From Hogarth to Hellboy: the transformation of the visual reader

To Begin With, I’ll Paint The Town Red” a political cartoon by Grant E. Hamilton. The Judge vol. 7, 31 January 1885

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 from 11:00 to 18:00 

With the dissemination of illustrated texts and the onset of political cartoons in the 18th century across Western Europe, the nature of the visual form and those ‘reading’ them have evolved from newspapers to graphic novels. Whilst the medium has adapted to new digital materialities, social commentary and its reception has always served as a constant undercurrent regardless of its expressive form. Papers at this one day conference will explore issues of aesthetics, politics, the boundary of the genre and media as well as the changing nature for the spectator from the 17th century to the present.



Colin J.P. Homiski (Senate House Library)



Panel #1 – From Caricature to Characters:  Illustrating the Nineteenth Century Chair: Paul Gravett (Director, Comica) Speakers: Prof Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton), Dr Luisa Calè (Birkbeck University of London), Dr Tony Williams (International Dickens Fellowship)

Prof Ian Haywood

(Director, Centre for Research in Romanticism–University of Roehampton)

The Golden Age of caricature: politics, fantasy and visual pleasure


I will discuss a number of caricatures in order to show their value as historical and aesthetic artefacts that repay close study. Above all I want to demonstrate caricature’s remarkable imaginative and political freedom and its function as a ‘shadow’ cultural tradition that sits alongside the rise of British art in the Romantic period.


Dr Luisa Calè

(Birkbeck University of London)

Blake’s Visions of Hell: Monstrous Sights and Pseudomorphoses in Dante’s Commedia


William Blake’s engagement with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1824-7) illuminates the tension between Classical and Christian iconography at the heart of Blake’s bestiary. At the end of his life William Blake produced 102 designs and seven engravings from Dante’s Divine Comedy. 72 illustrate scenes from the Inferno. Dante’s emblematic demons offer an opportunity to reflect on the survival and reinvention of classical gods and monsters in a series of transgressions of the boundaries of species, genres, and media. Blake’s monstrous poetics negotiates the sculptural prototypes of classical antiquity to capture Gods turned into idols, beasts, and demons in watercolours. In this paper I will draw on the iconological notion of pseudomorphosis – variously interpreted as a dialectic of forms, a divergence of text and image in cultural translation, or ‘Formal disintegration’ – to think about Blake’s Dante and the materialities of cultural encounter.


Dr Tony Williams

(President, International Dickens Fellowship and Associate Editor of The Dickensian)

Visualising Mrs Gamp


Dickens’s characters have and continue to have a resilient capacity for survival in our imaginations, both in and out of the works in which they originally appeared, whether in the more extravagant depiction of the early illustrators or the more realistic style of later ones. They have the capacity for application to various functions and purposes. This talk will take one of Dickens’s  most memorable figures and look at a number of the ways in which the character has been visualised and deployed. It will also refer briefly to some of the changes in character depiction which took place during Dickens’s career.




Keynote Speaker –Paul Gravett

Director of Comica, Journalist, Curator, Writer and Broadcaster

Panel Discussions: Surpassing Expectations


In 1831, Goethe praised Rodolphe Töpffer’s draft graphic novel, adding “If Töpffer did not have such an insignificant text before him, he would invent things which could surpass all our expectations.” Over the subsequent almost two centuries, much has been invented in the comics medium, but equally much has been forgotten, only to be ‘discovered’, or reinvented later as if new to both creators and readers. This survey discusses some examples: closely integrated text-image integration; reinforcing, even redundant explanatory notes; repeated characters across a meta-frame; multiple strips and styles in the same work; distinctive drawing styles, balloon shapes and fonts; other solutions to balloon design and integration; the use of extended text; photography in comics and as comics; and experiments on and off the page.


Panel #2—Reading and Consuming Images: Transition of the Twentieth Century


Chair: Dr. Ian Horton (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London)

Speakers:  Colin J.P. Homiski (Senate House Library), Dr Tony Venezia (Birkbeck University of London) Dr Julia Round (Bournemouth University)


Colin J.P. Homiski

(Senate House Library)

Hiding in plain sight: the homoerotic in strips, pulp and the graphic novel


Although homosexual characters and gay-related themes have existed in literature for centuries it is the transformative use of the printed dust jackets and book covers in the late Victorian period through the second half of the twentieth century, coupled with the mass consumption of pulp magazines and dime novels which allowed for wider distribution of materials which began to challenge existing norms. Using codes to avoid censorship, this paper explores the visual treatments which were applied to the printed works first through its cover and later through advertisements to speak to a hidden community.


Dr Tony Venezia

(Birkbeck, University of London)


V for Value: From comic book to graphic novel


This paper will examine how issues of cultural value are bound up with the material formats of comics and their reception.  Comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels suggest differing models for narrative form, but they also imply different categories of cultural valuation.  The movement from comic books, and comic bookstores, to graphic novels, and high street bookshops, has been an important, if fractious, historical development.  This movement has coincided with greater attention being paid to comics both in a wider media context and within the academy, which has arguably seen the institutionalisation of canon of comics texts and creators.    Rather than propose yet another reading of Moore and Lloyd’s text, I want to track the significance of V for Vendetta in terms of the shifting status of value associated with its multifarious physical forms: from serialised story in the eighties British anthology comic Warrior, to serial comic book published by DC, to the collected graphic novel edition and beyond.  By using V for Vendetta as a case study I want to suggest a larger argument concerning the relationship between cultural value, comics and their material form, and issues of reception.


Dr Julia Round

(Bournemouth University)


Embedded meta/fictions: DC’s Cain and Abel


This paper will argue that twentieth-century comics have used embedded stories to problematise the boundaries between fiction and reality. It will be argued that this is a gothic process that undermines authenticity and diegetic boundaries, and that the nature of the comics medium is ideally suited to this narrative strategy.

The discussion will focus on the use and reuse of the characters of Cain and Abel who first appear as host characters in DC’s 1960s House of Mystery and House of Secrets anthologies. It will consider various examples where their appearance disrupts diegetic coherence and reflects on these transgressions. It will also look at the metafictional story ‘His name is Kane!’ (House of Mystery #180) in which the tale’s artist Gill Kane falls victim of his own ego and becomes trapped in his own artwork, alongside other examples of blurred fictional boundaries, such as DC editor Karen Berger’s appearances in the comic. The paper then concludes by extending its consideration to the reappearance of Cain and Abel in DC comics in the 1990s and the continued use made of embedded stories and disrupted diegetic boundaries by DC Vertigo titles such as Sandman (Gaiman/various, 1989-96) and The Unwritten (Carey/Gross, 2009-15).




Panel  #3–Into the Digital: New Modalities of the Visual


Chair: Dr Ian Hague(London College of Communication, University of the Arts London)

Speakers: Dr Craig Smith (Canterbury Christ Church University), Daniel Goodbrey (University of Hertfordshire), Dr Ernesto Priego (City University London)


Dr Craig Smith

(Canterbury Christ Church University)

Reimagining Hellboy: Comics, animation and motion books


This talk will examine manifestations of the Hellboy character in various forms of comics, motion comics and motion books. It will focus on different media forms and approaches to storytelling.


Daniel Goodbrey

(University of Hertfordshire)


Journeys in the Third Dimension


The Use of augmented, virtual and mixed reality in comics.


Dr Ernesto Priego

(City University London)

This Won’t Kill That: On Digital Comics as ‘Migrant’ Media


This presentation will interrogate, from the point of view of critical theory, binary oppositions between printed formats to digital ones in the case of comic books. Through a close reading of two “pages” of Scott McCloud’s From Page to Screen (2009) this paper suggests the transition from one type of media to another is a kind of immigration, where previous history is not forgotten and where “accents” (like the accent of the immigrant speaking a non-native language) are beautiful as traces of their own media genealogy.


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