Outside the huge and lovely Eden Court Theatre, cosplay folk stood in the blazing sunshine. Fascinated children had their pictures taken with them. It was the family-friendly vibe we noticed first about Hi-Ex, with parents and offspring mingling with comics fans of all ages. There were workshops and panels, and a hall full of comics and merchandise. We spent most of our time manning a table, but we managed to escape for a couple of talks.
Hosted by Jim Alexander, the Celtic Comics discussion brought together Irish and Scottish artists to discuss Celtic history and languages, with the panel all feeling it was important to keep Gaelic heritage alive. Paddy Brown felt that any culture has its own imagination and its own unique way of telling stories, and that it’s important to “keep your own weirdness alive”.
Keeping these stories alive, of course, means continuing to tell them using different media; not preserving them like museum artefacts. “Preserving might be the wrong way to think about it,” said Brown. “If something's preserved it's dead; we need to keep stories alive.”
Telling cultural stories in the language of that culture can be an important part of keeping that culture alive, but the panel agreed we can equally tell modern stories in Celtic languages. “It depends on the quality of the writing and the quality of the art,” said Colin MacNeil. “It doesn't matter what language it's in.”
Leslie McKenzie, from West Highland Animation, said that creating comics in different languages is a perfect way to introduce readers to those languages.
At the Comics and Education panel, hosted by Dr Chris Murray of Dundee University, there was a lot of discussion about myth of comics being ‘low-brow’ or inferior to ‘proper literature. Murray argued, though, that a comic of Shakespeare is closer to the intended experience than reading the text in class; it’s much closer to a theatrical performance.
A teacher in the audience felt that some of the prejudice is around the word ‘comics’, but Murray says he’s keen to resist the move away from the term. The word comics, he told us, comes from the Greek ‘comos’; from the same place as community, and that’s what the comics medium is all about: “Showing people interesting, innovative comics is how you win the argument, not through terminology”.
The potential of comics, graphic stories, sequential art – whatever you want to call it – to inspire and educate people of all ages is vast, but it’s not about what you call it or how you package it – it’s about how good it is. With well-written stories, and beautifully-produced art, people can be educated about language or culture, or just entertained – as one Comics in Education panellist noted, “the best education is when you don't know you're being educated”.
Back at the Graphic Scotland table, we noticed a family approach the table next to ours, the Dundee MLitt course for comics. A young boy and girl were ushered forward by their father to speak to Murray about the course. It warmed the cockles of our hearts to see the next generation already showing an interest in learning how to make comics.
With conventions as warm and friendly as Hi-Ex, the future for this medium is very bright indeed.
Already pining for another comics convention? You're in luck - tickets are now on sale for the Glasgow Comic Con at the end of June.
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