Conflict and Graphic Novels

Cataloging graphic novels illustrating experiences from conflict

I came across this story from Syria which demonstrated some themes which I think about in some of my own work such as:

  1. The role of collective action in building, rebuilding and destroying communities;

  2. The role of knitting, weaving, sewing and embroidery and more generally handicrafts in the lives of women and how such can be mobilised for creating a social fabric imbued with values we cherish;

  3. The consequences of conflict on women and children and

  4. Lastly, the dynamics of conflict which requires attention to details about all actors involved (state, rebels and civilians).

Anyways, I started digging more and found that the organisation which worked with PRIO on developing the story is called PositiveNegatives and whose founder is Benjamin Dix. Dix is also one of the authors of another graphic novel that I had come across last year, Vanni (here and here). I am thrilled about finding out that there is an organisation working to develop more such audio and visual narratives!


Image Source: PositiveNegatives

Dix (top right) and Pollack (bottom right)

Image Source: Indian Express

I have always found graphic novels very interesting for primarily three reasons:

  1. Complexities of conflict: Those studying conflict know that the state and rebels are not a single homogenous actor. We tend to focus on the "action" that is the "fighting" we observe. However that is one point in the sequence of actions that each side engages in. Besides the actual fighting, there are multiple issues that each side involved in the conflict needs to consider. Their effectiveness on the battlefront is a consequence of what they do behind the battle lines. For instance, both need to address logistical issues such as the provision of recruits, food, water, clothes, shelter, weapons among other things. This means organisations need to figure out their relationship (attitude and behaviour) with the civilians around them. There is another thorny issue in conflict zone which is the problem of getting reliable information about the target/s - who to trust and who not to? And then there the role of ideology, education/socialisation and coercion in maintaining discipline and coordinating action not just with the apparent enemy but other competing groups.

  2. Sequence of events: In order to understand patterns of violence it is important to gain a crystal clear understanding of all parties involved in a conflict and the interaction between them. Focusing only on the fighting captured at the battlefront provides a sliver of a series of interactions;

  3. And because of the first two reasons, graphic novels present a path through which we can see multiple perspectives and learn to empathise before quickly jumping to judgements about the "good guys" and "bad guys"/

Maus, Germany

Image source: Google Images

Vanni, Sri Lanka

Image source: Lindsay Pollack

A People's History of American Empire, USA

Image source: Google Images

RW-94, Rwanda

Image source: Google Images

I will keep digging around more and add to this page. Found this syllabus on conflict and graphic novels and a list of more graphic novels for more references.