Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


IAS Laughter: Comic Books and Laughter - History, Politics, and Aesthetics

25 April 2019, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

funny pages

We are delighted to welcome Nina Mickwitz (University of the Arts London), Nicola Streeten (www.streetenillustration.com), and Roger Sabin (University of the Arts London). Chaired by Dominic Davies (City University of London).

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Andrew Dean


IAS Forum
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL
United Kingdom

Though today we use the term ‘comics’ to refer to a wide range of cartoons, graphic narratives and sequential art that are by no means necessarily humorous, the word still betrays the long historical connections between comedy and laughter, on the one hand, and this most versatile and enduring of forms, on the other.

This panel offers three short position papers on the relationship between comedy and the comics form from three different perspectives. Comics scholar Roger Sabin will begin by offering a brief history of the relationship between early British comics and the wider comedy environment at the turn of the twentieth century, exploring the overlaps between the comic and the music hall and tracing the cultural landscape that shaped the very definition of the word ‘comic’.

Comics artist and scholar Nicola Streeten will then reflect on the critically overlooked uses of humorous comics by feminist activists throughout the twentieth century, from the suffrage movement to the present day, exploring the role that laughter has played in supporting and disseminating the messages of feminism.

Finally, comics scholar Nina Mickwitz will help us get to grips with the way in which comics and cartoons create humour through their visual and multi-modal properties. She will outline some of the different critical approaches that might be used to make sense of the formal components of comics, focusing on the comics strip Nancy, originally drawn by Ernie Bushmiller (1905-82) and more recently revived under the pseudonym Olivia Jaimes, to consider the multimodal delivery of humour, rhythm and visual gags.


Nina Mickwitz is Lecturer in Contextual Studies at London College of Communication (University of the Arts London) and the author of Documentary Comics: graphic truth-telling in a skeptical age (Palgrave Macmillan 2015). Beyond non-fiction comics and other contested borderlands of fact and fiction, current research interests include the formation of social identities and transnational networks of comics work.

Dr Nicola Streeten is a speaker, writer and drawer of comics. The turning point in her life was in 1995 with the death of her child. She turned to drawing and the cartoon style she developed led to a career in illustration. Her graphic memoir Billy, Me & You (Myriad Editions, 2011) is about her process of bereavement. Nicola co-founded and directs the international forum Laydeez do Comics in 2009, launching the first women’s prize for graphic novels in 2018. Nicola’s immersion in comics reinforced her world view that gender equality and social acceptance of difference would improve the world. She completed a PhD on feminist cartoons and comics in Britain which informed her co-editing of The Inking Woman (Myriad Editions, 2018) the first documented history of women’s cartooning in Britain. The Laydeez Do Comics Weekend Festival takes place on 30 and 31 March 2019 with announcement of this year’s award winner on the 31 March. All welcome! Details on the website. (Connect with Streeten at Insta: nicolast.reeten and Twitter: NicolaStreeten)

Roger Sabin is Professor of Popular Culture at the University of the Arts London. He has written several books about comics (as in 'comic books') and is co-editor of the booklist Palgrave Studies in Comedy.

Dominic Davies is a Lecturer in English at City University of London. He holds a DPhil and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of Oxford, where he also established and convened the 'Oxford Comics Network' from 2016-2018. He is the author of Imperial Infrastructure and Spatial Resistance in Colonial Literature, 1880-1930 (Peter Lang, 2017) and Urban Comics: Infrastructure & the Global City in Contemporary Graphic Narratives (Routledge, 2019). He is currently co-editing an essay collection entitled Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories & Graphic Reportage (Palgrave, forthcoming 2019).

All welcome. Please note that there may be photography and/or audio recording at some events and that admission is on a first come first served basis. Please follow this FAQ link for more information.