Not directly to do with museums today, but certainly related, it is the Festival of Archaeology for the next couple of weeks, and it seemed appropriate to find something from the graphic novel vaults that linked to this celebration. Mentioned a few weeks ago, Carter Hall, aka Hawkman, is probably the most prominent of archaeologists in DC publications, active in fieldwork, and living in his own museum - few characters are better placed than this one to give archaeology a platform in graphic novel circles. The panel selected below is a nod to last weeks rant on the relocation of the Mold Cape, and develops a pretty direct repatriation narrative. A pitched physical battle ensues in this volume over the rights and wrongs of excavating a particular site, and while such extreme conflicts are rare in our more mundane real world, it does serve as a reminder as to some of the ethical questions that we are faced in archaeology, especially regarding collections acquired over a century ago.
The PhD drafting is almost at an end. A major assault on the footnotes to come, and then it goes off to the supervisor for one last editorial battering, then back to me for a final time, and then it will be done...so in many respects, not really at the end at all, but certainly no more research to be done at least. So the mind now turns to the summer and what next? Well, there are a number of irons in the fire, most of them article driven in one form or another, as thoughts turn to fleshing out the publication list. Unfortunately, the one thing I really want to write about is probably the least practically applicable subject, in terms of my career, that I could have thought of, and that would be graphic novels.
There’s a bearded American to blame for this one way or another, but that’s a story for another day. I actually started bringing in graphic novels into my teaching for the first time this year. I had stumbled across an old copy of Hawkman from November 2003, where Carter Hall (Hawkman) engages in a two page spread debate on the ethics of repatriation of cultural material. It struck me as a fairly obscure aside, but ultimately the narrative went on, perhaps unconsciously, to question the ethics of the excavation of human remains. Two themes then, that frequently engage the heritage community in discussion and publication, were being fought out in the pages of a comic.
Repatriation is one theme to have been subject to very specific graphic novel treatments. The most obvious example was published in 2011 as part of a British Museum exhibition on Manga. ‘Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure’ is an entire book committed to the exploration of repatriation themes, and, perhaps unsurprisingly given the publisher, the British Museum does quite well out of the debate. Biased maybe, but a good read nonetheless.
All of this got me wondering though about how museums are portrayed in graphic novels. What does the setting of Stonechat Museum in the world of Hawkman tell us about how museums are perceived? Does the museum environ reveal how wider attitudes towards museums are changing, or do they continue to reflect the dusty dark halls of stereotype? What about the activities that take place within museums. I can think of no shortage of murders, thefts and doomsday scenarios to occur within a range of unfortunate museums, but what about archiving and community outreach programmes? Okay, so the last two probably don’t lend themselves so well to a dynamic storyline, but that would make it all the more interesting should such themes ever actually get displayed, if only in the background.
So, there is at least one summer plan – wading through comic books to find examples of museums, in whatever form or storyline they might come up in. Not entirely sure what I’m going to do with this research once it’s been compiled, but I’ll certainly do something! There are a good range of journals covering graphic novels now, but then this might be something, depending on results, that might sit more comfortably within a museum journal, we’ll see. However, any help or suggestions would be very welcome on this one, as there are only so many comics I can read over the summer!