There’s been so much hype about driverless cars, autonomous cars, self-driving cars (call it what you will) over the last year with quite a few articles discussing the ethical dilemmas that might arise from their mainstream presence. I couldn’t find any visual aids that portrayed these ethical scenarios in a fun and comprehensive manner, so I decided to create my own.
Check out this latest flyer from a well-known insurance provider that came through my letterbox. So applied comics have gone mainstream, have they?
I’d be curious to know exactly what it is Direct Line thinks they are tapping into by using comics like this. Inventiveness? Novelty? Yoof culture?
Could you do better? We’ll be doing another hands-on comic making event in Leeds tomorrow as part of the Comics Forum/Thought Bubble weekend. Come along to the Applied Comics Network workshop at the Comics Forum conference at Leeds Central Library and show us!
While on holiday this summer, I visited Rye Harbour Nature Reserve in East Sussex. As well as being an excellent location for spotting coastal birds and rare plants, the reserve is home to remnants of coastal defensive structures, including a Martello tower and WWII pill boxes. As I approached a pill box, I noticed a display board fixed to one side.
I expected the familiar heritage information: dates, details, plans, possibly a reconstruction drawing. Instead, I found a comic by artist Julian Hanshaw, created as part of his project Not Everyone Rises.
So far panels have been placed at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, Winchelsea Old Town and Hastings Country Park, with two more to follow.
Talking about his motivation behind the project, Hanshaw said:
“Having eagerly consumed my war comics as a child I was aware of the plans that the Third Reich had for this gently sloped stretch of coastline, but as I read more local history books small vignettes and facts began to draw me in further, craving more information.
These small moments in time full of pathos and intrigue suggested they would work wonderfully in the medium with which I work: comics.
I wanted to use the sequential art form in a way that broke the stories down into small ‘chapters’ on the page. Coloured differently they would be read in their ‘individual blocks’ and the blocks when read together would become the whole story.
I also wished the audience would, of course, ultimately enjoy the story but might have to work at them a little. A piece of work which stands up to repeated views.”
The panel at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve tells the story of an RAF bomber that crashed into the sea, just off the coast from where the pill box is located. A more traditional heritage notice board might have recorded and illustrated the incident, objectively informing visitors of a past event. Hanshaw’s storytelling, on the contrary, plunges us into the action – we are in the plane with the American airman who is about to meet his fate, and we are drawn into the tragic unfolding of his story. Through Hanshaw’s sophisticated use of words and images, the past ceases to be distant; the experiences of people who lived and died during the war are made tangible. In this way, comics and stories based on research and historical (and archaeological) evidence can connect us to the past in a way that a conventional heritage information board would find hard to achieve.Hanshaw’s comic would have made an impact on me if I’d read it in a book or newspaper, but reading it on location added an extra component, an additional power to the narrative. At the start of the project Hanshaw looked forward to the connection between comic and location: “it will be fascinating to… read the piece on the downed bomber pilot and with a tilt of the head be able to look out at the same ‘uncaring sea’ in which his body was gently lowered ‘in as Christian a manner as possible’.
Hanshaw’s “site specific comics” are an excellent innovation. I hope that his work inspires similar projects in other locations.
They started the event off (before & after the interruption of a fire alarm!) by looking at the different types of comics the network might cover. They had all come up with different categories but they included:
Instructional (instructions for using/doing things)
Informative (providing facts/information)
Educational (these might be factual or have a narrative to make them more interesting/engaging)
Reflective (for reflecting on your own practice/methods/research)
Opinion (putting forward your view/interpretation of a subject)
Next we all had a go at making a quick comic strip based on a random Wikipedia page – yes, even those of us who can only draw stick figures! Then in small groups we discussed what we’d created and any issues it raised.
Points raised from comic strip exercise:
Difficult to create a comic strip to the time limit – several of us wanted to do more research first, rather than stick to the basic information on the Wikipedia page.
I wanted to find primary sources/firsthand accounts of the incident I was focusing on to bring in a human viewpoint.
All the comic strips were different even if we’d picked the same bit of information to base the strip on.
Differences included bringing a modern socio-political outlook to some of the historical events, and deciding what was/wasn’t appropriate to depict (as some of the information was about a bombing).
One of the strengths of using words and images (comic strips, infographics, illustrated text) is that it gives you a wider choice when trying to convey information, context or meaning.
Then the invited speakers gave their presentations:
Lizzie Boyle (Cross political satire anthology, Disconnected Press) – Lizzie talked about trying to use a comic book prior to the election to engage people in politics. It worked best with those who already liked comics and were interested in politics, but some schools/organisations also used the book to try and engage with young voters.
Selina Lock (Research communication workshops using comics with postgrad students) – I talked about the workshop I do for PhD students and that the biggest barriers to using comic strips is lack of funding/artists and fear of disapproval from the academic world. Also that some workshop attendees found making a comic strip useful to identify the ‘story’ of their research and what they wanted to communicate, even if they didn’t use a comic as a final communication method.
Lydia Wysocki (Applied Comics Etc) – Lydia talked about several funded projects she is overseeing to use comics to engage with the wider public – including a comic about ‘Spineless Mini-Monsters’ to accompany a museum exhibit and comics to highlight the WW1 & Gertrude Bell archives at the University of Newcastle.
Ian Williams (The Bad Doctor,Graphic Medicine) – Ian is the co-founder of the Graphic website and conference, which grew out of his Masters dissertation looking at medical narratives in comics. He also talked about workshops he, and other Medical academics in the States, have done asking medical students to create comic strips to reflect on their medical practice and interactions with patients.
Steve Marchant and The Cartoon Museum – Steve talked about the wide-ranging experiences he’s had working with school children, teenagers and senior citizens to create comics. He either ran workshops so they could create comics themselves or created comics based on their experiences. The comics often dealt with issues such as bullying, teenage pregnancy, recycling etc.
Discussions points after the presentations included:
Suggestions included – from within existing grants if there is a wider impact focus, Arts Council (for art focused projects), Arts Council for Libraries fund, Public/Wider Engagement Funds (Specific funds within Universities, Research Funders, Lottery/Heritage Funds, Local Authorities).
The need to educate/provide workshops for academics/researchers on how best to communicate research using comics/graphics novels.
Information/workshops for comics creators on working with education, academia, businesses, and other organisations to produce comics.
That trying to create a comic strip can be very helpful even if the strip is not used – to reflect or examine ideas, to help focus on specific issues, to storyboard a process or to reflect on current practice or communication methods.
Several attendees recommended reading: Unflattened by Nick Sousanis – comic book based on Nick’s PhD thesis. “The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making?”
Interesting article from last week’s Guardian on the use of comics as part of an anti-harassment campaign on Egypt’s metro. I know there’s a fairly strong tradition of cartoons in the Arabic world as a form of political commentary – but informational comics? A couple of years ago, at Comics Forum, there was a really interesting paper about the use of informational comics by the Royal Omani Police, but I’m not aware of any similar examples.
The anti-harassment comic is the work of artist Ahmed Nady, and supported by the Imprint Movement. What’s notable about the comic is that it’s clearly being used as a way to “start the conversation”. Comics seem to be a medium of choice for introducing difficult, complex or unfamiliar subjects to a broad audience – whether it’s science, medicine or social and cultural issues. What exactly is it that comics can do that other media can’t?
Abdel Fattah al-Sharkawy, one of the co-founders of the Imprint Movement, suggests that it’s narrative that’s important. It’s making the link between the story in the comic and the everyday experiences of its readers. The artwork in a comic is important, but as far as informational comics is concerned, getting that narrative right – making that connection to the experiences of our readers – is what’s key.
In these anti-harassment comics, Ahmed Nady’s art is an example of how great comics can create narrative through lively and dynamic visuals. Informational comics can sometimes stray too close to being just “illustrated text”. These comics remind us that images are as important as words in creating that link between reader and information.
Of course! Comics can do all sorts of things – tell all sorts of stories. But there’s one kind of story that comics excell at: stories where the visuals are as important as the text. This applies to all sorts of comics – not least comics with an informational content. Comics where the explanation is as much about showing as telling always work best. Of course.
Well, what’s something that needs explaining as much through showing as through telling? Games, of course! And here’s a cute game comic: Scott Tingley’s The Chess Comic. Partly through anthropomorphised fables, partly through comic-based diagrammatic explanations, the comic presents the basic rules and concepts of chess. To quote Scott:
My goal with the comic is to take the information I have taught in the beginner and intermediate chess camps I have taught in the past and pass that on to my readers using the comic medium. In my experience, kids and adults new to chess often forget the little things that make up the fundamentals of the game, and I thought having a visual cue for these things might come in handy.
It’s uneven in places, and the artist is clearly self-taught – but the comic is charming and accessible nonetheless. I like the way that Scott has used comics to create a very specific type of informational visual: cues. This isn’t a comic to read in the chess class – it’s a comic to read between classes. It’s not a comic about how to play chess – it’s a comic about how to remember how to play chess.
Comics not necessarily as a “teaching” tool, per se, but as a “reinforcement” tool? Hmm; that’s an interesting idea. Could comics have a powerful role to play as specifically-designed support media for other forms of instruction or informational communication?
Unfortunately, Scott appears to have stopped updating The Chess Comic about a year ago – but there’s more of Scott also does educational comics reviews at: Comics in the Classroom.