Justice Framed

My comic book and animation will explore ideas surrounding a corrupt and incompetent justice system. Follows a summary of the opening article from an issue of ‘Law Text Culture’ analysing the ways comics imagine and depict law. Full reference below.

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell #1. The red bleeding lettering represents the angry, bitter speech of the Joker, Batman’s enemy.
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell #1. The red bleeding lettering represents the angry, bitter speech of the Joker, Batman’s enemy.

In the digital age comics are everywhere, being published globally in many languages, ranging from mainstream American superheroes to small independent works, covering many genres.

Academic interest in comics has risen with articles being published around the core themes of;

  • the history and descendants of comics,
  • study of the signs, symbols and aesthetic properties of comics,
  • the cultural and social significance of comics, and
  • observation and evaluation of specific artists, works, stories and characters.

Why is an academic interest with a clear focus on law (along with the theory and philosophy of law) missing?

Two old-fashioned prejudices exist. Comics are scorned as childish, immature entertainment for illiterates. Law is reduced to the language of dispute resolution with its own logic and exempt from social influences.

Comics can increase understandings of law by being sources of stories about law, order and justice. They can be an alternative legal discussion, with complex interactions between various modes of thought possible. Comics are a place where legal meanings emerge and combine to form and shape law and are also relevant cultural sources of law’s authority and validity. Comics are common law in the sense of law emerging from and belonging to every member of the community (not in the sense of law being exclusive to lawyers and legal officers).

Comics – Culturally Damned

Comics have been persistently attacked by cultural aristocracies. They have been considered artistically insignificant and visually inferior with basic, childish story-telling abilities, and accused of corrupting youth. They are undermined by the understanding pictures have direct and uncomplicated meanings. This criticism ignores the interaction of various communication codes within comics. ‘Reading pictures’ requires sophistication as images convey multi-layered messages.

Comics combine words and images – with the tension between the two – a defining feature. Images in comics provide a context and subtext for the words, the words shape how we perceive and interpret the images. These combinations create an innovative communication not easily understood (or accomplished) through plain text.

An animated cartoon about the adventures of Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the circus, where they demonstrate their courage to each other by attempting to scare a woman. Based on George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat. Circa 1916.

Emerging with the printing press, comics required capitalism, the middle class and mass media to exist. The first comic strips were published in American newspapers satirising everyday life in urban environments. These comic strips represented the society they were published in and how it saw itself.

Comics (and any art) can reinforce or transform existing behaviours and ideas. From a common law point of view comics are important because;

  • comics are an aesthetic form questioning and undermining the authority of language in understanding our experiences and values, and
  • comics reproduce, reflect and resist the systems of ideas and ideals typical of advanced capitalism.
Common Law

Law is often imagined as a collection of specific forms, processes and institutions related to the political State. When law is explained without interaction with society and culture, the legal system collapses. Failure to provide a social and cultural anchor for law reduces its ability to achieve justice.

Comics celebrate and ‘make legal’ dominant values and institutions in societies. They criticise and challenge the authority of the status quo, and reflect and actively challenge the society in which they are produced.

With ordinary language, the ideas and ideals of social groups are evaluated and analysed within comics. They can play a role in debating the administration of law and the political issues of their times, reinforcing and challenging political, legal, social and cultural ideas and ideals.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis commits to equal rights for men and women. The minimal drawing style and black and white images convey a sober, lucid story about patriarchal political power and it’s effects.
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis commits to equal rights for men and women. The minimal drawing style and black and white images convey a sober, lucid story about patriarchal political power and it’s effects.

Ideas and ideals can become comfortable through daily routine. Comics have unique abilities to use symbols, signs, words and images to ask questions. This gives comics communication abilities capable of producing radical, enthusiastic and imaginative ideas about justice.

Reference; Justice Framed, Law in Comics and Graphic Novels. Written by L.G. Romero and I. Dahlman. Appearing in Law Text Culture, Volume 16, 2012.

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Shirley Burley

Artwork Craft Creative Writing Graphic Design Photography

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