Migration is a phenomenon affecting societies and individuals around the globe. People are on the move for multiple reasons. Some are forced to leave their homes to seek refuge, while others migrate voluntarily. What is voluntary is not clear-cut, however, as migration is the result of various combined factors, reasons and forces. There are also significant differences in people’s abilities and possibilities to migrate. Citizenship, membership and a passport from some nations grant nearly complete access to the rest of the world, while restrictions make others’ possibilities of travel and settling down in a new place almost non-existent. While not all people migrate, surely all people are affected by the global, transnational and internal movement of populations.
The connections between migration and comics are multiple. There are comics artists who migrate or live in families that have moved from one place of residence to another. This is reflected in the genres of graphic life writing (autobiography, biography and memoir). Other fact-based or non-fiction narratives approach such phenomena as refuge, asylum-seeking processes, detention, politics and policies of immigration by means of reportage or other forms of journalism and historical investigation. Documentary comics often have the aim of bringing up marginalized people, giving them voice and visibility. How, with what premises and to what effect this is done need to be scrutinized.
Comics are also used in various activist, informational and educational projects involving both migratory and sedentary communities and individuals. Reading and creating comics are employed, for example, in language-learning processes. Various drawing and comics workshops have been arranged at both refugee camps and reception centers for asylum seekers, having the aim, for example, of bringing some relief and joy. Comics have also been used to share information about the rights of asylum seekers. On a more negative note, comics have also been used in government propaganda to prevent immigration.
In addition to documentary genres, migration is obviously a theme of traditional comics forms of fiction and political cartoons. Fiction directed at different readerships, such as children and young adults, highlights among other things the plight of refugees and shares insights into wars and other disasters, which have forced people on the move. Stories of arrival and integration, as well as of racism, xenophobia and estrangement, illuminate (and possibly obscure) the world where migration is pervasive. Reading lists of enlightening comics narratives are compiled, for example, for educational purposes. The topicality of migration also means that it is a staple of political cartooning, on the one hand disseminating and representing cosmopolitan, hospitable and empathic opinions and, on the other hand, embracing and reaffirming xenophobic, nationalist and racist stereotypical depictions of asylum seekers, for example.
The entanglement of the histories of migration and comics is profound. The commercial and aesthetic lift off of newspaper comics in the late 19th and early 20th century in the U.S. occurred in a society and culture of immigration. The oft-cited canon of documentary comics of the late 20th century – Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis – also attests to the importance of the connections between comics, migration and refugee histories. There is a need to examine how comics and migration are intermingled and affect each other. A current, related question concerns the ways in which diversity in the comics field is promoted, hindered or regulated in different locations.
As the description above attests, comics have been put to use in multiple ways in relation to migration. In the prospective collection of chapters, the aim is to highlight the multifarious practices and processes by means of which comics and migration have been connected. While not disregarding the analysis of comics narratives, we seek to understand what is done with and to comics and their representations and, indeed, what comics do in relation to issues of migration. As much as we are interested in what comics mean, we seek to encourage the study of comics as a means.
Possible topics concerning the relationship between comics and migration include but are certainly not limited to:
- Comics as/in political discourse, advocacy, activism and education
- Possibilities and challenges of applied uses of comics
- Inclusion, exclusion and diversity in comics production and consumption
- Collaboration, co-creation and authorship
- Social, political and ethical dimensions of comics narratives and representations
- Shared histories of comic art and migration
- Working with memory, history and trauma in comics