Being first comes with responsibilities!
Written by Ralf Kauranen and Olli Löytty
Recently (11.8.2018) the largest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat carried a piece on and interview with comics scholar Kai Mikkonen. The background for this was partly that the renowned academic publisher Routledge published Mikkonen’s book on comics narration, The Narratology of Comic Art, last year. In his book, Mikkonen brings together perspectives from comics research and the narratological analysis of storytelling.
Journalist Harri Römpötti’s article discusses the development of comics scholarship more broadly and mentions, for example, that “Comics scholarship progresses in Finland, among other places, at the University of Turku, where the first project group in the field works with the support of the Kone Foundation”.
Hey, that’s a reference to us! To the project group Comics and Migration, on which web pages you are at this very moment!
Us being the first research group, as mentioned in Helsingin Sanomat, is a sign of the changing position of comics studies in the Finnish academic field. A couple of decades back, no sponsor of research would have taken seriously a large-scale application for the study of comics and the narrative devices of comics.
At the same time, being first is a responsibility. Not only do we need to do whatever necessary to fulfill the promises made in the application, we also have a special responsibility to spread the gospel of comics and comics scholarship, at least in the Finnish context.
Comics is a particular form of art and means of communication. With comics you can tell stories about anything. Comics also provide a means to narrate difficult – complex, heavy, distressing – as well as not easily verbalized matters in a meaningful and understandable way.
Comics also enable communication across language borders. The narrative means inherent to comics change continually, and comics literacy is not something to be taken for granted. To be able to read comics is precisely that, a skill as well as an ability, something that needs to be learned and must be fostered.
Our aim is to help improve comics literacy and better knowledge of how to analyze comics narratives. Research obviously is important in this respect, but research has no effect without readers or an audience. In our project, we emphatically aim to reach a readership outside the academic community.
One of the purposes of the project is to produce a Finnish-language book on comics, migration and the various interconnections between the two, that could be used in upper secondary school or high school education.
Finnish high school education emphasizes media literacy and the students’ abilities to decode multimedia texts. Comics, as a medium that typically combines images and words literally represents this kind of multimodal expression, that is delivered to us both on paper and increasingly in digital form.
As user interface comics are simple: they don’t require sophisticated technical skills and are easily distributed both on paper and digitally. This is precisely why comics also are well-fitted to be used in, for example, “mother tongue and literature” (first language) lessons in upper secondary schools.