Author: Lydia Wysocki

I make comics, particularly comics with some sort of educational value. No, not illustrated lectures masking as comics. Good comics that help people understand things. 'Celebrity Homes' was made by me on my own; 'Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic' was made by me with 73 other contributors. I've presented at Comics Forum and Graphic Medicine; I also lead workshops about how comics can help communicate information. And I'm doing a part-time PhD about it.

The Ethical Dilemma – guest blog post by Anum Yoon


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Anum Yoon is a blogger and freelancer who primarily talks about money management. Her other passions include comics and photography.

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.

Read Anum’s full comic on her website: https://blog.cjponyparts.com/2016/01/ethical-dilemma-self-driving-cars-robotics/

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We’re getting ready for our session at Comics Forum conference in Leeds this Friday 13th November 2015.  Here’s a look back to our first event in May this year: thanks Selina Lock for permission to cross-post your blog post. Originally posted at http://gradschoolreadingroom.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/research-as-comics-applied-comics.html on Friday 15th May 2015.

Research as comics – Applied Comics Network

by Selina Lock

On Saturday 9th May I attended the first Applied Comics Network event to talk about the PhD sessions I offer on ‘Communicating your research as a comic strip’.


The event was looking at the use of comics for informational and educational purposes. Attendees included academics, PhD students, graphic facilitators and comic creators.
Applied Comics Network is run by Lydia Wysocki (Newcastle Science Comic, Applied Comics Etc), John Swogger (Archaeology in the Caribbean, Something Different About Dad), and Ian Horton (Coordinator for Contextual and Theoretical Studies, London College of Communication).

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:

Visual notes by academic and comic creator Paul Davies
  •  Sources of funding to pay comic creators
    • 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?”

Comics & healthcare education

Here’s a guest blog post from Sarah McNicol on her work using comics with patients and families: 

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I’m a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University and I’ve recently been working on a project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, looking into the possible use of educational comics among people with health conditions and their families. This was a small scoping project (which I’m hoping to develop further in the future), but it included interviews with patients and relatives of people with a range of physical and mental conditions.

The findings of my research suggest that comics can support understanding of factual health information through providing simple explanations free from jargon and through the effective use of images. However, they have an equal, or perhaps stronger, role to play in helping patients and their families to deal with the social and psychological issues associated with illness. Through the use of narrative, humour, images and characterisation, comics can offer reassurance, empathy and companionship. They can offer patients opportunities for greater self-awareness of their own attitudes and behaviour, as well as alternative viewpoints on their condition. Among family members, comics can lead to a better understanding of the issues their relative is facing and may prompt them to reflect on the ways in which they might best offer support. The open and accessible nature of comics means they may be an effective way to open up a dialogue, both within families and potentially between patients and healthcare professionals too.

However, the research also pointed out barriers to the wider use of comics for health education or information. One challenge is that the potential of comics to convey information about serious issues is not widely understood (especially among non-comics readers). Most of the interviewees initially associated comics with Marvel superheroes or the Beano. Knowledge of, and access to, health comics is another barrier. Even people who have been actively investigating their condition for a number of years were unaware of the availability of comics. Finally, the need for comics to present an overall positive message, while avoiding lapsing into clichés, was a theme in a number of interviews. My interviewees’ responses suggest that this can be a difficult balance to get right designing health education comics.

You can download copies of the full report at http://www.esri.mmu.ac.uk/resprojects/reports/report157.pdf or my contacting me at s.mcnicol@mmu.ac.uk

Invitation: Costumed Visions Network, 16th Sept 2015

The Costumed Visions Network is having its inaugural meeting on 16th September at the Manchester Meeting Place to discuss the treatment and ethics of enhancement, drawing on comics’ long trajectory of enhanced heroes, superheroes and villains.

The ambitious remit of the Costumed Visions Network is to not just critique the use of enhancement and costumery within comics. This is an opportunity for fans, scholars and creators to bring together the reading, writing and studying of comics with some very pressing real-world debates about medicine, warfare, crime and justice, cybernetics, nanotechnologies, etc.

For more information, contact David Lawrence (david.lawrence @ manchester.ac.uk or Shawn Harmon (shawn.harmon @ ed.ac.uk). The first Costumed Visions Network meeting will be on September 16 2015 at the Manchester Meeting Place. The event is free, but ticketed through Eventbrite https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/costumed-visions-of-enhanced-bodies-tickets-16885777816. There’s also more information about the meeting on the Mason Institute website.

Read more below from Shawn Harmon introducing some of the network’s conceptual frameworks…

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AppComNet at Comics Forum 2015: Comics & Politics

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Applied Comics Network is super-mega-very delighted to host a session at the Comics Forum 2015 conference as part of Thought Bubble.  Click the image above to go to the Comics Forum website and download it as a PDF.

Comics Forum’s theme this year is ‘comics and politics’ and they’re inviting a range of interpretations of this theme.  We at AppComNet are hosting a session on the politics of comics that communicate specific information, and the use of comics in education.  Again, this is a theme that welcomes many different points of view.

Comics Forum is a friendly academic conference.  Within this, our AppComNet session welcomes proposals from both comics creators and comics scholars – anyone who works with comics and graphic narrative.

We have some plans for the format of our AppComNet session at Comics Forum but this all depends on the proposals we receive. This could include the following (but no promises until we receive your proposals!):

  • a talking-and-slides presentation about comics you’ve created, or how you’ve used comics created by other people
  • mini workshops on activism and education through comics
  • a show’n’tell of comics you’ve created – do you make comics with specific political content?  Or is it the process of making your comics that says something about politics?
  • a comics-making challenge activity for Comics Forum participants
  • panel discussions on a theme
  • …or something completely different.

The closing date for proposals is 30th July 2015. Please email your proposal to comicsforum (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk

If you’d like a quick chat before putting in your proposal, twitter is the best way to get in touch: @appcomnet.  For queries about the conference as a whole please contact comicsforum (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk

Applied Comics Network meetup: Saturday 9th May 2015

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  • Do you make informational or educational comics?
  • Do you make graphic textbooks or teaching material?
  • Do you use comics in the classroom or for training?
  • Are you an illustrator, educator, or training specialist interested in developing innovative communication tools?

Then come to our Applied Comics Network meetup on Saturday 9th May at the London College of Communication, Room T304, Elephant and Castle, London from 12noon-4pm for four hours of networking, presentations, skill-sharing, workshops, and lively discussion all about making and using applied comics – bringing comics and information together. This is a free event but we’d like to know if you’re planning to attend.  RSVP via Twitter.com/@appcomnet Here’s the schedule of events – it’s an informal event, but always good to have a plan!

  • 12noon Networking noticeboard on arrival; name stickers (who you are and what you do)
  • Opening presentation: what this event/network is about and what ‘applied comics’ means – John, Lydia, Ian
  • Round the room: short introductions by any/all participants (maximum 3 minutes, option to bring one image as PDF saved on a USB stick)
  • Tea break AND make some comics
  • 10-15min presentations from invited speakers asked to speak about specific projects they’ve done:
  • Discussions in response to these presentations.
  • Open forum to talk about what people want from (and want to contribute to) Applied Comics Network
  • Closing remarks – John, Lydia, Ian
  • 4pm Go to a good pub

Applied Comics Network is run by Lydia Wysocki (Newcastle Science Comic, Applied Comics Etc), John Swogger (Archaeology in the Caribbean, Something Different About Dad), and Ian Horton (Coordinator for Contextual and Theoretical Studies, London College of Communication).  The network aims to bring together all those working with comics and information.