"Soviet Daughter" - Graphic narrative as a legitimate medium of expression
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On the occasion of International Women's Day (8 March) we want to take a historical look at the role of women in Eastern Europe/Russia. What was the image of women at that time, how was this reflected in popular media such as comics?
Throughout the history of the USSR no comics culture of the sort familiar to Americans, Western Europeans or the Japanese had purchase. In East Germany the situation was somewhat different. Comics had an educational mission to fulfil here. After a brief look at these comics and their image of women, we will turn to a current graphic novel from the Soviet Jewish-American author Julia Alekseyeva. Even if her book is part of American publishing and still not of the Russian publishing sphere, it can be seen as part of Russian comics as a transnational phenomenon.
Russian comics first broke vital new ground under Boris Yeltsin. With the emergence of comics for an explicitly non-child audience, both comics and readership have changed. Since the rise of Putin, the industry is characterized by its abundance of subjects, genres, and formats. Major comics festivals were held and Western publications had a breakthrough. Since 2010 we find a lively fan scene, comics shops, comics centers and comics clubs attached to libraries with interest in mainstream as well as alternative comics.
A sustainable comics industry has developed in Russia. Russia’s political climate might complicate an alternative comics publisher’s business model, especially for controversial content, some of which has achieved success in comics industries abroad.
The graphic novel Soviet Daughter (2017) unites two generations of strong, independent women against a sweeping backdrop of the history of the USSR and combines compelling stories of women finding their way in the world with an examination of the ties we all have with our families, ethnicities, and the still-fresh traumas of the 20th century (from the book promotion).
Julia Alekseyeva, born in the former USSR and raised in Chicago with a PhD from Harvard, is a comic artist and scholar of media and film (University of Pennsylvania). She talks about her graphic novel Soviet Daughter. A Graphic Revolution (Microcosm Publishing 2017), and what the process of creating it revealed to her about her great-grandmother's life in the USSR.
Michael F. Scholz, professor of Modern History at IRES, Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Uppsala University - Campus Gotland, has for many years conducted research on comics as historical sources and as means of propaganda. He presents ideas about the image of women in East German comics and gives a brief insight into the development of Russian comics over the last three decades.