Author: John S.

Archaeologist, illustrator and artist - one half of the Inside Out team with Diana.

Comics and Heritage Project

Project Manager for Oswestry Heritage Comics

Following a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Qube (Oswestry Community Arts) is seeking a Project Manager for its Oswestry Heritage Comics project. The project will produce weekly comic strips interpreting the rich heritage of Oswestry and the surrounding area and provide public comic heritage workshops.

Qube is looking for a professional working in the field of heritage, history and archaeology who can demonstrate:

  • experience in the field of graphic information
  • an excellent knowledge of Oswestry’s local history, archaeology and heritage
  • a body of work gained in the field of comics
  • an ability to work with a wide range of people and volunteers
  • proven track record in delivering workshops to all ages
  • client-based experience in working to tight deadlines, and to coordinating with publishers, printers and research partners
  • experience in original academic research

This is a freelance position and the project is for 1 year beginning in April 2017.

For full details of post or to submit your CV contact: Laurel Roberts, Oswestry Community Action. email: info[at]qube-oca.org.uk

Closing Date: 13 April 2017

Charity Number: 1063319. Inc Company. 3390138

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Can Your Insurance Do This?

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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!

Not Everyone Rises: Comics on Location

Guest blog post by Hannah Sackett

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.

Rye Nature Reserve Pill Box: Photograph by Julian Hanshaw
Rye Nature Reserve Pill Box: Photograph by Julian Hanshaw

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.

Not Everyone Rises by Julian Hanshaw
Not Everyone Rises by Julian Hanshaw

So far panels have been placed at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, Winchelsea Old Town and Hastings Country Park, with two more to follow.

Fire Hills, Hastings Country Park: Photograph by Julian Hanshaw
Fire Hills, Hastings Country Park: Photograph by Julian Hanshaw

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.

Comics and Harassment

473Interesting 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.

Comics? Check!

013-pawn_levers013-pawn_leversOf 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.

Blues Lives

snakesmComics and biography go particularly well together. There’s something about the narrative of a life-story that seems to “click” with the particular sequential approach of comics. The event-by-event sequential approach of a biographical photographic essay is fine – but the way in which comics layout can be manipulated to expand, contract, compress and emphasise particular elements or motifs can really add shape and form to a biography.

I’m not a blues fan per se, but I love the biographical comics of well-known (and not-so-well-known) blues musicians, drawn (and mostly written) by Gary Dumm [American Spendor, Students For A Democratic Society, etc. ] and featured on the Music Maker Relief Foundation site, and originally in the Music Maker’s Rag newsletter. Dumm’s panels demonstrate how informational comics can seamlessly skate between “infographic”, “illustrated-text”, “cartoon” and “comic”. Looking at a collection of individual biographies, an overarching sequence becomes apparent: a comic made up of comics.

The question: when is a comic not a comic? – which I think people studying informational comics and graphics often ask – seems here to be pretty much irrelevant. It’s the underlying understanding of a “comics approach” to not just the individual biographies, but to the overall project that seems important – not whether or not a specific work has a requisite number of panels, or features speech-bubbles, or whatever.

Lydia often describes “Applied Comics” as comics that have a job to do. How a creator gets that job done – how they manipulate the comics tradition, how they adapt, expand, contract, compress and emphasise particular techniques or elements of comics’ visual language is what adds true shape and form to a comic. As in Dumm’s blues biographies, successful elision infographic, illustrated-text and panel-by-panel sequence is what helps bring the informational content of applied comics alive.

Synergy

tiny_adventure_1Here’s an interesting example of a comic travelogue: Tiny Adventure Journal. It’s the work of artist Shing Yin Khor, a sculptor, an illustrator and a comics artist from Los Angeles. The comic is her artists’ journal, following her in her travels, between various residencies and commissions, across the US and Canada. Along the way she records her visits to weird and wonderful museums, botanic gardens, comics conventions and colleges.

Shing Yin Khor makes a lot of imaginative comics – but it’s interesting to find someone who uses the comics form not just as a great creative medium, but as an effective documentary one as well. Read Tiny Adventure Journal and The Center for Otherworld Science and you’ll find a nice sense of synergy between the fiction-storytelling and the record-keeping, informational side of the craft.

I think we all already know that good storytelling is good storytelling, and it doesn’t matter if you’re writing about aliens, flying whales and other dimensions – or insects, fossils and ancient Rome. Comics is a fluid practice, and creators can jump happily between genres: from fiction to fact, creative to applied, science to science-fiction. What would Tiny Adventure Journal be like without The Center for Otherworld Science in its DNA?