at calming myself down, however, by asking myself: what's the worst that could happen if I missed this deadline?
Now, I have a good imagination. But I'm also a realist.

torstai 2. kesäkuuta 2016

What Are You Even Doing?

Always a good and timely question! And one I seem to ask from myself much more frequently than anyone else does.

The simple answer is: almost everything and almost all the time. I read articles, monographs, unfinished Master's theses and comics; write reports, emails, abstracts, presentations, grant applications and book proposals; sit and knit in all sorts of seminars and meetings; organize conferences, events and get-togethers; dig around in libraries, bookstores, databases and the internet for new data and theories; shuttle around the country and the world to meet other people with the same weird interests...

The two things I never seen to have time for are - you guessed it - blogging and writing the damn dissertation. (Seriously, I have a bit over a year left until the dreaded four-year mark! Yikes!)


Anyhow, I decided to finally meet the research blogging challenge I put out there a year ago. And for once in my life, I figured I'd start conventionally from the assignment number 1: Show us what you do! Today. Right now.

For me, there's only one possible answer to this: I'm between projects. I have to be - otherwise there'd be no way I could concentrate, even for a minute, on something unrelated like this.

To be more specific, I just finished two grant applications and a conference report. (No, not the one I told you about earlier. A new one.. I'm not that slow.) And now, I'm preparing to write a presentation and a dissertation article.

The presentation is going to be a general survey of how cognitive theory could advance our understanding of fictional characters. I managed to wiggle myself into a panel literary researchers from the University of Helsinki were going to propose for the international Cognitive Futures in the Humanities conference. It's taking place in Helsinki in just two weeks and I'm veeeeeery excited about it! There's going to be lots of people there whose works I've read, and the topics range from disgust and daydreaming to fictional space.

As for the article, it will be about non-human and "unnatural" comic book characters. How do we even read them, and can comics really speculate on experiences that are decidedly inhuman? I am a bit skeptical about that, actually, but I am, nevertheless, going to apply those questions to the analysis of the gorgeous The Sandman: Overture that came out as a collected volume last year. It very much pretends to have a perspective that is beyond human - there could never be an apocalypse that affects only humans - but does it, and can it, really have that? Or are human comics artists and human comics readers forever doomed to discuss nothing but human minds and worlds? (No, I have not elevated Neil Gaiman to the god-status yet, despite everything!)

So, I'm currently reviewing old pieces of thought and gathering up new bits of texts that I could use. I always find this phase both very relaxing and very stressful. One one hand, I can just chillax and see what I find and come up with - it could amount to anything! But on the other hand: what if it amounts to nothing? It's all so formless and there's still so much to do...

I like to "organize" my source material into "project piles".
On top of all that, we have a reading group meeting today. Me and a few of my colleagues have been trying to make sense of Bruno Latour's We Have Never Been Modern together. It's just like any other French theory classic: says everything without really claiming anything, coins new terms without really defining them, and so, leaves the field open for long-winded exegesis. Having read very few original texts by philosophers, I appreciate the intellectual challenge, though.

In fact, intellectual challenge was the whole idea behind the reading group. We have quite a multidisciplinary department, so we figured that, with all our varied backgrounds and knowledge, discussing classics that are relevant to a wide range of cultural research might be very enlightening. And also a good excuse to grab a glass of wine every now and then! I highly recommend it!

We started with Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto" in the winter and plan to move on to Derrida's "The Animal That Therefore I Am".

Yes. I consider myself challenged. In more ways than one,
and in many senses of the word.

lauantai 9. tammikuuta 2016

CfP: Geek Culture Marches on!

First: not a peep for months on end.
Then: she publishes something in an undecipherable language that she probably just made up in a fit of wannabe-Tolkienism.
I know, my unwillingness to develop regular habits makes me a terrible blogger. (But a good academic!)

I just wanted to let the world know that I am organizing conferences now.

The first one, Reconfiguring Human and Non-Human: Text, Images and Beyond happened here in our Department of Art and Culture Studies at the end of October and is one of the many reasons I have been alternately dead and focused for the past six months. We had about 65 attendees from four continents and it was, in a word, overwhelming. I never imagined shopping for dozens of bottles of wine with the Faculty's credit card and opening a live broadcast of a keynote lecture at the tender age of 27, but there you go. I did ask for it.

The point is: this madness continues later in the spring with a new seminar that explores geek culture! I, for one, consider myself a professional geek, so I could not be more excited - aaaaand I might have, once again, played a provocateur.

Geek culture is flooding into the mainstream right now, but no one seems to know why exactly. In fact, no one seems to even know how to define geeks or geek culture: why should the same person be interested in Victorian literature, comic art, role-playing games as well as many other forms of speculative fiction and gaming? I am actually talking about myself here and I don't even know. Fortunately, as academics, finding answers is our job!

You can see the full call of papers below - the deadline is now set to January 24. I'm afraid it's only in Finnish, though. The conference is meant to be a modest, national event. But I will try my best to summarize its most intriguing turns and findings here in English. So, please come again.

Preliminary event logo I drew. No unauthorized copying, please!


Nörttikulttuurin nousu
Kuudes valtakunnallinen fandom-tutkimuksen konferenssi
Jyväskylän yliopiston Taiteiden ja kulttuurin tutkimuksen laitoksella

Ketä voi haukkua nörtiksi – ja kuka puolestaan on “todellinen nörtti”? Haittaako, että yhä useampi vastaantulija tuntee nettislangia ja kulttifiktion sankareita? Entä onko tytöillä mitään asiaa videopeli- ja sarjakuvakulttuureiden maskuliinisina pidettyihin maailmoihin?

Nörttikulttuuri (engl. geek culture) on viime vuosina kaapattu marginaalista valtamedian materiaaliksi: niin sarjakuvat, genrefiktio kuin video- ja roolipelitkin ovat löytäneet uuden teknologian kautta uusia yleisöjä ja saattaneet samalla yhteen vanhoja faneja. Tämä yhä jatkuva kasvu ja monimuotoistuminen on herättänyt monet pohtimaan “nörttimäisten” harrastustensa motiiveja ja muuttanut nörttiyden merkitystä. Eri sukupuolet, sukupolvet ja kulttuurit tuntuvat käsittävän nörttiyden hyvin eri tavoin, mutta tavallisin nörtin tuntomerkki on tiedollinen omistautuminen jollekin (arkielämän kannalta hyödyttömälle) asialle. Juuri perehtyminen tuntuu yhä erottavan “todelliset” nörtit ja fanit tavallisista kuluttajista ja satunnaisista harrastajista, mutta eri perehtymisen kohteet ovat edelleen eri tavoin arvokkaita ja sallittuja eri ryhmille. Tämä on paljastanut uudella tavalla myös eskapistisina pidettyjen, nörttimäisten kulttuurimuotojen poliittisuuden.

Vaikka nörttiys on muodostunut keskeiseksi, joko valituksi tai annetuksi identiteettitekijäksi lukemattomille ihmisille ympäri maailman, sen muuttuva merkitys on edelleen sumea. Jyväskylän yliopiston Taiteiden ja kulttuurin tutkimuksen laitoksella järjestettävässä kaksipäiväisessä kansallisessa konferenssissa haluamme avata suomalaisen akateemisen keskustelun siitä, mitä nörttikulttuuri oikeastaan on, miten se on muuttunut ja miten se vuorovaikuttaa niin sanotun valtavirran kanssa.

Etsimme tapahtumaan esitelmiä tai paneeleja, jotka tarkastelevat nörttikulttuuria, eli erilaisten (aiemmin) marginaalisena pidettyjen mediailmiöiden aktiivista ja/tai sosiaalista kuluttamista, minkä tahansa tieteenalan näkökulmasta. Aiheet voivat liittyä esimerkiksi:
  • nörttiyden ja nörttikulttuurin historiaan, määritelmiin ja murroksiin; eroaako nörttiys tavallisesta faniudesta?
  • sarjakuvakulttuuriin ja -markkinoihin, sarjakuvien keräilyyn tai sarjakuvan transmedialisoitumiseen
  • lauta- ja roolipelikulttuurien näkymiseen populaarikulttuurissa
  • videopelien harrastajayhteisöihin ja videopelikulttuurin valtavirtaistumiseen
  • hakkereihin, verkkoaktivismiin ja internet- ja hakkerikulttuurin näkymiseen valtavirta- tai populaarikulttuurissa
  • japanilaisen otaku-kulttuurin kansainvälisiin ja suomalaisiin ilmenemismuotoihin
  • kirjallisen, audiovisuaalisen ja muunlaisen genrefiktion ympärille kehittyviin (verkko)keskusteluihin ja fanitoiminnan muotoihin, myös antifaniuteen
  • fanitapahtumiin eli coneihin, fanituotantoon, cosplayihin tai muihin nörttikulttuurille leimallisiin harraste- ja fanitoimintoihin
  • populaarikulttuurin sukupuolittumiseen ja poliittisuuteen.

Lähetä 200–300 sanan abstrakti n. 20 minuutin esitelmästä PDF-muodossa 24.1.2016 mennessä Jonne Arjorannalle (jonne.arjoranta[ät] Otamme vastaan ehdotuksia myös paneeleista ja muista laajemmista esitelmäkokonaisuuksista. Laitathan liitetiedostoon näkyviin nimesi, sähköpostiosoitteesi ja koti-instituutiosi.

Lisätietoja antaa Katja Kontturi (katja.j.kontturi[ät] Esitelmäkutsua saa levittää vapaasti.

Fanitutkijoiden tapaamisia on aiemmin järjestetty Tampereen ja Jyväskylän yliopiston tutkijoiden yhteistyönä vuodesta 2006 lähtien.

sunnuntai 27. syyskuuta 2015


I'm slowly recovering from my Great Conference Summer, which really was great in every sense of the word. During the past three months, I've toured the shores of the Baltic sea and met dozens of interesting people – all in order to advance my doctoral studies. I have, among other things, climbed the roof of Oslo Opera House with other comic researchers, attended a couple of paper sessions dressed as a vampire, and befriended a highland cow while discussing upcoming conferences on cognitive studies. I don't think I could have had more fun if I had actually had a vacation.

Now that I'm back behind my desk again, my first real writing task of the new semester will be a conference report on NNCORE 2015: War and Conflict in Sequential Art, which took place in the University of Oslo on June 11–12. I have actually, actually promised to write a proper one for Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art with Katja Kontturi. But first, let us practice a bit with a less formal blog report!

Thinking back on the experience now, the first things that come to my head are the slick, shimmering, excessively high walls of Georg Sverdups Hus, PowerPoint slides filled with rather distressing comic panels and dinners in cramped, little restaurants in the Berlinesque Grünerlokka neighborhood. We traveled between venues by very new, very neat trains and very old, very graffiti-ridden trams, and the weather was just right the whole time – warm and breezy.

Grünerlokka boasted some very impressive street art.
NNCORE, or the Nordic Network for Comics Research, hadn't had a conference in two years due to a break in funding, so there was a bit of buzz around this one well beforehand. Having the whole thing coincide with Oslo Comics Expo was also tempting. So, even though the theme – war and conflict – is quite far removed from my research interests, I was determined to come up with a suitable abstract.

...because Oslo is a charming city, obviously.
I've often been accused of floating in very theoretical spheres, so I considered this an apt opportunity to exercise some good old-fashioned comic analysis. I might have read little theoretical works on war, conflict, trauma or violence, but I'm no stranger to comics that include them – or even revel in them. Mike Carey and Peter Gross' Vertigo series The Unwritten has been very central to my research for a couple of years now, and while its main theme is metafictionality, violence isn't far behind. I decided to survey how the two are connected and titled my presentation "Tommy Taylor and the War of Words and Images: Violent Metatextuality of The Unwritten".

Metatextual and metafictional breaks (or metalepses) are often discussed in rather violent terms in literary research: limits of the storyworld "rupture", reality "invades" the fictional space or ontological boundaries are "torn down". My main claim was that The Unwritten makes this discourse concrete through its visual fantasy: the series depicts "tortured texts", monstrous texts, violent fictions that become reality and characters whose lives have been ruined by too much fiction. Some of the characters also travel between different storyworlds as the plot progresses and these transgressions more often than not lead to chaos and blood-shedding.

Almost done! Photo by Katja.
Since the protagonist of the series, Tom Taylor, knows that he is a fictional character – that is, he's both artificial and sentient – he quite automatically sees other artificial creations as sentient beings as well. Through his perspective, an act of editing becomes and act of murder.

We wouldn't normally consider an author killing off her character unethical, because what we see is a sentient human being, with all the human rights and copyrights, handling an artificial, inhuman thing of her own creation. The Unwritten, however, flips the point-of-view so that we see the creations, the characters – who might be artificial but still appear rather human – struggling against such authorial control.

On one hand, the series gets away with rather explicit violence because the violence isn't "real", it's only directed towards explicitly fictional beings. On the other hand, The Unwritten raises interesting questions about the all-too-obvious differences and peculiar similarities between real and fictional people. Notably, as the boundaries between real fictional people blur, so do the boundaries between real and fictional violence.

(Yes, there is a Frankenstein thread hidden in there somewhere. There always is.)

I was unlucky enough to be the first presenter, so I was ridiculously nervous. It felt as if I'd forgotten how to speak English for that one critical half an hour. On the bright side, the content was sound and plentiful; I was able to unearth loads of interesting  new points about The Unwritten, because I was "forced" to look at it from a foreign angle. I also got some comic and book recommendations from the audience, which is always great.

A handful of other people talked about violence, too. Joseph Trotta from Gothenburg University used semiotics to explain why some depictions of violence appear real and traumatic while others can be viewed as entertainment. I have little notes about the conclusions but found the research question intriguing in itself. Also, Leena Romu, a colleague from Tampere, discussed sexual violence in Ulli Lust's comic Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (2013) through James Phelan's ethics of telling and ethics of the told. Trauma was a more common keyword, though, and I do feel that comics' ability to depict and process traumatic events has been a pretty hip research subject for a long time now, especially with the rise of autobiographical comics.

More than half of the panels focused on war. How have comics been used as war or anti-war propaganda? And how is war depicted in sequential art? Some emphasized parodic elements, others realism. Still others saw war comics as historical source material or alternative histories. The target texts ranged beautifully from Ally Sloper to manga.

Captain America liberating a concentration camp on a Marvel Comics' Captain America cover. Slide from Markus Streb's presentation "Early Representations of Concentration Camps in Golden Age Comics".

The academic keynote lecture by Uppsala University's Michael Scholz also examined how comics were employed for propaganda during WWII, when they were exceedingly popular reading at the front. He suggested that the attitudes conveyed by the war comics of the time could even help to explain the differing conducts of soldiers of different nationalities. For example, the Americans proudly executed concentration camp guards after the war - as the heroes of American war comics would - but the Brits did not - since the heroes of British war comics would not.

I was really happy to learn that the other keynote was an artist keynote. (There's really no point in isolating the research of comics from the creation of comics to the extend that we do; invite more artist keynotes to conferences and seminars, please!) Ed Piskor had traveled all the way from the United States to promote the new collected volume of his Hip Hop Family Tree and gave us an exclusive talk on the connections between American comic and hip hop cultures.

While it was cool to hear and see how much graffiti artists have been influenced by Jack Kirby, I was even more interested in Piskor's own work. He doesn't simply tell stories though pictures but has a complete vision for how his comic books should appear as objects. He handed out some free samples that –  even though new and printed on good quality paper – had that nostalgic, crumbling, second-hand feel. Margins and covers were littered with little notes that looked as if they had been written by hand (with a marker that had "soaked through" some of the pages). Half of the advertisements were spoofs and everything was printed to look yellowed. If you want a first-hand taste of Piskor's inventiveness, he does weekly strips for Boing Boing.

Overall, the conference had a very coherent program and intimate, collegial atmosphere. There were only 21 presentations, with no parallel sessions. Add to that the two keynotes, a handful of permanent fixtures and a troupe of Danish first-timers, and the total number of participants must have been just over 30.

It was especially great to meet Joanna Elantkowska-Bialek from the University of Warsaw, as she will be joining the ranks of our comic research cluster in Jyväskylä for the next year. (Now that we are attracting visiting scholars, world domination is only a couple of steps away, Pinky!) Joanna talked about the trauma narrative of Hanneriina Moisseinen's Father that employs some exceptional techniques, such as traditional Finnish embroidery in its composition.

Book store Tronsmo on Universitetsgata.
Oslo's comic fan scene didn't disappoint either. Although the program and the products at Oslo Comic Expo were mostly in Norwegian (and thus, mostly incomprehensible to me) we enjoyed the venue immensely. Deichmanske Biblioteket is an adorable little library standing by one of the many little squares in Grünerlokka. It's decorated with engraved owls and silly glass paintings. And as if that isn't enough, the upstairs hosts a little bar and a 'serieteket' – a library hall dedicated solely to comics!

It was so cozy and beautiful: little side rooms filled with manga and Disney, horror and Vertigo series by the open windows, even a little collection of comic research in the hallway. Simply put, it's a place where you'd happily live for the rest of your days. Just as add a tea kettle and a nightlight and close the doors.

Unfortunately, the only volume I was able to take home with me was Warren Ellis' Frankenstein's Womb (2005), which I bought from one of the stands outside. We were also very interested in a fairly new, fairly massive graphic novel about Edvard Munch. The lady working for the publisher told us that Steffen Kverneland's Munch (2013) should be translated into English soon, so look out for it. It seemed all kinds of exciting!

Found the first volume of my favorite manga, Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal at Salvation Army store. Photo by Katja.
Of course, we managed to find more books and comics to buy in the local nerd heaven Outland (Kirkegata 23) as well as the various second-hand stores and antiquaries scattered around the university's main campus. Special shout-outs to Norlis Antikvariat (Universitetsgata 18), an adorable, traditional antiquary filled with (even more) owl figures and such magnificent finds as Norwegian retro Nancy Drews...

...and Tronsmo (Universitetsgata 12), a comics-oriented bookshop that has allowed it's famous guests, such as Neil Gaiman(!!), Don Rosa, Jeff Smith, Lise Myhre and Jason, to doodle on their walls!

And by "we" I mean me, Katja and Leena. Since we all presented at the NNCORE conference, we decided to make an excursion of it and spent a couple of extra days exploring Oslo's sights. Our first day off was all about ships. We saw the three best preserved viking ships in the world at Vikingskipshuset...

...and the one and only Kon-Tiki! The museum told the story of Thor Heyerdahl's expedition extremely well: you were really prompted to imagine what it would have been like to sail the Southern seas in a hand-crafted balsa raft. It was inspiring, exhilarating and a little frightening. (If I'm ever doing another degree somewhere, I'm definitely minoring in experimental maritime archeology – or anything as crazy and as wonderful. So, if your university's not providing courses like that yet, I'm not attending. Shape up, would you.)

The second touristing day was all about art. We witnessed Van Gogh vs. Munch art battle at Munch Museet (feat. enormous Norwegian custard bun from the museum café). Sad to say that the visitor won the match. As much as I admire the originality and the vitality of The Scream, most Munch's works are too naivistic to my taste.

Our final stop together was Astrup Fearnley Museet and its awesomely multi-faceted collection. It  was quite probably the best exhibition of contemporary art I've ever seen: conceptual stuff, kitsch statues, evocative paintings, morbid works by Damien Hirst... Surprises in every hall. Loved it.

Detail of Damien Hirst's "Eulogy"
Because I'm nothing if not thorough, I actually stayed in Oslo two nights longer than my travel companions. And what did I do? Well, I saw even more contemporary art (at the Museum of Contemporary Art) – and even more ships! No other ship has sailed as far North and as far South as Fram, which I find oddly moving – and others oddly boring.

If that sounds like a long week, this isn't even half of it. I also acquainted myself with the Vigeland brothers and their somewhat creepy fascination with human form; had a lonesome, windy evening walk at Akerhus fortress; admired magnificent street art; took a look around the National Gallery and the Historical Museum; saw the world's biggest collection of miniature bottles...

To sum, Oslo seemed like a flurry of sea, books and colorful art to me. Which, if you really couldn't tell, is a good thing. Could we have the next NNCORE conference in Reykjavik, maybe?