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

Marvellous, Electrical: Hesam Fetrati

This week’s Marvellous, Electrical interviewee is Hesam Fetrati, an Iranian satirist based in Brisbane.

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Thinking the future through toys

Evil begins when we begin to treat people as things.

– Terry Pratchett

I bought a toy at the weekend. It was a cheap little thing, an impulse buy in the supermarket queue. Although I’m a very geeky man, I don’t normally buy toys. I’m not a keep-it-mint-in-the-box sort of person; nor am I interested in filling my house with pop-culture statuettes.

Windblade toy on the planning wall at State Library of Queensland

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A Speaky Week

On Tuesday, I’ll be over at the University of Southern Queensland, giving talks and workshops to staff and students across faculties. You can follow them online via this livestreaming link – the fun kicks off at 11am Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Then on Thursday I’m joining the Broadband for the Bush Conference on rural and regional access to digital technology and communications, running a presenterless workshop session on planning for the future. I’ll be drawing on science fiction, Afrofuturism, and comics alongside debates around copyright, government policy, and the presentation of financial data.

You can follow via the hashtag #BushBroadband on social media. I feel like non-Aussies are going to think that’s something far more salacious than it actually is…

Where Do You Find Yourself? Space, Play, and Duty in the Australian Digital Library

Are there still cultural backwaters in the digital age? Three months in to my year-long residency at the State Library of Queensland, I’ve written about Australian libraries, regional engagement, and digital literature for The Writing Platform.

I’m very interested in the vogue for locative literature, where texts are linked to physical spaces through digital or conventional media. But there are questions still to be asked: not just whether we add a virtual layer of story and literature to physical spaces, but who gets to create the content in that virtual layer.

Forest comic for Fun Palace

If writers are having a creative and critical conversation about the world, and in the locative age we are venturing outside of traditional venues, we still need to ask: who are “we” having those conversations with? And how could a simple online comic maker start expanding that circle of storytelling, literary production, and critical discussion?

You can read the full article, ‘Where Do You Find Yourself? Space, Play, and Duty in the Australian Digital Library’, at The Writing Platform.

Dulwich Picture Gallery – 3D biographical comics

You can now see video from last month’s event “Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime” at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

Inspired by the work of M.C. Escher, the event saw teens exploring comics and biography through thirty boxes containing text and images from the life of a mysterious woman.

Teens discuss biographical comics at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Over the course of a two-hour session, participants transformed the thirty boxes into individual artworks which together formed a biographical installation: a three-dimensional comic book which used perspective and storytelling to respond to the facts and feelings of a stranger’s life.

Read more about Escher, Dulwich, and Your Mind Is The Scene Of The Crime here.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, “Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime”

Today I’m running an event for Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Off The Wall series of teen workshops. Dulwich is the oldest purpose-built public art gallery in the world and this year I’ve been working with them on outreach events which address 21st century challenges in making art with communities.

M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere
M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere

Today’s event, Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime, is linked to Dulwich’s current exhibition of M.C. Escher’s work, which was put together by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Escher is currently undergoing something of a reevaluation, as Darran Anderson captures in his review of the exhibition.  The artist, once seen as a creator of mere visual tricks, more suited to student-dorm posters and video game designs than critical interrogation, might now be recognised as influential and intriguing in ways we’d previously overlooked. This process of recognising the artist and his works afresh has parallels to the work of detectives re-opening a cold case; returning to the accumulated files, seeking new evidence, and trying to see it all from a fresh perspective.

Solving crimes is never really about arriving at a final truth; it’s about making a story which more closely and convincingly tends to the evidence at hand. This process also applies to the business of art history, and the activities which ran at Dulwich today.

Critical examination of Escher’s biography plays a part in our reopened investigation. Divorced from context, sold as a poster, used as the background of an old video game, an Escher landscape can look impersonal, technical, heartless. Nowadays, however, we recognise the ways in which Escher’s mindscapes are grounded in personal experience and observation. His youthful travels in Italy seem to have informed works like Belvedere; Escher’s visit to the Alhambra in Spain shaped his later explorations of pattern and tessellation. Micky Piller, curator of the Escher Museum in the Hague, recently discovered that many architectural elements from the artist’s “impossible worlds” can be found in the stairwells of Escher’s old high school.

For young people creating art, Escher offers a range of possible paths to explore. His Italian and Arabic influences demonstrate the way that leaving home for travel and adventure can provoke and inspire deeper reflection. At the same time, the fact that Escher returned to, and spent most of his life in, the Dutch town of Baarn reminds us that wonder can be generated in even the most ordinary of settings. In an age when we are increasingly preoccupied with the need for technological skills and scientific thinking, Escher reminds us that mathematics, science, and technology are always grounded in feeling, in human possibility, in a sense of wonder. As Anderson puts it:

The view of mathematics and science as purely and coldly intellectual exercises is exposed as inaccurate in Escher’s work; they are at work everywhere in nature; indeed, they are how we interpret the cosmos.

Countless books, movies, and shows from Harry Potter to Labyrinth and Doctor Who (which named an episode after Escher’s Castrovalva) have helped us to explore Escher’s cosmos by placing characters within their impossible architecture, lending life and motion to his precise, troubling geometries.

The figure of Escher, “modest yet colossal”, challenges our ongoing attempts to pigeonhole creative work. He is at once popular and ubiquitous to the point of banality, yet also marginal, his work set aside by the art-critical establishment. If his work has been dismissed on occasion as a “juvenile curiosity”, perhaps we should think on the current debate in which literary critics disparage YA literature, written for adolescents. Juvenilia has never been a weaker term of critical disparagement, in an era when young people are finally being accorded some of the power and voice to which they are entitled, and in which so many of us still feel the tensions and complications associated with adolescence. If Escher prints like Other World and Relativity are haunted by the traces of the artist’s high school experience, maybe he is the secret YA artist we never knew we had.

The contradictions abound. For the viewer, Escher made visual puzzles for which there was no solution; for artmakers, he found solutions to challenges in perspective which had no real-life equivalent. His work is “cold” and technical, yet steeped in personal experience and memory: the villages of Italy, the school of his youth, the tiles of the Alhambra where he imagined “a place of serenity where the universal laws of physics were everywhere and yet somehow might not apply.”

In Your Mind Is The Scene of the Crime, visitors explore this blend of the personal and perspectival when they are given visual and textual clues from the life of a mysterious woman. These photographs and snippets of prose will form the basis for a collaborative 3D visual artwork, creatively reconstructing a life story from limited cues.

In solving the mystery of a stranger’s life, and the challenge of juxtaposing images in three dimensional space, our Dulwich detectives will discover that solutions are only ever provisional; that the neatest account of the cosmos may defy the laws of nature; and that your mind is always the scene of the crime.

Comics, everywhere (where to find me for the next two weeks)

Just a quick update to tell you I’ll be speaking at two events this month.

This Sunday, 8th November, I’ll be presenting at the Thinking Through Drawing symposium in London, making 3D biographical comics with attendees in a session on “Play, Chance, and Comics”.

Then, on 12th November, I’ll be speaking at a day training course for London’s Youth Libraries Group, looking at frame-breaking ways to expand and challenge existing library services – from community festivals and librarians embedded in comics book stores through to digital comic making and the inevitable zombie battles.

You can read more about the Fun Palaces Comic Maker over at The Comics Grid:

Fun Palaces Comic Maker at Electricomics

I’m presenting today at the University of Hertfordshire’s Electricomics Symposium, “The Comic Electric.”

I’ll be talking about digital comics projects including the Fun Palaces Comic Maker and a new version of Comic Book Dice from Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, plus my game for The Lifted Brow, “A Tear in Flatland“.

You can read an interview about the philosophy & design of the Comic Maker here (PDF download).

You can read an annotated PDF based on my slides for the conference presentation here.

An example of a Fun Palaces comic

Fun Palaces Comic Maker goes to Electricomics – Wednesday 14 October

The Fun Palaces Comic Maker is up and running over at comic.funpalaces.co.uk – you can see what people have made so far at funpalaces.tumblr.com/archive.

Ernesto Priego interviewed me about the project for the Comics Grid, and there was a great write-up from Kevin Hodgson over at his blog Dogtrax.

The Comic Maker is inspired by the Comic Book Dice activity I originally created for Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD). The team at MCAD have created their own digital riff off Comic Book Dice which will be released soon.

I’ll be talking about both projects, plus my choose-your-own comics review A Tear in Flatland, at the Electricomics Symposium hosted by the University of Hertfordshire next Wednesday.