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.

Comics & healthcare education

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


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 or my contacting me at

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.


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?

Patricia Cornflake: comics and feminist art theory

cartoon1Guest post by Suzanne van Rossenberg

My very first cartoon made in 2007 (image above; click for larger version) has become emblematic of the research I started last year. Back then Patricia Cornflake’s Lesbian Lifestyle was a response to my jobless situation in the arts, in which I had been trained, and my growing interest in LGBTI activism and advocacy. After ten years of working in the arts and activism in the Netherlands, I obtained a scholarship to research the relationships between the two and moved to London.

In my fifteen-year practice of writing, drawing and painting and project management, making comics was a marginal, incidental activity with mainly my friends as an audience. You can see a selection of them here. Some of them have been published in an online queer journal and showcased in art exhibitions.

Recently, cartoons have become more important in my work. I’ve included them in presentations about my research at academic conferences and used the format to review and critique feminist literature. Five cartoons will be published in a forthcoming book about feminist art (theory). Because the context of my comics is so specific, I understand not everybody will find them funny. Often they are not meant to be (only) funny.

It was only a few weeks ago that I found out about the Applied Comics Network through my brother (an archaeologist who also uses academia as a platform for his creativity), when I told him I was working on transforming one of my short stories into a graphic novel. The concentration of drawing relaxes me after hours of reading and writing. There is also another link between comics and my research: fiction can be an invaluable tool for addressing sexism and racism in the arts, academia and other norm-setting areas.

Therefore, I hope to learn more about applied comics and comics scholarship in the near future. Through the Applied Comics Network I hope to get in touch with more artists I can relate to and learn from. I am sorry to have missed the meet-up in May, but I’m definitely attending the Leeds conference. Please get in touch via Twitter @PCornflake or email: SV384[at] Would love to hear from you!

Team Bean

beans_1More Canadian political comics – this time in the form of a satirical take on the upcoming election. Beans sets the Canadian federal election campaign in a posh school, where all the politicians are students competing in the upcoming Student Council elections. There’s a kickstarter to help fund the project, but if you’re in Canada and want to help Beans out on the street, then there are ways you can do that, too. It’s political comics inspiring political activism.

They’re only a few strips into their projected 31-strip run, so it’s hard to see exactly where Team Bean are headed – or who they’re audience is. Do political comics need to be aimed at a local audience in order to work? Or can you make comic-based political commentary (even about specific, local issues) accessible to a broad, non-local audience? If so, how?

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 @ or Shawn Harmon (shawn.harmon @ 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 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…