Thoughts From our London Meet-up – 3

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We’re posting thoughts from our London meet-up. Next up is John Swogger.

For me, our first Applied Comics Network meetup was a day marked by diversity. It very quickly became apparent – not just in the initial talks from the three of us, or in the round-the-room introductions, but through the comic-making, the five presentations, and continuing in the pub afterwards – that the term “Applied Comics” identifies a broad range of approaches, practices and end-uses. This struck me as both a source of potential strength and potential complication. As Lydia suggested at the pub – and I think we all agreed – the subject isn’t really in need of a manifesto as such, nor of strict definitions. Having said that, I think Ian’s first attempts at categorisation is something which is important – for me, I think, because this kind of grouping of approaches to narrative is not only useful as an analytical tool, but also as a teaching/workshopping one as well.

I was certainly very pleased to see such diversity reflected in the group who attended. It was great to see makers as well as users (educators, publishers, academics) there. I think this also reflects a source of both strength and complication for us. Strength in that we can use that diversity of interest to continue to “sell” the message of comics as a medium for communicating information, or as something with a specific intent; complication in that we will need to focus on ways of bringing makers and users closer together.

An aspect of this which came out in a number of different ways was the need to not just focus on applied comics as the outcome of approaches to “drawing” (or “image-creation” in its broadest sense), but as the outcome of approaches to “writing”. The need to make those who are interested in commissioning or using comics in an applied context realise that writing for comics – even informational or instructional comics – is different from writing for other media. To paraphrase one of Lydia’s examples, a writer cannot simply point to a PhD thesis and say: there’s the text, now make me a comic. Focusing on writing for informational comics might address one of the questions put to Selina Lock: how do you get comic artists to collaborate with academics when there’s very little money involved? Perhaps partly by involving the academic writer in learning how to write for comics effectively. I think Stephen Hodkinson’s experience is a very good example of the kind of “journey” that needs to be encouraged.

The Wikipedia comic activity addressed this brilliantly. It challenged the makers with its random-ness, but I also think it challenged the non-makers to see the process by which standard prose presentation of information becomes a comic. The activity raised some interesting specific points, for example the question of who narrates information, and why (the object of the information itself – Hannah Sackett: brilliant; a humorous interlocutor – Stephen Marchant; a predominantly visual, not textual narration – Corban Wilkin; James McKay), and what that does to an applied narrative, and how that affects the informational reading of the comic. The diversity of the group made the process of reflection on the activity really useful. Next event soon, please!

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John Swogger is an archaeological illustrator who creates archaeological comics for clients such as CADW, The Princes Regeneration Trust and the Museum of London. He has recently published an article in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice on the use of comics in archaeology – as a comic. More on archaeology and comics at his blog.

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