Digital Comics - A new way of narrating history
The Making Europe Digital Comic Series challenges the way we narrate history.
The VUB Centre for Literary and Intermedial Crossings (CLIC), specialised in intermedial storytelling, currently hosts Prof. Andreas Fickers, an expert in public history. Together with the Brussels Comics Art Museum, CLIC organised the inaugural lecture of the VUB Lorand Chair Intermediality during the VUB/ULB We.KonektWeek. Fickers works on the Making Europe digital comic series, which is about to radically change the way we narrate history.
History through Comics
History and comics are a good combination, as many of us know from Asterix. Yet few scholars engage with the medium to share their scientific findings. However, the comic is an excellent medium to convey the complex processes of history: it is an attractive form that reaches a wide audience.
Over the past decade, Professor Fickers has collaborated with an international team of scholars on the Making Europe book series, which approaches European history through the lens of technology. The six volumes that make up the series challenge conventional narratives of European integration by highlighting technology as a powerful agent of historical change. Yet the team also went a step further, transforming the history books into digital comics.
Comics Go Digital
The digital comic with its combination of visual-verbal storytelling provides an ideal medium for elucidating history: clickable icons link to complementary information and additional audiovisual sources, showing the historical context. “Instead of googling everything, one can simply click on an icon to access the historical information,” says Femke Van Der Smissen, student in the VUB Honours programme.
“Through ‘scrollytelling’, the reader is immersed in a new digital reading experience,” Professor in Literary Studies Birgit Van Puymbroeck adds. “You scroll down to see the story unfold and click on the icons that lead to specific sources that enrich the story, without falling down the rabbit hole of hyperlinks.” Through the digital comic series, readers engage with history in a new way: the combination of text and image, as well as the multiple layers of meaning and documentation allow for a multidimensional reading experience. The Making Europe digital comic series will soon be freely available online.
The content of the digital comic is based on the book Communicating Europe: Technologies, Information, Events by Andreas Fickers and Pascal Griset but foregrounds a specific aspect: the colonial dimension of broadcasting technology. The comic works with archetypes, ‘the technocrat’, the ‘tinkerer’, and ‘the techno-diplomat’ to visualise this history.
“Archetypes are types of characters, which represent a particular function,” explains Professor in Literary Studies Alison Luyten. “In fairy tales, one typically has the hero, the witch, etc. In this story, it is about the many men and women involved in the making of technology.”
The Making Europe digital comic revolves around the character of Brouillard, a fictional radio engineer, based on the historical figure of Raymond Braillard, who designed the wireless telegraph for Belgian Congo and later became head of the Technical Committee of the International Broadcasting Union (IBU), located in Brussels.
Andreas Fickers is Professor of Contemporary and Digital History and director of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History at the University of Luxembourg. He is currently taking up the Lorand Chair Intermediality at the Centre for Literary and Intermedial Crossings (CLIC) at VUB, which is financed by the Lorand legacy. His inaugural lecture “Unflattening European History through Transmedia Storytelling: The Making Europe Digital Comics Series,” was held at the Brussels Comics Art Museum as part of the VUB/ULB weKonekt.Week.
The Making Europe digital comic is a collaboration between Shintaro Miyazaki (artwork), Lizzie Kaye (production manager), Jessica Burton (scriptwriting) and Helmuth Trischler (co-editor of the digital comic series with Andreas Fickers). The comic will soon be available on the online platform of the Making Europe series (https://www.makingeurope.eu/) where a wide range of media experiences can be found, including a blog, podcast, and the digital comics series.