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.

Grids1

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.

Grids2.jpg

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.

Holes in maps look through to nowhere: Games as criticism

Australian arts journal The Lifted Brow has just published my review of Nick Sousanis’ doctoral-thesis-as-comic-book, Unflattening.

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

The review is a little different – it’s an online choose your own adventure, which sees the reader trapped in a mysterious library, trying to locate Nick’s book and escape in one piece.

I built the adventure using Twine, the same piece of free software which we used at Auckland Libraries to create our online zombie game City of Souls.

The game marks the culmination of a long period I’ve spent exploring what it means to write criticism of other people’s work.

In recent months, I’ve reviewed comics for academic journal The Comics Grid and New York art paper Brooklyn Rail; I’ve written about Hasbro’s Transformers for The Cultural Gutter, a Canadian site devoted to “disreputable art in all its forms”, and I’ve explored the world of fan criticism together with James David Patrick from The James Bond Social Media Project. 

The Lifted Brow piece is something special to me, though. It comes from being persuaded of Nick Sousanis’ case, in Unflattening, that the traditional priority of words over illustrations is wrong: words and images cannot be explored separately from one another.

Reading the book, it becomes difficult to feel satisfied with comics criticism that deals in words alone. Alternatives like Terry Elliot’s experiments with digital annotation of Unflattening look increasingly appealing; therefore I decided to create my response to Unflattening in the form of a game: a set of sequential incidents which the reader can navigate at will – rather like the panels of a comic book.

See my review of Unflattening over at the Lifted Brow website.

Write and Draw Your Own Comics

Usborne Write and Draw Your Own Comics by Louie Stowell

Earlier this year, I was a consultant on Write and Draw Your Own Comics, a book created by the talented Louie Stowell, plus a range of brilliant artists, for the children’s publisher Usborne. I’m very pleased to announce that Write and Draw Your Own Comics is now available for purchase. In the UK, you can pick up a copy from Amazon or other outlets; in Australia and New Zealand try Booktopia, Dymocks, and Paperplus.

Tracy Dawson of Parkes High School Library has already linked Write and Draw Your Own Comics to the Aussie curriculum, too – click the link in the tweet below to find out more.

https://twitter.com/ParkeshsLibrary/status/522541449439494145

Neill Cameron’s How To Make Awesome Comics goes together with Louie’s book, to quote Grease, “like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong”. You can get it from Neill’s own site and the Book Depository might be your best bet for international orders. You can also get a taste of Neill’s approach to visual literacy via the worksheets which he kindly shared on this very site.

How To Make Awesome Comics by Neill Cameron

Give both Louie and Neill’s books to a child for Christmas, and you will be remembered forever, as shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom.

More exciting comics news – advanced level comic bookery!

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis

Further exciting comics news! Nick SousanisUnflattening, “an experiment in visual thinking”, weaves together allusions, allegories, and visual references in an extended comic-book essay on how we perceive and engage with the world. Unflattening is out in March next year, so bookmark the Unflattening product page at Harvard University Press and be ready to place an order. There’s really nothing quite like it. In the meantime, you can also go check out Nick’s website, Spin, Weave, and Cut.

Chang chang changitty chang shoobop. That’s the way it should be….

No matter how hard they’re punched: on superheroes and real-world issues

To round off my recent series of posts on comics and education, I’m joined by Professor Mark D. White of CUNY; Master’s student Tom Miller of McMaster University in Canada; Australian critic and screenwriter Martyn Pedler, currently completing an interdiscplinary PhD thesis on superhero stories at the University of Melbourne; and Nick Sousanis, an artist-educator and doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University.
 
The discussion was prompted by a piece on the Batman: Arkham City computer game on the Overthinking It website.
Batman: Arkham City video game cover 
In it, John Perich argued that ‘Superhero comics are rarely a good medium to talk about real-world issues’:

Nothing about Arkham City is subtle. But then, nothing about superhero comics has ever been subtle.

Whenever superhero comics try to get “edgy” and “real,” they bump against the limits of the genre. Superhero comics are meant to have action and thrills. That’s why people read them. So when a writer introduces a problem in a comics storyline, it has to be a problem that can be solved through thrilling action.

I used the article as a leaping-off point to ask Mark, Tom, Martyn, and Nick whether the need for fisticuffs prevents superhero comics from exploring deeper issues.

Read more