Comics and Hidden Feelings: Petrichor and Alpha Flight Podcast

“There are two people in every mirror. The one you can see. And the other one, the one you don’t want to.”

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Cover of Petrichor, by Gareth Hopkins

I joined Gareth Hopkins, the creator of the abstract comic Petrichor, over on his podcast Alpha Pod Flight.

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Gareth’s show follows his obsession with the Canadian super heroes Alpha Flight, so we talked about their appearance in the current horror-themed series Immortal Hulk, and tried to draw some links between Marvel’s favourite big green repressed rage monster and Gareth’s new book, an idiosyncratic autobiographical comic about grief.

 

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Our talk took place at the Lakeside Gardens of the Barbican Centre in London, a strange place which feels like somewhere the ruling class would reside in a 1970s dystopia.

 

While we spoke, a woman walked to the edge of the artificial lake, dropped photographs into it, and then stood over them making a gesture like flowing water.

Then a bird attacked her.

Listen to our instalment of Alpha Pod Flight, in which we maintain our composure despite it all, here.

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.

Peace for the Immortal Sock Monkey

My friend Stevie made the sock monkey – a placid purple chap with chubby limbs and buttons for eyes. He seemed pretty satisfied with existence, but his deeper woes had gone unseen.

Two Student Occupational Therapists from Griffith University pose with their client, an immortal sock monkey

It turned out that the sock monkey was cursed to live forever, and as the centuries rolled by, he was succumbing to despair. Two students from the Occupational Therapy course at Australia’s Griffith University decided to help, using their professional skills to explore ways of reconciling him to a happier immortality.

Read more

Happy Holidays

Hard even to know what to say about a year like 2016. So much upset and upheaval in the world, but I’m still hopeful for the shape of things to come.

It’s been hectic, but productively so, for us here at the State Library of Queensland. I worked with teams on public projects like Human Library and the Scrub Turkey sessions, adding oral histories from TV chef Bernard King and Doctor Who‘s Janet Fielding to our digital collections, and encouraging digital experiments like the State Library’s remixable comic maker and Ozofarm game.

I also got to partner with a number of outside organisations, including healthcare agencies and allied health professionals across Queensland, from Metro South Health Board to the occupational therapy students of Griffith University. A long-held desire to explore the difficult field of ‘death literacy’ came to fruition with a panel discussion for Brisbane’s inaugural ‘Deathfest’ last month.

I also got to work with the Brisbane Writers Festival and various other events across Australia on devising alternatives to the usual conference formats of panels and presentations.

There was even time to interview some personal heroes like the Kransky Sisters, Matti Bunzl of the Vienna Museum, and the makers of Danger 5. This was part of exploring a different corner of Queensland life every week at Marvellous, Electrical, a project that will return in 2017.

Until then, have a good break.

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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.

Queensland Fun Palaces 1-2 October

The long-awaited Fun Palaces weekend has arrived.

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After months of planning and preparation, communities across Queensland are gearing up to celebrate the arts and sciences in all their forms, partnered with a range of libraries and other institutions.

From the islands of the Torres Strait to the cotton fields of the Darling Downs, plus every library in the city of Brisbane, and of course our own State Library on the city’s South Bank, the first weekend in October will see a swathe of venues open their doors for community-led events celebrating the Fun Palace motto “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist.”

We’ve come along way since Parkes Library hosted Australia’s first ever Fun Palace back in 2014.

I’ll be with the State Library team on Saturday, supporting events including our Scrub Turkey Sessions devised with urban ecologist Professor Darryl Jones of Griffith University.

Wherever you are in the world, check the Fun Palaces website for your nearest event, or join in online with the Comic Maker built for Fun Palaces by the State Library. (We’ve also put the code behind the site online, if you feel like a bit of digital tinkering).

Banned Books Week: Love Illustrated, Rona’s War, and Hansard 37

I’m working in a library at the moment, so here’s three quick stories for Banned Books Week, the US-led celebration of our freedom to read what we want.

Materials from Rona Joyner's STOP campaign - via State Library of Queensland
Materials from Rona Joyner’s STOP campaign – via State Library of Queensland

These all come from the research of the State Library of Queensland’s resident banned book specialist, Joan Bruce. Read more