Category: Meet-up

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?”
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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.

Thoughts from our London Meet-up – 2

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We’re continuing to gather thoughts from our meet-up in London. Next is Ian Horton:

The day started with our introduction to the topic of Applied Comics as organisers of the event. We had not conferred in advance and on these introductions an there were many similarities but also some key differences in emphasis. John started with an overview of the different combinations of sequential narrative, illustration and text in his own practice highlighting the relationship to traditional illustration and information design practices. Lydia told us that comics are awesume focused on the activity of making and process with a focus on participation as a key aspect of the field in terms of her own practice. She also noted the role of individual voices in the conveying of information. I tried to categorize some of the different sub-genres such as instructional, public relations and political/journalistic providing examples of each area.

This was followed by introductions by the attendees which show the great range of expertise in the room including undergraduate and postgraduate students, educators, facilitators, artists and writers all working in the field. There was then an applied comic making activity where the group selected a random Wikipedia entry (for Drake Ward in Plymouth) and individually made an info-comic based on the information. We then discussed the process and results in small groups and this raised many issues such as authorship and identity; audience engagement, the problem of selective histories, image versus text led solutions etc. etc.

We then had a series of talks by invited practitioners. Lizzie Boyle showed us her work with Disconnected Press and the newly released Cross about current political debates. Selina Lock gave an account of the role of applied comics in the PhD process both as research tool and form of presentation. Lydia presented her work with Applied Comics etc., the use of workshops and the importance of audience engagement. In these talks we learnt much about the forces driving the creators of these applied comics, whatever form they take or subject they tackle, and the discussions that followed allowed us to examine issues such as funding, self-publishing and the payment (hopefully) of artists for commissioned work. Ian William presented his latest work in the field of Graphic Medicine which included a more reflective section on the value of this work for the practitioners themselves and ideas of therapy. Steve Marchant from the Cartoon Museum showed us a wide range of projects he has worked on, mainly with children, and emphasised the role of humour within applied comics.

Overall many new connections were made and old ones reaffirmed. There is clearly scope for a network of this sort to share good practice, enable collaboration and to stimulate debate on the key themes emerging in this area. Future events are a priority as it the production of a newsletter to promote the network.

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Dr. Ian Horton is Coordinator for Contextual and Theoretical Studies at London College of Communication. His research interests include text-based public art, information design, and – of course – comics. He regularly presents at conferences on the history of British comics and British informational comics.