Publication Details

C. Sharp, '‘Fear’ and ‘hope’ in graphic fiction: the schismatic role of law in an Australian dystopian comic' (2017) 30 (3) International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 407-426.


The rise in popularity in recent times of dystopian fiction (particularly among young adults) is reflective of contemporary anxieties about law: the inhumanity of judicial-coercive machinery; the influence of corporate power; the lack of democratic imagination despite the desperate need for political reform; and the threat of order imposed through violence and victimisation. These dystopian texts often tell fear-inducing stories of law's failure to protect; or of law's unsuccessful struggle against unbridled power; or even sometimes of law's 'bastardised' reconstruction. Indeed comics, with their visual and narrative intricacies, thrive on dystopia as a key vehicle for contributing to collective notions of fear and trembling about the future. Yet, at the same time, these texts also contain within them the blueprints for hope-the idea that with transformation, heroic intervention, and/or faith in 'justice', the law will ultimately prevail. Law's ability to be transformed is thus simultaneously portrayed as society's downfall (when manipulated and disrupted), AND as the key to enlivening humanity (when redeemed and restored). This article attempts to understand this schismatic role of law as presented in the recent dystopian comic book series From Above by Australian creator Craig Bruyn. In this series set in futuristic Melbourne, where law has given way to an unaccountable corporate rule, the social divide is made manifest by the absence of 'order', 'law' and 'justice' in certain segments of society, and yet hope in law's return is ever-present. The paper will interrogate expectations of law and justice that is mediated through the complex interaction of fear and hope, and contextualise this within current contemporary anxieties.



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