Dr Paul Williams

Research interests

Comics and Graphic Novels

My current research examines the culture of the graphic novel in North America and the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s, leading to a monograph provisionally entitled The Novelisation of Comics. One or two texts are well known ( for example, Will Eisner’s 1978 A Contract with God), but this project will demonstrate that the characteristics ascribed to graphic novels (being published as a book, having pretensions to literariness and an adult readership, and length of narrative) were present in a wide variety of comic texts from the period. This project address two main questions: how and why was the concept of the ‘novel’ (seen in terms like ‘graphic novels’, ‘visual novels’ and ‘comic book novels’) being used to explain sequential art narratives? And how did multiple modes of publication, distribution and reception (underground comix, book trade, direct market and translated Franco-Belgian albums) produce an array of comics in book form?

This project builds on my previous research into comics, materiality and literariness, published in the volume The Rise of the American Comics Artist: Creators and Contexts (UP Mississippi, 2010). This is a collection of essays I co-edited with my colleague Dr. James Lyons.

 

Some of my other research interests include:

 

Radical Psychotherapies of the 1970s

 

Working with Brian Edgar, we have co-authored a series of articles analysing the cultural influences on, and legacy of, radical psychotherapies from the 1970s. We have primarily studied Primal Therapy and the musicians, dramatists, short story writers and novelists that it inspired. One of our key questions is the relationship between the unorthodox psychotherapies and radical politics: some therapeutic practitioners saw themselves doing revolutionary work that would contribute to the downfall of capitalism and bourgeois society. While the therapies are repeatedly associated with California we have shown how widely they travelled around the Atlantic, from the barricaded left-wing enclave of London’s Villa Road to the jungles of Colombia.

 

 

Laurie Lee and John Betjeman

 

I am interested in two mid-twentieth-century writers closely associated with the South West: Laurie Lee and John Betjeman. Where Betjeman is concerned, I argue that he used popular genres to foster a public debate about the forms of community that spatial identities and practices enable or prohibit: Betjeman should not be seen as a knee-jerk traditionalist, but as a figure engaging with some of modernity’s key questions.

 

Laurie Lee is a rarely studied figure, but his best-known book – Cider with Rosie (1959), a memoir of Lee’s youth in Gloucestershire – sold six million copies and was once a fixture on the syllabi of British schools. I want to shift attention to Lee’s poetry, drama and his multifaceted cultural activities (such as working for the GPO Film Unit during World War Two and Curator of Eccentricities at the Festival of Britain). Having consulted his diaries in the British Library, I see Laurie Lee as a writer whose encounters with people across the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus) was informed by his interest in Marxist theory and his hostility towards totalitarianism. Far from being an elegist for a vanishing England, Lee should be seen as a writer grappling with Britain’s changing relationship with the world in the 1930s and 1940s, the rise of nationalist dictators and the decline of the British Empire.

 

 

Constructions of Race, Ethnicity and National Identity in Literature, Film and Popular Culture

 

Running through my research is a concern with the cultural construction of race, ethnicity and national identity. My work asks: what role does literature, film and popular culture play in producing or fracturing those identity formations? During the early stages of my research this question was posed in relation to Cold War; I have also published on how Hollywood film and hip hop staged debates about the racial politics of the War on Terror. My last book outlined the key ideas of the critical theorist Paul Gilroy, demonstrating their contemporary relevance and how his theories have been challenged and appropriated by scholars working in the wake of his critical interventions.