Comics conference hosts distinguished international artists

The island of Andros can rightly boast of its Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art. Until recently, before the institution unfortunately collapsed, Skopelos was proud of its Photographic Center. Meanwhile, Kalamata has been identified with the international dance festival and Thessaloniki with film. As of this year, Mytilene, on the island of Lesvos, joined the list of the Greek towns to have embraced and adopted one of the arts. The New Archaeological Museum of Mytilene recently hosted the First International Comics Conference, organized by the Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the University of the Aegean, in collaboration with the Iconotopia group. The conference was titled «Shades of Infinite Worlds: Comics and the Fantastic.» The same department organized another conference on comics two years ago, but this year’s event went up to another level because of the participation of four major foreign creators: Briton Brian Bolland (who is credited, among others, with work on Judge Dredd and Batman’s enemies the Joker and Catwoman), American Jeff Smith, who earned a reputation through well-known comic strip Bone, veteran British artist Brian Talbot, and Thierry Smolderen, who teaches the EESATI (Ecole de l’Image d’Angouleme). An exhibition of comics opened at the Teriade Museum, at the same time as the conference (where Greek artists also participated). Describing today’s comics to Kathimerini, Jeff Smith said we are currently experiencing the prevalance of a hybrid culture, containing elements of the American School of superheroes and more, the French School which represents European comics and the Japanese School with the infamous Manga: «In my job, for instance, I borrow aspects from characters of classic American cartoons, like Snoopy, and create pages that resemble Manga.» Smith disagrees with the belief that the American government «exploits» the popularity of comic heroes for communication, despite the fact that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was photographed next to Spiderman: «I work with the largest comics companies in the world. I don’t believe their heads are under pressure from the government to publish stories which will strengthen some form of propaganda.» Brian Bolland, considered one of the best-known artists, has met with great recognition in the US, although he is British. «We are in a transitional phase, where both the public and the comics market are totally changing. We have moved on from the era of superheroes, whose rights belong to big companies. We are now in a period where young artists see comics as a means of artistic expression which enables them, at the same time, to convey various messages on a social level.»