Comics in Armenia
When I was thinking about how to introduce the Armenian comics scene, the first problem was how to classify it. If we assume that the criterion is a phenomenon of creation of comics by local artists, then it started after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the early 90s the first comics were made and some of them were published.
If the criterion is the formation of a comics community, then the history splits into two periods: the pre-historical, when some individuals were sporadically working on comics, and the modern which started in 2008, when the French comics enthusiasts formed the Association pour la Promotion de la BD en Arménie, APBDA – an organization whose objective was to develop the genre in Armenia. Since then they have organized annual festivals and master classes in Yerevan taught by French comic artists. They encouraged Armenian comics artists to visit the Angoulême Comics Festival and benefit from getting acquainted with the international community (Tigran Mangasaryan, one of the artists and the author of the graphic novel Silence about the genocide received critical acclaim and currently works in Angoulême). During the last festival the APBDA organized an exhibition of the Armenian authors’ works.
If the criterion is the existence of the market for comics – it hasn’t existed up until now. Some periodicals published 1-2 comics per issue; even these magazines have a short lifespan. No magazines published any adult comics. Those very few comic books published during the last 20 years were isolated projects without any significant market success.
The most convincing explanation of the reasons for the current state of the scene is given by the on-line art review arteria.am :
There is no tradition of comics in Armenia, there is no Armenian school of comics, and if someone is busy with comics he/she is doing that as an amateur, from time to time. The perception of comics in Armenia is of something childish and American and this is the impression left over from the Soviet years. In Soviet times, comics were considered as a tool for the stupefaction of the youth, although we can’t say that comics didn’t exist at all. The Soviet Union was publishing comic strips: for example the Nauka I Zhizn magazine was publishing Pif, Detective Ludwig and other heroes, re-printing them from the newspaper of French communists L’Humanité. Summarizing, we can say that in Armenia comics play not even a secondary, but a tertiary role. Comics is a not serious occupation, too primitive to be valued by art criteria, and this stereotype is often true.*
This paragraph smoothly directs to the inventory of what we have. There are artists with the capacity to make comics, but due to the lack of a market and limited opportunities they create and publish comics only occasionally.
There is the organization APBDA and the affiliated Three Fishes, a non formal group that are involved in development of comics. Their activities are tied to the Armenian Government, involving very harsh censorship by the latter, which stems from totalitarian times, hence devaluating the APBDA’s efforts.
There is an Actual Art NGO’s arteria.am with a web page arteria.am/hy/badabada devoted to comics and related art which are interested in socially-oriented comics and provide a platform for new ideas and approaches. In 2011, in the frames of visual art competition devoted to the problems of earthquake zones, comics artists from Denmark were invited to hold master classes in two cities. Still, they’re facing the problem of involving authors and the lack of recognition of comics by a larger audience.
There are a couple of magazines which have comic strips for children in their content, but there is not a single adult comics periodical.
I realized that these notes have become too serious, and boring as if prepared for the Scientific American magazine. But in spite of the issues raised, there is a lot of fun in our life that is related to comics. We enjoy drawing a 30 meter-long jumbo strip together, or learning that Tigran Mangasaryan signed a contract to work in Angoulême, or seeing that a new issue of LOLO children’s’ youth magazine has been published.
We view the comics related problems and threats as challenges and incentives for further development. And the opportunity for international collaboration and joint activities is another joyful part of the world of comics. (Levon Gyulkhasyan, 2012)
*Jaloyan Vardan.Visual Art Genres As Activist Research and As Art Experience. arteria.am Dec 25, 2011