The Mining of History, Cognitive Disorder and Spiritualism in Olivia Plender’s A Stellar Key to the Summerland

in European Comic Art
Dan Smith University of the Arts London

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Olivia Plender’s single-volume comic A Stellar Key to the Summerland (2007) offers an account of the origins of the Spiritualist movement. This book is part of a practice that deploys historiographic methodologies. Plender explores social and esoteric beliefs from the past that disturb contemporary expectations. The illumination of alternative formations and beliefs in the past offers a redress to the apparent inevitability of the social and economic topographies of the present. The use of comics is read here as part of an ongoing practice of excavation. A Stellar Key to the Summerland uses the form of graphic narrative to create a reflexive history. The work contributes to a practice that overlays dream geographies onto perceptions and expectations of social reality, and is suggestive of the possibility of social change while engaging with notions of belief and religiosity.

Contributor Notes

Dr Dan Smith is a senior lecturer in fine art theory at Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London. He is the author of Traces of Modernity (2012). His current research interests include comics, utopia, science fiction, design history, outsider art, museology and material culture. Recent publications include ‘The Anorexic as Zombie Witness: Illness and Recovery in Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow’, in The Walking Med: Zombies and the Medical Image (2016) and ‘Reading Correspondences through the Virtual Feminist Museum’, (2015).

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