Neill Cameron: Panels to Draw and Worlds to Build, Part 2

In this two-part interview, I’m joined by the British comics creator Neill Cameron, whose comics for children include Pirates of Pangea, Tamsin of the Deep, Mo-Bot High, How To Make Awesome Comics, and three volumes of Mega Robo Bros – as well as an ongoing daily webcomic for older readers, X365, which has been appearing throughout 2020.

In the first instalment, we talked about Neill’s acclaimed Mega Robo Bros, and how he went about building their future London. Now we turn our attention to his panel-a-day comic for 2020, X365.

This comic features “A cyborg detective in a dark futuristic city. A stressed-out freelancer coping with COVID-19, deadlines and a new baby. A lone swordswoman in a ruined, monster-filled world”, each living parallel lives, yet mysteriously connected. But the pandemic pulled the comic off course from Neill’s original intent.

Insofar as I had an idea for X365 before starting it, it came from the idea that 2020 had been a fictional year that loomed large in my childhood imaginary universe. I thought it would be fun to honour that, or mark the occasion, by making a story built on the contrasts between the 2020 we were not promised, but strongly led to believe would arrive in our childhood reading — and the one that arrived.

I was a 2000AD kid and also a fan of other things like Marvel UK’s output, Sleeze Brothers, and Death’s Head, and at least some of these comics were set in the year 2020. There was a general late-80s, early-90s cyberpunky future which permeated our consciousness through anime and comics, and yet 2020 didn’t seem that far away. You were thinking, are we really all going to have cyborg eyes by this point?

Given where we are, it felt like an opportunity to reflect on the future we’d been shown, and where we’ve ended up.

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Neill Cameron: Panels to Draw and Worlds to Build, Part 1

In this interview, I’m joined by the British comics creator Neill Cameron, whose books for young readers include Pirates of Pangea, Tamsin of the Deep, Mo-Bot High, How To Make Awesome Comics, and three volumes of the acclaimed Mega Robo Bros – as well as an ongoing daily webcomic for older readers, X365, which has been appearing throughout 2020.

We talked about creating convincing future and fantasy worlds, getting to know imagined places by drawing them, and the contrasts between the vision of 2020 we were promised as children – and the turbulent realities of the year as we’re experiencing it.

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Thinking Through Drawing 2020: Drawing Changes

I was pleased to join the Thinking Through Drawing (TTD) community for their 2020 symposium, Drawing Changes, last week, and present some work on visual methods for scenario planning.

The TTD community explore links between drawing and cognition, and it was great to bring their perspective to bear on the question of how we might usefully draw the future to inform our decisions in the present.

The session was well received – here are some comments from attendees:

I was surprised by my choices and solutions.”
“It’s like drawing [scenarios] aids the process of giving permission to do the decision you really want to give attention to…”
“And drawing give us the physical cues as we draw – tension, chills, etc. Important info.”
“And you can examine the “players” as fictional characters, allowing for new insights.”
“For me the diagram is a process functional tool, this is illuminating in thinking of it in relation to decision making not just areas of charting or organising existing knowledge.”
“I allowed myself to think ‘worst case scenario’ in every area. Made me realise I would carry on even in black dog days.”
“The visual metaphors in a Gantt chart force your thinking, whereas this coaxes.”
“It made me reflect on a decision I thought was made, but I am actually still wavering on.”
“The process got me to think bigger. What started as a creative project became wanting to change a bad situation. I think the creative project is still important but imagining what I want to change is crucial.”

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Workshop – Cones, Grids, and Timelines: A Visual Approach to Scenario Planning

As part of the online Thinking Through Drawing 2020 symposium, October 16-18 2020, I’ll be presenting a 45-minute workshop “Cones, Grids, and Timelines”, exploring how future scenarios can be devised and represented visually. You can see a short video outline of the session below.

If you’d like to join me, and a vibrant community of researchers, artists, visual communicators, and educators, find out more at the TTD website.

Draw Your Day: Reshaping Time During Lockdown

How are you spending your days under lockdown or restricted movement? Which parts of your routine have changed? What’s working for you and what’s not?

How do you perceive time – have days begun to run into one?

Are work and home life still easy to separate? Do you have to fit your job around childcare and homeschooling? Do you notice when the weekends arrive?

Draw Your Day is a short activity using a pen, paper, and some basic shapes to help you examine and rethink the ways you’re spending time during lockdown.

It’s based on a tried and tested activity from workshops I’ve run around the world, derived in turn from a task set for students by the comics scholar Nick Sousanis. It’s quick, and it’s fun.

Draw your day

If you’ve got something to make a mark with, and something to make a mark on, and you’re curious about your relationship to time during lockdown, you can watch the activity and take part on YouTube; the whole thing takes about half an hour.

Draw Your Day: Grids & Gestures

More and more, I’ve been using drawing as a way of bringing together workshop participants, capturing ideas, getting them out of people’s heads, and into the room. You don’t have to be the greatest artist in the world to make a useful or meaningful mark on the page, and those marks can sometimes reveal or provoke the most inspiring and unexpected thoughts.

Together, we’ve drawn “arrows of time” to capture challenges from the past and future; we’ve made simple collaborative comics to demonstrate how easy it can be to stitch people’s ideas together into a common narrative; and, most recently, we’ve experimented with comic book guru Nick Sousanis‘ activity, “Grids and Gestures“.

“Grids and Gestures” invites people to tell the story of their day by filling a sheet of paper with shapes which resemble the panels of a comic-book.

The shapes, arranged across the page, represent the sequence of events and experiences which someone faces over the course of their day. Each shape in the grid is then completed with a gestural line or shape to represent their physical or emotional activity during that portion of the day.

I was exploring ways to help staff in large, diverse, and disjointed organizations to connect with colleagues in other teams, who might be in other buildings or even other cities.

I asked participants to draw their day as a series of comic-book panels, and then to write one word in each panel. They then formed groups of three and shared their “comic book diary” of a day in their working lives.

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Some entries captured the way in which an orderly, well-intentioned to-do list gave way to impromptu conversations, sudden thoughts, and newly arising projects – with a need to ring-fence “sacred time” at one’s desk to ensure vital work got done.

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Another example emphasised the prevalence of email, punctuating the day, while project work had to be fit around other duties – and questions didn’t always connect straightforwardly with answers.

“Grids and Gestures” proved a useful, lively way for people to articulate the rhythm and content of their working day, and to explore the similarities and differences in experience across teams, divisions, and geographical locations of an organization. It isn’t about being the “best” artist, it’s about using pen and paper to express & share the experience of your working day.

If you’d like to try something similar with your colleagues:

  • Give everyone a piece of copy paper and a writing implement.
  • Ask them to break up the entire page into shapes, like the panels of a comic book. (Show examples if need be). Tell them the panels can be any shape or size. These panels should represent the things that you experience during your working day.
  • Invite participants to write one word in each panel.
  • Get them to share the story of their day with one or two other participants.

You can read more about Nick Sousanis’ original “Grids and Gestures” activity here.

El Eternauta: Library in the Sky

In 2007, the National Library of Argentina commemorated the renowned Argentine comics writer Héctor Gérman Oesterheld with a special exhibition of his work.

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The library brought Oesterheld’s most famous character, the time-travelling Eternauta, to life by commissioning a special chapter of the Eternauta comic featuring the library itself.

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Over at arts website the Cultural Gutter, you can read the story of how, while visiting Buenos Aires, I escaped into the Eternauta’s world…or he escaped into mine.

Losing control in digital space: Liberact 2016

Last month I spoke at the Liberact conference of digital interactive experiences.

My paper was ‘Play, Chance, and Comics: Losing Control In Digital Space’.

Annotated whiteboard at a Brisbane gym

We explored comics, creativity…and what digital designers could learn from the noticeboard at a gym.

You can see an annotated PDF download of my presentation here.

What are you playing at? Digital comics at the Writing Platform

Why would an Aussie library get its designers to build a drag and drop comics website?

Aren’t there already plenty of free comic makers online?

What are you even playing at?

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The Writing Platform, a joint venture by Bath Spa University in the UK and QUT in Australia, has my latest piece, on the new remixable comic maker from State Library of Queensland.

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Read more about the State Library’s Comic Maker at The Writing Platform.

Comic Makers at Brisbane Parking Day

Yesterday I took a team of staff from the State Library of Queensland to run a pop-up comic making stand in Brisbane’s West End.

Brisbane Parking Day - Comic Maker Stall

Drawing on previous experiences with comic book dice at Bermondsey Street Festival, we took over a car parking space to let Brisbane locals tell their own sidewalk stories using simple three-dimensional cartoons. Read more