Traveling Identities: Themes of Turkish National Identity Represented Through Travels of Abdulcanbaz

During the Sixth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference / Ninth International Bande Dessinée Society Conference that took place in Paris between 22 – 27 June 2015, I presented a paper titled Traveling Identities: Themes of Turkish National Identity Represented Through Travels of Abdulcanbaz.

Abdulcanbaz by Turhan Selcuk. Copyright © Biz A.Ş.

Abdulcanbaz by Turhan Selcuk. Copyright © Biz A.Ş.

Abdulcanbaz, written and drawn by Turhan Selçuk mainly between 1957 and 1987 is among the towering achievements of sequential art in Turkey. Over the course decades, Selçuk took his cadre of characters, led by the titular hero, the ultimate Ottoman gentleman, into a wide variety of adventures across space and time where the cunning, strong and honest Abdulcanbaz bested all his foes. His encounters resulted in entanglements with legendary historical and fictional figures, such as Sherlock Holmes and Al Capone and took him into the future, presenting one of the earliest examples of science fiction in Turkey.

With this paper, I attempted approaching this epochal work as a reflection of the internally ever-roaming nature of Turkish national identity. Still reeling from the cataclysmic transformations of the earlier decades and bracing for a turbulent future, 20th century Turkey could be defined by its struggle to self-identify. The voyages of Abdulcanbaz perfectly encapsulated this internal strife of the aspiring-modern Turk. Desperately yearning to be proud of its heritage meanwhile grasping for a future which clearly lay in the ‘other’.

Building on my previous work on the conflicting themes of Turkish national identity and my experience in studying comics, I presented a close reading of this significant work and discussed its potential insights.

My thanks to the organizers of the Voyages conference for inviting me and the wonderful audience of the panel for their kind attention and great feedback.