It is the comics themselves that have alter-identities

On Monday the 22nd of October PassengerFilms held an evening of films and lively geopolitical discussion. We were treated to two highly geopolitical films: The Great Mapmaker (1964) and Frozen River (2008). From the outset, this evening was directed at exploring the way in which geopolitical issues are reproduced through visual material and cultural representations. Without doubt, cinema and other forms of visual representation, such as cartoons, provide a significant insight into the various ways in which physical and theoretical borders have a significant and tangible impact on everyday people’s lives.

Alasdair Pinkerton and Jason Dittmer gave a fascinating presentation of cartoons and comics which portrayed the way in which the idea of the North has been central to the Canadian imagination and forms of national identity. The North is as much a cultural creation and perspective as it is a physical, geographical location: ‘North is as much as idea as any physical region that can be mapped and measured for Nordicity’ (Grace 2002).

Alasdair and Jason provided us with a variety of striking examples of geopolitical cartoons and comic strips which portrayed a national superhero associated with the Canadian nation state. The first was Captain Canuck:

The second concerned The Amazing Adventures of in the Life of Nelvana:

Particularly interesting, were the Cold War narratives which emerged from the portrayals of key comic characters such as Captain Canuck and Nelvana of the North. Firstly, the North has a fantasy of threat and risk which invokes a sense of the ‘Sublime’: an awesome, but potentially terrifying geographical location.  Secondly, the idea of a presumably un-inhabitable geographical location, such as the vast ice Tundra in the Canadian North, providing a viable means of attack from ‘aliens’ can be perceived as an extended metaphor for an ever-present Soviet threat.  For example, one story-line which Jason referred to concerned the heroine Nelvana coming across a ‘hole in the middle of the Arctic’ where she came across a whole civilisation frozen in the glacier. The dramatisation of civilisations being able to survive in this sublime territory is a useful analogy for the on-going fear of Soviet invasion from the North into Canada.The Nelvana comic book series was written during World War II. Its content focuses upon the potential threat of invasion of Canada from the North Pole and, like Superman, Nelvana acts as an agent of the State in defence of its on-going liberty and independence. Continuing the superman parallel, she has an alter-ego, ‘Alana North’, who operated in the South as a double agent for the Canadian government.

Overall, the key focus of Alasdair and Jason’s presentation was to emphasise that cartoons provide a related but different visual medium to the moving image. At the same time, cartoons enable their authors to include a sense of irony within their work as they tackle major political issues, making these vast, political juggernauts accessible for the consumption of the everyday population. Notably, cartoons can focus in on a particular point of geopolitical concern and slow down time, particularly in terms of Cold War scenarios, as in the example above.

RW

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