A review of the 1st International Graphic Novels Conference in Oxford

20 09 2012

I must say that going into this conference I had rather mixed feelings on what it was going to be like. I produced my abstract and submitted it not really expecting to be successful. When I was, and was sent the requirements for the paper and presentation, I became even more dubious about it. Some of the criteria for producing the paper seemed bizarre and the apparent aversion to all things digital was mind-boggling. Given those initial feelings the conference was surprisingly good. The location in Oxford was splendid and whilst the lack of proper tea was a tad disappointing we were well provided for and given a cooked breakfast and lunch each day. The venue itself was perfectly adequate for our needs (it was a good sized room with reasonable acoustics) although the digital projector which was begrudgingly supplied was poor quality. The timetabling of the panels throughout each day was good and left a decent amount of time for the panels themselves and questions afterwards (although there are always more questions than there is time at these events).

It was certainly different to other conferences I have been too in a number of rather obvious ways. Firstly that there was nobody there that wasn’t presenting a paper; if your paper was not accepted into the conference you were not allowed to attend. There was also the outright ban on Powerpoint presentations and a keen disapproval of visual presentations in general which, whilst largely ignored by the participants (some unashamedly using powerpoint, others presenting visual content in other forms of digital presentation), encouraged purely verbal communication and the use of handouts for illustrative images. Printed handouts worked find although it must be said, no better than the projected imagery of a slide show, but when books were handed around they became distractions from the presentations. In some cases these books took longer than 20 minutes to get round the fairly sizable group of people, interrupting the presentations of others that followed the one to which they directly applied.

Fortunately most of the people presenting disregarded the fear of technological faults which preoccupied the organisers and produced informative and visually interesting slideshow presentations which lead to what seemed to me to be a very successful conference. It was this key element that made the conference the success that it was; the presentations and the people involved in presenting themselves. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference lead to a huge variety in the personal backgrounds and content of work presented over the 3 days. Ranging from medicine to law to cultural adaptations to practical methodology to digital concepts the scope was wide and varied and gave a huge amount of insight into comics from a huge range of perspectives. These perspectives and the backgrounds of the contributors allowed for a deep academic discussion that offered discussion and challenges of the work each of us is currently engaged in and allowed for questions birthed from the full range of fields from which the participants came.

As such the conference was successful on a number of levels and seemed to fit together very nicely. I may seems slightly harsh on the organisers when I refer to them as technophobes but to give credit where credit is due the conference was a good experience and was run very well; things that would not have been possible had it not been for the organisers from Inter-disciplinary.net. So thanks to them. Overall though I think what made it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience was all the people that attended the conference and presented their research. A lovely location for a highly enjoyable weekend of education in comics.

You can see photos from the conference here and keep an eye out for the papers when they are published in the e-book (I will post a an update to this blog when that happens).

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