Comics, Community and the Past

Comics, Community and the Past

John Swogger (Archaeological Illustrator,

Over the past few years, a number of innovative projects have used the unique combination of storytelling and visualisation of comics to explore, connect or re-connect communities with various aspects of personal, communal, folkloric, archaeological and historic pasts: The Oswestry Heritage Comics, Little Histories, Magic Torch Comics, Graphic Lives, Haawiyat, Prehistories, etc.

As archaeology seeks to engage communities as partners in preservation and stewardship, what can such projects teach us about the ways in which the local past might be conceptualised, presented and understood? How do projects such as these engage with the past and with their audiences in ways that differ from other forms of outreach? Are there outcomes which are specific to such projects? Are there design, management and funding lessons to be learned from these projects?

This interdisciplinary session will build on the examples of projects which have used comics to explore personal and family history, histories of place, archaeological and ethnographic pasts, and community and local heritage. The session will explore the potential of the medium for a more inclusive approach to communicating archaeological research and practice, both to public and specialist audiences.

Keywords: comics; community; heritage; public outreach



Little Histories: Significant Personal Moments Drawn in the Blackpool Press

Simon Grennan (University of Chester,

Local print newspapers still represent community life. This presentation will discuss the ways in which, in 2011 artists Grennan & Sperandio utilised the Blackpool Gazette to present 16 weekly comic strips revealing aspects of the lives of Blackpool residents, titled Little Histories.

Little Histories utilised established methods of people’s history. The artists interviewed over 300 people. A website charted the progress of the project and a selection of strips appeared as part of the Blackpool Illuminations. The strips visualised the storytellers as the centre of their own stories, offering personal opinion as an entertaining addition to the content of the paper.

Serialisation structured these personal stories. Readers were first puzzled by the motives of the strips, then entertained and, finally expectant. Little Histories enlarged the scope of the paper, highlighting the central role of storytellers as creators of the character of the town’s communities.


Secret Identity – Community Comics and Cultural Identity

Paul Bristow (Magic Torch Comics, @pjbristow)

Magic Torch Comics work with schools and community groups to create comics which reinterpret intangible cultural heritage, promote visual literacy and even encourage community campaigning. This presentation will explore and discuss a number of our projects and publications, from adapting Gaelic songs and First World War diaries to creatively interpreting local archaeology and traditions. Comics have a proud history of sharing diverse voices, and this has perhaps never been more important than it is now. I will also discuss our more recent projects have worked to create comics with Syrian families and people over 65 at risk of social isolation in order to improve understanding and integration. Comics provide an engaging output to potentially reach new audiences, but it is in the creative process itself that the stories shared, reimagined and recreated can help develop vital new community connections and a sense of shared history.


The Oswestry Heritage Comics: Bringing the Local Past Home

John Swogger (Archaeological Illustrator,

The Oswestry Heritage Comics were a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips published in the “Oswestry and Borders Advertizer” newspaper, between August 2016 – September 2016, and June 2017 – June 2018. The project covered sixty strips, and was part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Each week, the comic strip covered an aspect of local heritage, with the aim of raising awareness within the community of the diversity of history and archaeology within the town. The series drew on research and participation from a diverse range of local historians, archaeologists, and teachers, as well as community heritage volunteers and enthusiasts, re-enactors and heritage craft-makers, as well as visiting academics.

The comics were designed not simply to disseminate information, but to be able to respond to the heritage-related interests and concerns of the local community. The project demonstrates how such locally-informed and locally-consumed informational comics can facilitate a particularly effective kind of bi-directional engagement in local heritage.


Prehistory to Primary Schools

Nick Overton (University of Manchester,, John Piprani (University of Manchester,, Hannah Cobb (University of Manchester,, and Tony Pickering (Illustrator/artist/graphic novelist,

Our project was a response to the inclusion of British Prehistory into the Primary KS2 curriculum. Our approach was based upon two realisations. First, primary school teachers with little time to research, or money to purchase relevant resources struggle to teach prehistory. Second, the department of archaeology at University of Manchester has the artefacts, technology and research required to produce teaching materials that are interesting to both teachers and pupils, and deliver cutting edge archaeological research.

A key element of this project has been situating our department’s research and teaching within a Graphic format, utilising the multi-layered narrative strategies that comics present to weave a narrative around key ideas, themes, and in particular key artefacts that feature in the wider teaching materials. Additionally, the brief was to develop a narrative that would capture the attention of the teacher and provoke pedagogical ownership by teachers who may not begin as experts in the field. These sequential narratives might as a secondary feature then be developed as a teaching resource in itself. With this in mind, the narratives are deliberately from multiple perspectives, drawing upon concepts of object-agency and non-human-agency, establishing artefacts and nonhumans as meaningful parts of prehistoric social structures.  The use of comics in this way has provided a powerful means to provide narratives that goes beyond a bounded (and modern) human perspective, communicating complex and challenging ideas from current archaeological research to both teachers and the next generations of archaeologists, in an intelligible and consumable manner.