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24th June 2011, 8:54am
Propaganda, sexism and atrocities illustrated: major project to probe cultural impact of World Wars comics
Wanda the War Girl comic A leading historian is embarking on a major project to understand the cultural impact of comics produced during and about the two World Wars.

In the run up to the centenary of the First World War (1914 -18), Jane Chapman, Professor of Communications at the University of Lincoln, and her team of researchers will study comics from the UK, Europe and the USA to explore their depiction of epic events and their influence on the public consciousness and cultural heritage.

They will look at countries’ attitudes to war as expressed through this popular form of communication (among them The 'Red Baron', 'I Flew with Braddock', 'Charley's War' and 'C'était la Guerre des Tranches'), the various national, political and social tensions they convey and the purposes they served.

Through comic strips, including the Daily Mirror’s famous “Jane at War”, the team will also explore how gender and ethnicity are represented (or not), for example women's wartime roles as caring mother or uniformed worker, and the social and political reality of black demand for emancipation.

The project will look at race issues through depictions of the Asian theatre of war as well as American black heroes, featured in the newspaper personae of 'Sergeant Joe' (1943), modelled on the boxer Joe Louis, and of 'Speedo Jaxon'.

How comic strip authors tackled atrocities such as Auschwitz and Hiroshima (the apparently "unrepresentable") will also be examined.

Jane said: “Many people have childhood memories of comic strips and of following war stories with familiar characters on a regular basis.

“Comics can be for children's educative purposes, or have a political message focused upon adult audiences, or contain covert propaganda 'hidden' in children's comics, such as German 'rats' taking over Belgium in Chlorophylle (1979), originally printed in the 1950s, and a golden fascist smurf ranting Mussolini style in Schtroumpfissime (1978).

"We believe now is the time to open up the public debate about the relevance of these cultural artefacts and how they remain in the public psyche, and that future 'public history' (now dominated by popular film and TV) should also include them."

The researchers will place particular emphasis on the often overlooked World War One comics, exploring the insights they give into the harsh realities of trench warfare and the brutal war machine.

Jane added: "The comic format has now expanded from strips and magazines aimed at children, to books aimed at adults, spawning a new 'genre' of factually-based stories.

“In France, where comics are referred to as the '9th art', a sub-genre of historical comics was sparked off by the publication of a five volume series depicting the journeys of an 18th century slave girl from the stormy coasts of Europe to Africa and then to the New World, all impeccably documented.

“It was followed by 'Paroles d'Etoiles'-the words of the star-a series of radio interviews with verbatim personal testimonials that were printed first in book form, followed by a comic book, as memories of hidden Jewish children who had fled the Holocaust & were forced to assume false identities to survive.

“In the UK world war stories faded into decline from the mid 1980s, whereas Francophone and Asian comics are still being produced today. We expect, therefore, that comparing different countries’ approaches to WW1 & WW2 strips will reveal different aspects of each country's experience as either undefeated, or occupied lands and peoples."

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project will culminate in two major exhibitions - one on World War One comics at the Belgian Comic Strip Museum (the largest museum of its kind in Europe) and one on Second World War comics at London's Cartoon Museum. Major publishers DC Thomson, Egmont and Titan Publishing group are also partners in the project.

Notes for editors
Jane Chapman is Professor of Communications at the University of Lincoln (UK) and is also a visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge and the Cambridge University Centre of South Asian Studies.
In addition Jane is a visiting fellow at University College, Dublin and an honorary associate at Macquarie University (Australia) – both Centres for Media History.

Originally trained in French history, Jane is fluent in French and has research specialities in comparative and interdisciplinary studies relating to visual themes such as documentary.

She is widely published internationally with best selling books on media history, international broadcast journalism and 2 books on documentary. Jane also researches minority communications- especially female representation in the history of print publications in France, India, Britain and the US. Jane has also led a team of researchers and allied staff as Principal Investigator for a major Economics & Social Science Research Council (ESRC) funded project entitled ‘Women, Press and Protest in British & French India’, which has exhibited all over the world.

She is a member of Economics & Social Science Research Council (ESRC) Peer Review College. More on her at:

And her speaking on the representation of women in comics here:

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