Magnussen – University of Copenhagen

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Anne Magnussen: When Comics Look Back: Memory, autobiographies and political conflicts in Argentine and Spanish comics 1990-2010

Most people relate comics to the youth, and popular comics genres have most often referred to the here and now, or to the future. The relatively young age of the typical comics artist and reader confirms this conception. However, within the last 15-20 years, the comics field has seen an increasing focus on the past. Comics stories that take place in (more or less recognizable) historical settings is not a new phenomenon, but in this presentation I suggest that history and memory now plays a new and more visible role within the comics field, both through nostalgic reprints of old comics, and through the subjects and themes of new comics. Relating to the second group, there has been a growing interest in comics/graphic novel auto-biographies, in biographies of historical characters, and also, interestingly, in the (re)inventions of superheroes’ personal past.

Some comics include a broader cultural and ideological dimension, as they address complex themes such as the memory of dictatorial pasts and its consequences for present day, national identities. The recent history of Argentina and Spain includes dictatorships, and in both countries debates about how to interpret this past as part of national history and national identities have gained considerable strength within the last 10-15 years. The two countries furthermore share the characteristic of having strong comics traditions including comics artists of international renown, and the national comics participate in both countries in the broader cultural debates of memory and identity. At the same time, they offer excellent examples of the potential of the comics form and aesthetics. With examples primarily from Argentine and Spanish comics, I discuss today’s comics as part of national and international memory cultures and discuss possible explanations of the increasing significance of the past in comics.