When abandoned by words, muted or silenced, Comics Art allows for different strategies to represent -or allude to- ‘invisible/invisibilized’ inner wounds, health and mental issues. These -usually overlapping- meaning-making strategies include, but are not limited to, the narrative use of colors, art/line style, textures and techniques (pencils, ballpoint pen, digital paint…), graphic embodiment of the characters, space-time interplay (space as time; contiguity of various moments/spaces/panels), braiding of visual motifs and visual metaphors, panels’ sizes and shapes, page composition (segmentation, layout, negative space…), text spatialization, speech balloons’ shapes and lettering, multi-modality (text-image dynamic; anchorage/relay, intertextuality), abstraction or suggestion (closure, gap between the panels). More on ‘the interaction between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare’, and the representation of (psychic) trauma, can be found on the website Graphic Medicine, and books such as Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories, and Graphic Reportage (Palgrave Macmillan), Hillary L. Chute’s Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form (Harvard University Press), Harriet E. H. Earle’s Comics, Trauma and the New Art of War (University Press of Mississippi) and Eszter Szép’s Comics and the Body: Drawing, Reading, and Vulnerability (The Ohio State University Press) among many other publications.
Harriet E. H. ‘Earle suggests that comics are the ideal artistic representation of trauma. Because comics bridge the gap between the visual and the written, they represent such complicated narratives as loss and trauma in unique ways, particularly through the manipulation of time and experience. Comics can fold time and confront traumatic events, be they personal or shared, through a myriad of both literary and visual devices. As a result, comics can represent trauma in ways that are unavailable to other narrative and artistic forms.’
The following 17 ‘Traumics’ (comics on trauma) or Graphic Medicine narratives were produced by Thai or exchange students from various faculties (Psychology, Architectural Design, Language and Culture, Communication Design, Communication Arts, Engineering) at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, during the Covid-lockdowns in 2021 and 2022 as the final creative projects of two of my courses: Imaginative Media, a comparative course on the representation of Refugee Narratives and Psychic Trauma in various media (literature, comics, movies, tv series, dance/choreographies, paintings…), and Visual Media Studies, a ‘General Education’ course mostly dedicated to the study of Graphic Narratives and Comics Art. Both courses include the study of Psychic Trauma and its representations through a series of lessons based on the seminal works of psychiatrists François Lebigot, Louis Crocq and Sándor Ferenczi, and on my conferences on Comics as a Language of Symptoms of Psychic Trauma. All students were made aware of the challenging nature and content of the courses on the first lesson (and could choose to drop the course, or skip the triggering content/lessons); they were free to select their graphic narrative’s topic, but it had to be related to psychic trauma or any other mental/health issues, and to change their topic at any point, if the ‘graphic’ composition felt too challenging. Some stories are based on personal experiences, other are based on research by the students. In preparation of the composition of their graphic narratives, we’ve analysed pages from a dozen trauma-related short comics or graphic novels from the US, Canada, Taiwan, Vietnam, Belgium or France. Along the semester, students worked on various (constrained/experimental) comics composition assignments. During the last weeks of the semester, individual consulting sessions with yours truly were held, one to discuss the first layout and a second to improve some elements of the advanced draft of their comics. Most of the students had no prior art/comics training, and the following stories are usually their very first comics narratives. Most stories reveal the crushing weight of social pressure/conformity in Thailand (and Asia), and that -if comics studies were rightfully considered and fully integrated in the university curriculum- students would be able to produce many more sophisticated and meaningful graphic narratives on social issues and as a means of self-expression and of mindful communication.
My deepest thanks to all my students as they were always fully dedicated to the ‘unconventional’ content of my courses and to the comics assignments they were given. More comics have been produced during these two courses, but some were either redundant with the stories presented here or need some additional editing before publication. More graphic narratives should be published online soon.
These ‘graphic’ narratives contain depictions of domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, child abuse, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, body shaming, [cyber-] bullying, disasters/mass shootings, discrimination, nudity, offensive language, and more…
Reproduced with permission. All rights remain to the authors/artists.
During the second semester of the 2021-22 academic year, we welcomed spearheading Thai artists Peeraphat Kittisuwat, Faan Peeti, Superfah Jellyfish and Isaree Pipatpongsa who held workshops in three different courses, with the goal of introducing our Inter CommArts Thai and exchange students to new graphic and narrative techniques in order to develop their visual literacy & composition skills in preparation of their final creative projects.
A) “TRANSITION WORKSHOP” with Thai designer & cartoonist PEERAPHAT KITTISUWAT
February 22, 2022. First on-site guest lecture/workshop in 2 years! The Inter CommArts students of my Creative Writing (Section 11: Experimental Comics) course welcomed Thai designer and cartoonist khun Peeraphat Kittisuwat, founder of P. Library Design Studio. After introducing us to his different works (in experimental and live-drawing animation, mural painting, book design of The Art of Thai Comics…) related to his stunning cutout & double-sided non-linear comics leporello in-between, khun Peeraphat invited our students to play with his book’s print proofs to compose new looped graphic narratives by cutting/pasting/rearranging sequences with new “twists”. The 11 students presented their narratives at the end of the workshop, getting comments and feedbacks from our guest. PS: it felt good to get back to a communal creative experience with the students (while respecting all Covid safety measures).
Some works by guest artist Peeraphat Kittisuwat:
Students at work during Peeraphat Kittisuwat’s workshop:
Students’ presentations in front of the classroom, and some graphic narratives produced during the workshop:
B-C) “SHAPE & TEXTURE DOUBLE WORKSHOP” with Thai illustrators FAAN PEETI and SUPERFAH JELLYFISH
March 07, 2022. The Inter CommArts students of my Creative Writing (Section 10: Non-Fiction Graphic Narratives) course welcomed Thai artists Faan Peeti(book illustrator and cartoonist who explored creative panel layouts in her Manustrip series for a day magazine) and Superfah Jellyfish (painter, tattoo artist, and author of challenging old-school zines such as Having Sex First Time and The Intimates). They held two creative workshops exploring the symbolic use of comics panels/borders and body positivity through acrylic painting with markers. These were wonderful and inspiring midterm workshops meant to prepare the students for their final creative project. [All safety measures were respected with mandatory masks, hand-washing, and ATK tests before the lesson for all participants].
A short introduction, by yours truly, on creative uses of comics panels preceded Faan Peeti’s workshop.
Some works by guest artist Faan Peeti:
Some works by guest artist Superfah Jellyfish:
Pictures from Faan Peeti’s talk and workshop on the creative use of comics panels/borders. Students were then asked to compose an autobiographical or autofictional comics page playing with the symbolism of comics panels/borders.
Pictures from Superfah Jellyfish’s talk and workshop on the creative use of acrylic painting and black markers to address body positivity.
D) “SHŌJO MANGA & RAPE CULTURE” TALK & WORKSHOP with Thai illustrator ISAREE PIPATPONGSA
March 29, 2022. Fourth and final guest lecture/workshop for the semester. The Inter CommArts students of my Imaginative Communication course welcomed Thai artist Isaree Pipatpongsa (Izary P. Pipat). Khun Isaree talked about her thesis Rape culture awareness campaign through the female perspectives and Shojo Manga influences (School of Fine and Applied Arts, Bangkok University), with an introduction to the history of Shōjo Manga, her take on the genre to address the issue of Rape Culture in Thailand, her thesis process and design concepts, and a presentation of the resulting [and stunning] A1 comics digital prints, animation and journey kit. The students then participated in a workshop, revisiting Shōjo Manga pages with various techniques (drawing, tracing paper layers, screentones, diplopia effect, collage…) to reveal insidious aspects of the Rape Culture. It was a fascinating talk and highly meaningful and creative workshop! [All safety measures were respected with mandatory masks, hand-washing, and ATK tests before the lesson for all participants].
Pictures from Isaree Pipatpongsa’s talk, with an introduction to the history of Shōjo Manga, her take on the genre to address the issue of Rape Culture in Thailand, her thesis process and design concepts.
The students got the opportunity to take a close look at Isaree Pipatpongsa’s stunning A1 comics digital prints and thesis journey kit.
Students were provided with relevant manga pages, and their tracing paper versions as well as screentone sheets. Applying various techniques (drawing, tracing paper layers, screentones, diplopia effect, collage, black-out poetry…), they composed new pages addressing the Rape Culture issue and the victim’s traumatic experience. Here are some pictures of the workshop, with guidance by Isaree Pipatpongsa, and of the class presentations and the resulting graphic narratives.
After several preparatory assignments [see dedicated post for details], CommArts students from the Creative Writing: Non-Fiction Comics Composition course [Chulalongkorn University, Thailand] were asked to produce their final assignment: an autobiographic comics. As mentioned in the previous post, the two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative. The stories were composed over a period of one month, instead of two due to the pandemic outbreak. Individual comment sessions were held weekly via the Zoom platform.
Here are some of the resulting graphic narratives! More coming soon!
[All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property. Some nicknames have been changed at student’s request].
Autobiographic comics by student B. (with some help from her sister).
Autobiographic (GIF) comics by exchange student Alex
Autobiographic comics by student Smile
Autobiographic GIF comics by student May
Autobiographic comics by student Por (with some help from Peera Tayanukorn)
Autobiographic comics by student Pranang (a handheld game console format containing a long comics strip that can be scrolled manually and with a main character -Pranang’s alter ego- which can be moved up and down).
Autobiographic comics by student Jay
Autobiographic comics by student G.
Autobiographic comics by student Pin
Autobiographic graphic narrative by student Paint
Autobiographic comics by student Plai
Pages from exchange student Meg Hoogendam’s digital comics book on HSP
As of January 2020, undergraduated students at the International Programme in Communication Management [Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University] are able to choose between two Comics Composition sections as part of their Creative Writing curriculum: experimental/fiction comics composition and non-fiction comics composition. The latter is a new 16-week [3 credits] section open to 30 students without any drawing/art training. I’m introducing in this post the preparatory assignments of the “non-fiction comics” section, meant to facilitate the composition of the semester final project; a short autobiographic comics. The two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. However, in a globalizing world and because of the “international” nature of the programme and of the students’ education [often in international schools], I considered these challenges worth facing.
The class was composed of 34 students [29 female students and 5 male students], and included 6 exchange students from abroad. All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property.
ALL-SEMESTER ASSIGNMENT: GRAPHIC DIARY
On the first week of class, students were asked to acquire a notebook and draw an entry related to their daily life every day and over the complete 16-week semester. The goal was to help the students to familiarize themselves with the act of drawing and the observation of their surroundings and inner thoughts and feelings. Progress was checked in the classroom every two weeks, then online when the Faculty closed its doors due to the pandemic. At times, the graphic diaries revealed the frustration, the angst and sometimes the isolation experimented by the students during the lockdown.
WEEK 01 ASSIGNMENT: SELF-PORTRAIT
After a first short lecture introducing non-fiction comics [autobiography, confessional comics, graphic medecine and comics journalism; with examples from Julie Doucet, Wimmen’sComix, Robert Crumb, Joe Matt, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Neeske Alexander, Jennifer Hayden and Joe Sacco), students were asked to draw their self-portrait “in situation” in a Chas Addams’ cartoon from which the upper part had been blanked out.
WEEK 02 ASSIGNMENT: 10 MEMORIES
Students were asked to write down 10 memories, 10 crucial moments -positive or negative- that still impact/haunt/enlight their lives up to this day. I discussed individually with each student to know which memory he/she is eager and confortable adapting into a comics narrative [narrative/graphic potential]. Two memories are sometimes related [theme/period/figures] and were selected to be merged into one narrative. This list/thematic approach comes from Tom Hart‘s guideThe Art of the Graphic Memoir(St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018). Numerous references and resources were borrowed from his useful book.
WEEK 03 LECTURE: CHARLOTTE SALOMON
We explored, among others, the work of German artist Charlotte Salomon and her series of nearly 800 goauches Life? Or Theatre? produced between 1940 and 1942.
WEEK 03 ASSIGNMENT: TEXT SUBSTITUTION
Each student was asked to develop -at home and in written form- his/her selected memory over an A4 page. In class, we analyzed Chris Ware’s short comics I Guess [click on link for full story] in which the written text [the sensitive memories of a child] is imposed -seemingly arbritrarily- in the captions and speech/thought balloons of a six-page Golden-Age-style superhero adventure. However, beyond the “disjunctive form of verbal/visual interplay”, some words or sentences seem to echo drawn elements and to form a braiding of motifs; Chris Ware plays here with the fact that comics readers are drawn to look for meaning in the interaction of the pictorial and the linguistic.
After the analysis of I Guess, students were asked to compose a graphic narrative using the same concept by simply imposing the text of their ‘selected and extended memory’ [A4 page] in the emptied captions and speech balloons from three pages of French cartoonist Xavier Mussat’s autobiographic comics Sainte Famille. The latter book was selected as Xavier Mussat extensively plays with visual metaphors and allegories and because these could become generative of unexpected and accidental resonances with my students’ written memories.
WEEK 04 ASSIGNMENT: DIFFERENT TONE
In order to further explore the memory selected by each student, I asked them rewrite their text but as if written by their younger self -in a personal diary- at the age they were when the chosen event took place. The text was to be written on black and white photocopies of some pages from French-Canadian cartoonist Julie Delporte‘s pencil-color and organic diary Journal (Koyama Press, 2013).
The following pages show student G’s memories [to be compared with her version on Xavier Mussat’s pages above], written down as a personal diary, along with Julie Delporte’s drawings on which G added watercolor.
The objective of the “text substitution” and “different tone” assignments is to lead the students -without prior art training- to get a sense of the graphic potential of their stories as a comics narrative, to consider the use of visual metaphors, allegories and motifs, as well as the narrative use of color and ‘voices’, and to trigger new and unexpected (and maybe forgotten) elements to feed their narrative through additional layers.
WEEK 05 ASSIGNMENT: WAIT! STOP, YOUNGERVERSION OF ME!
Now that students have been drawing in their daily graphic diary for a few weeks, and that they have played with their written texts in relation to pictures through various substitutions, they were asked to draw their first comics (in the classroom). The assignment is to draw a comics over 4 pages with imposed regular grids, and with an imposed speech balloon (containing the sentence: “Wait! Stop, younger version of me!”) in the third panel of the first page. The balloon was borrowed from American cartoonist Jess Fink’ sci-fi graphic memoir We Can Fix It! (Top Shelf, 2013) where the author goes back in time with a time machine to warn her younger self of -and thus try to avoid- mistakes she made in her past. Students were asked to write such a meeting with their younger selves.
“Like how does something happen, and… how does it reverberate through time? And that act of memory is important, and comics are great for memory. Like even when you have a short comic, like a three-panel comic, you’ve got a past, a present and a future as soon as you look at those three boxes. And that allows you to reflect and compare times.”
We explored the interplay of Time, Space and Memory in comics narratives by Richard McGuire, Lilli Carré, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons & Rick Veitch, Frank Miller, Kevin Huizenga, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Matt Madden, Nick Sousanis and Kiriko Nananan.
WEEK 05 – SPECIAL GUEST: FREDDY NADOLNY POUSTOCHKINE
On February 03, we were honoured to welcome French cartoonist Freddy Nadolny Poustochkine as a guest. We talked time, space, the fabric/material of memory and comics art in his creative process from his autobiographical comics La chair des pommes(ego comme x) to his Cambodia-set La colline empoisonnée (Futuropolis) and his ongoing project; and of the seminal importance of (his) sketchbooks. More pictures on this dedicated post.
WEEK 06 ASSIGNMENT: THE MEMORY TREE
Based on works by Chris Ware and ideas borrowed from the previous lecture and Freddy’s talk, students were asked to map their memory on an A3 page, adding photographs of themselves, of related places and characters, and of artworks (posters, paintings, quotes…) echoing the emotions they experienced during the ‘life-changing’ event they will tell in comics form as their final project.
The composition of comics essays in small groups was originally considered as an assignment during the semester. Sadly, due the Covid outbreak, group projects were canceled at midterm. As we weren’t yet aware of that fact, one early lecture was dedicated on [non-fiction] comics essay composition; I explained the process of creating a comics essay based on a two-pager I wrote for a special issue of KaiHuaRoh magazine with art by Ployjaploen “Bamie” Paopanlerd. I went through the various stages of composition, from the first idea [informed by numeorus influences] to thumbnailing and other schaffoldings leading to a clear non-linear narrative (with much help from the artist).
WEEK 08 [MIDTERM]: COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
As for examples, a useful reference was Rob Stolzer‘s students work from his Graphic Narration class.
After reading the students ‘memory trees’, I suggested to each student various approaches, comics references or motifs/connections worth exploring before adapting his/her selected memory into a comics narrative.
WEEKS 09 TO 16: INDIVIDUAL [ONLINE] CONSULTING AND FINAL RESULTS
The autobiographic comics composed by the students will be published in an upcoming post! [Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative]. More soon!
As part of the “Thai Culture for Communication: Graphic Narratives” course, fresh.wo.men at the International Program of the Faculty of Communications Arts (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) were asked to compose a knowledge comics on the usually-derogatory representation of the indigenous Maniq ethnic group in Thai culture. Known as ‘Ngo Paa’ in Thai (and sometimes referred to as Negritos or Sakai), the MAniq people live in the forests of Southern Thailand and were essentiliazed as a dark-skinned traditional folktale figure. The following graphic narrative -composed by students Tiara, Prim, Name and Praewah- offers an interesting insight on this Thai population, and on the cultural biases and unfair treatments they suffered, as well as a message of understanding and hope. Because #BlackLivesMatter in Thailand too.
“During the period that Kanang lived with King Chulalongkorn, he was generally considered as the King’s adopted son (Duangjan 1988). At the court, Kanang was taught how to dance and play the part of the Negrito in the Sangthong play, and he became the regular actor of this role in performances before the king’s guests. The sensational moment in the drama is when Prince Sangthong takes off his ‘ugly’ Negrito mask to reveal his beautiful noble self. The audience was shocked to see that under the mask was a real live Ngo Paa.” Nathan Porath [“Developing indigenous communities into Sakai in South Thailand and Riau (Indonesia)”, 2003]
Bangkok, 11 February 2020. This semester for the “Imaginative Media: [How to Tell the Unutterable]” course at the Faculty of Communication Arts (Chulalongkorn University), our distinguished guest is khun Nana Wipaphan Wongsawang, founder of the Thai Consent platform which aims at providing [testimonial and illustrated] references for victims of sexual abuse who need useful materials to understand themselves better. An inspiring & challenging talk on the critical issues of sexual abuse, rape culture, consent and representation. After studying the mechanisms of Psychic Trauma and its depictions in tv series, movies, choreographies or graphic novels, our students will compose trauma-related short comics [or #Traumics] on sexual abuse, and will present them to khun Nana in a month. Later, students will also propose various [innovative] campaign ideas to promote & support the Thai Consent platform.
Also on FaceBook: Thai Consent
Thank you/merci/khopkhunkhrap khun Nana!
During the second lesson of the “Imaginative Communication” course [a Comparative Media course in which we explore the theme “To Say the Unutterable” by analyzing and comparing the depiction of Psychic Trauma in various visual media, from comics to animated & live-action movies, tv series or choreographies], I asked my Thai & exchange students at the Faculty of Communication Arts (Chulalongkorn University) to do the “Grid and Gestures” exercise developed by Nick Sousanis, professor of Humanities & Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University, and author of the groundbreaking comics dissertation Unflatteningpublished by Harvard University Press in 2015.
[Course: Imgt Comm, 2800217, International Program, CommArts, Chulalongkorn University, 20 January 2020, with 35 students]
The purpose statement for the exercise provided by Nick Sousanis is as follows:
“So here’s how to think about Grids & Gestures. Quickly, have a look at your ceiling tiles or other grid-ish things around you. If you then imagine putting these features to music, you might have regular long notes on the tiles, some shorter notes, and maybe rapid staccato beats on a ventilation grill. Ok, now come back to a comics page – and think about the idea that in comics, time is written in space. Comics are static – and it’s in the way we organize the space that we can convey movement and the passage of time. Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition. The way you orchestrate these elements on the page is significant to the meaning conveyed – there are some strong correspondences between comics and architecture in terms of thinking about the way the entire space operates together.
Having briefly thought about this, I want you to take a single sheet of paper (any size, shape will do) and drawing with a pencil or pen, carve it up in some grid-esque fashion that represents the shape of your day. It can be this day, a recent day, a memorable day, or a typical/amalgamation day. And then inhabit these spaces you’ve drawn on the page with lines, marks, or gestures that represent your activity or emotional state during those times represented. The emphasis here is to do your best to not draw things. (You can always do that later!) And also, you can leave space blank on your page – but that has to mean something. This isn’t writing where you can finish a final sentence mid-page. Every inch of the composition is important in comics – so be aware of that as well. Finally, when I do this in class or with groups, I give people about 5-10 minutes to do it, so they have to make decisions quickly. Try to give yourself a similar limit.”
Adapting the exercise to depict a refugee’s journey
After this first exercise was completed, I asked the students to draw a second “Grids and Gestures” page but, instead of depicting a personal day/travel/experience, they had to draw the perilous travel of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali, 20, who had filmed her journey from the ruins of Kobane in Syria to Austria.
“Her footage shows what many refugees face on their perilous journey to Europe. Rania is cheated by smugglers, teargassed and beaten at the Macedonian border. She risks drowning in the Mediterranean, travelling in a boat meant to hold 15 people but stuffed with over 50. Those with disabilities are carried across raging rivers and muddy fields in their wheelchairs.” (The Guardian).
During the 22′ footage, some students drew the “Grids and Gestures” of Rania as her narrative was unfolding while other students preferred to take some notes and draw Rania’s grid right after the end of the film.
The outcome has been positive as students focused [more than usual] their attention on the emotions and struggles experienced by the refugees, trying to capture Rania’s emotional states, and discovering -as they were drawing on a limited space- the physicality and volume of incessant ups-and-downs (hopeful/hopeless…) and turns of events (wait/treks/dead ends/returns) faced during these precarious and usually dramatic odysseys. I’ll try to find time to study the results of this experiment in detail, and see if it tends to raise awareness/mindfulness (Sati/สติ) and empathy towards refugees. A promising exercise.
Here are some of the “grids and gestures” depicting the journey of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali and composed by CommArts students:
The inaugural post explaining the constraints of the #UltraVioletChallenge exercise is available HERE. And more results are available there.
For this post, I wanted to display results by students who never pursued any drawing formation. The 3rd and 4th Year Performing Arts students of my “Imaginative Media” course accepted the challenge, and the results are again interesting and varied… and fun!
#UltraVioletChallenge: “Making Sense of Signs (and Fragments)” in-class creative assignment (“Imaginative Media” course, Thai Program, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University); create a figurative comics based on an imposed abstract comics (duration: 90′). Based on a constrained comics exercise used atPierre Feuille Ciseaux international comics residency-lab.
#VforVersion(s); alteration of imposed comics pages in foreign language -to the participants- (German edition of British creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd‘s V for Vendetta, and original edition of French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim‘s Psychanalyse) by partial deletion with white-out liquid of textual elements -such as sentences, words, letters or letter parts- to form a new text in English language which would be consistent with the unaltered pictorial sequence.
“Ajarn [teacher], where do you find all the ideas you torture us with every week?”
Student Gam during the in-class assignment. Answer: Oupus series, OuBapo FB page, and my tortuous mind.
Under a “transformative constraint (which alter existing works)” students -in teams of 2 to 5 participants- were asked to do a partial alteration of the written texts, by erasing/covering with white-out liquid some textual element in order to form new sentences which would be consistent with the unaltered pictorial sequence. Additionally, students had to compose English (words and) sentences by respecting the order of appearance of the selected letters (or groups of letters). The most painstaking -if not painful- aspect of the exercise was related to the pages in German and French languages, two foreign languages that participating Thai and exchange students do not speak. If text alteration constraints aren’t new in Literature or Comics Art (see Lettrism, Tom Phillips, blackout poetry, cut-up technique, TNT en Amérique by Jochen Gerner [Fig 2], OuBaPo), the use of texts written in a language not spoken by the participant(s) seems to me less usual (as far as I know). The inability to understand the content of the foreign text and the constraint to propose an altered text in a mastered language (here English) are indeed quite a radical restrictions.
Even if German, French and English languages share the same Roman script (with sometimes additional letters) and if they share numerous cognates (or words with a common etymological origin) as neighboring Indo-European languages, these cognates have taken different forms (such as “colleague” in English, “collègue” in French and “Kollege” in German). Unable to use cognates (or false cognates or false friends) unless sharing identical spellings, participants are thus forced to compose English words (and sentences) with smallest units of writings like graphemes or syllables (or digraphs or larger groups of successive letters). In the first illustration (Fig 1), student Mon was forced to the radical alteration of the German sentence “Den Zorn, der Feuer vom Himmel regnen liess.“(Fig 1B; That Wrath which did rain fire from the Heavens) to compose the English clause “No lie” (Fig 1 C, D). Participants also came to appreciate (sigh) the different ratios of vowels and consonants, as well as the different frequencies of letters and syllables, in German, French and English languages… Students noted the low frequency of the vowel ⟨o⟩ in German (2.594%) compared to French (5.796%) and English (7.507%). Consequently, the newly formed English sentences tended to be quite short. Using V’s theatrical tirades (and Alan Moore’s verbose writing) was truly convenient in this regard. Let’s note here that the high frequency of the vowel ⟨e⟩ and ⟨d⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨t⟩) in French language will be put to good use by students Por and Jean in their hilarious story “DOT” altering pages of Lewis Trondheim’s Psychanalyse (see Fig 5). Accidentally and to the delight of the French speakers, the two students ended their narrative on an English-French false friend word (and within the purest Lewis Trondheim tradition). Quite a revealing slip of the pen, would have said Freud and Lacan.
The two main objectives of this exercise under radical restriction were: first, to prevent the participants from relying to much on familiar words and clauses that could be used without much alteration; second: to ensure that the altered text would be a complete creation with a new set of meanings, not influenced by the original content of the written text (as its meaning isn’t understood by the participants who don’t speak the language in which it is written) but mostly by their own interpretation of the visual sequences they are imposed with. The accompanying visual sequence is an additional productive constraint which led to the selection of possible themes and story-lines. The alteration of the comics pages excerpted from Lewis Trondheim’s Psychanalyse -a proto-OuBaPian comics itself using the constraint of iconic iteration applied to only two different panels (see below)- was in this respect less productive; the minimal visual “context” complicated the selection of a theme or concept (within the allocated time). However, it led to the brilliant “DOT” story by students Por and Jean (see Fig 5). The challenge was, as I said, painstaking -if not painful at times (sorry, kiddos!)- but the resulting pages were worth the effort, filled with comics poetry -if not Poetic Justice- and concert tickets for AC/DC (see Fig 20)…
Students Noinae, Paan and Boss whiting out together fragments of text from Lewis Trondheim’s “Psychanalyse”, to finish their assignment on time.
Student French Fries whitening out fragments of text from the German edition of “V for Vendetta”.
Text alteration on the German edition of “V for Vendetta”.
A Circle of Inferno in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. CommArts students at work.
Text alteration on Taiyo Matsumoto’s “Sunny”.
Additional comments on the constraints:
The choice of V for Vendetta pages was made for several reasons: first, as a nod to the Master Class held two years ago during this course by V for Vendetta‘s co-creator and artist David Lloyd; second, the pleasure to enjoy his starck chiaroscuro technique with masterful use of negative spaces, third; to make the use of Alan Moore’s verbose script in the process of extended deletion of text; fourth, because the graphic novel V for Vendetta is sadly as relevant now than it was then, moreover in current Thai context.
Time limit for the in-class assignment was 3 hours for section 10’s teams (with all three V for Vendetta pages to be altered) and 2 hours for section 11’s teams (with only one V for Vendettapage to be altered).
As mentioned earlier, many letters are not as frequent in German or in French as in English. To alleviate their suffering, students were allowed to tamper with some letterforms but only by reduction (deletion/erasing). The leg of ⟨K⟩ could be white out to form a ⟨Y⟩; same goes for ⟨R⟩ turned into a ⟨P⟩ (or even a ⟨D⟩). The diagonal stroke of ⟨Z⟩ was turned in a typographical slash (to form the slash in AC/DC). ⟨E⟩ could become ⟨I⟩ or ⟨L⟩ or ⟨F⟩; ⟨N⟩ turned into ⟨V⟩; or “NV” into ⟨W⟩ with erasure of the first stroke and some stretch of closure. Digraphs could be transformed into punctuation marks, such as “TR” into an ellipsis (“…”).
“The main interest for me of the comic strip is the infinite possible links between text and image : a system of representation continually confronting , in a kind of alchemy, text and picture . This is the field I endeavour to explore on my own or with OuBaPo (Ouvroir de Bande dessinée Potentielle).
The idea ‘TNT en Amérique’ sprang from these remarks with OuBaPo, from exercises, experiments. I try to find new reading perspectives. I dismantle a given material to make something else of it.” Jochen Gerner (source).
The use of logograms was also allowed. With ⟨N’⟩ for “and”, ⟨C⟩ for “see”, ⟨U⟩ for “you”, ⟨R⟩ for “are”, etc. Usage of slang was permitted too. The slang shortnening “Da” for “the” was accepted as well as “De” for “the” as it remained consistent with the accent of a German character (see Fig 3: A.B. Frost‘s comics, #VforVomans!).
Lewis Trondheim’s handwriting in Psychanalyse tended to complicate the browsing of the text to find usable graphemes and words. However, some ambiguous handwritten letterforms were put at good use with some ⟨O⟩ used as ⟨D⟩ (orconversely), ⟨U⟩ as ⟨V⟩, or ⟨L⟩ as ⟨C⟩.
WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE [sic]. We do apologize for the use of graphic language in the resulting pages, but the high frequency of the letters ⟨F⟩, ⟨U⟩, ⟨K⟩, ⟨C⟩ or ⟨B⟩, ⟨I⟩, ⟨T⟩, ⟨H⟩ in German language led to the formation of some English swear words; that’s explanation I’ve decided to provide anyway… And yes, “underwear” was spelled “underware” (see Fig 22), because it’s how I pronounce it with my French accent, I guess… #PoeticLicense #PardonMyFrench #Sic
2. Results for Psychanalyse
Note on Psychanalyse. In the pages of his minicomic series ACCI H3319self-published between 1988 and 1990, then-debuting French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim produced comic strips and single-page comics narratives relying only on the repetition of a photocopied single panel or a highly limited set of different panels. For instance, in the series of strips collected under the title Psychanalyse [Psychoanalysis] (by Le Lézard Noir, and later by L’Association), each comics page is built only with 4 different panels -but duplicated and arranged following the constraint of “iconic iteration”- presenting, in close-up, the minimalist depiction of a patient discussing with his psychiatrist (kept off-panel). Our transformative constrained exercise is thus applied to comics pages built themselves on proto-OuBaPian productive constraints.
3. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 1)
NOTE: more resulting altered pages of this first excerpt are displayed at the end of this post.
4. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 2)
“[V trying to get tickets for] an AC/DC concert: believable. Convincing scenario is essential in any storytelling…”
David Lloyd, V for Vendetta co-creator and artist, commenting on the previous page altered by student French Fries.
5. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 3)
6. Results for Sunny
“When Por told me her concept, I said: ‘Por, this is an idea to get us a F’.”
Student Jean about the following altered narrative; a bold move indeed…
7. More altered pages (“V”)
“I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. This is too complicated, Ajarn [teacher]. I’m gonna die.”
#LetMeSeeYourEyes; substituting the dialogue of a comics/manga page with imposed lines excerpted from Norwegian cartoonist Jason‘s Why Are You Doing This? (Fantagraphics, 2005; Editions Carabas, 2004, for original French version).
“Great idea for an exercise (the source is impeccable, of course!). The examples work really well, and the Peanuts page shows how this principle can be expanded on and could even be used for a book-length work made up of quotes, borrowed page layouts, mash-ups, etc.” Matt Madden(February 17, 2018), cartoonist and teacher best known for his book 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Penguin), as well as a member of Oubapo (Workshop for Potential Comics), and later a French knight in the Order of Arts and Letters.
January 2018. The sixty-two (3rd and 4th year) students in the Creative Writing for Printed Matter course (sections 10 and 11; “Graphic Writing”) at the International Program (BA) in Communication Management (Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok , Thailand) were provided with a series of imposed lines excerpted from Jason’s comics Why Are You Doing This?: “So… Did you do it? / Sorry? / Was it you who killed that man earlier today? / No. No, it wasn’t. / Let me see your eyes. / All right. Follow me.” After being shown an example (Tintin in Tibet; see below) and as a home assignment, students were given one week to find a comics/manga page in which the dialogue might fit -with the least possible alteration- by substitution.
“The function of relay is less common (at least as far as the fixed image is concerned); it can be seen particularly in cartoons and comic strips. Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship; the words, in the same way as the images, are fragments of a more general syntagm [sequence of linguistic units] and the unity of the message is realized at a higher level, that of the story, the anecdote, the diegesis […].” Roland Barthes, Rhetoric of the Image (translation S. Heath), in: Image, Music, Text, 1977.
Goals of this warm-up exercise; production of new comics pages by students without any particular artistic training; browsing of dozens of comics pages, and development of the “image reading” skill by focusing students’ attention on visual motifs in pictures and sequences; development of multimodal literacy through the combination/confrontation of visual (drawings), aural (speech, tone), linguistic (delivery of both “written and spoken” text), gestural (facial expressions/body language/postures) and spatial (spatialisation of text & sequences of adjacent panels) modes; exploration of text/image relationship (anchorage/relay); to stress out the importance of eye contact in drama.
“[Comics] doesn’t blend the visual and the verbal – or use one simply to illustrate the other – but is rather prone to present the two non-synchronously; a reader of comics not only fills in the gaps between panels but also works with the often disjunctive back-and-forth of reading and looking for meaning.” Hillary Chute, “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative”, in: PMLA, 123(2), 2008
Commenting on Gunther Kress’s Multimodality, Jacobs notes that linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial elements combine in comics narratives and that, “[taken] together, these elements form a multimodal system of meaning making.” (“More than Words: Comics as a Means of Teaching Multiple Literacies”, in: The English Journal, 96(3), 2007.
1. Text substitutions by CommArts students; without any order/speech balloon alteration (except for an additional ellipsis, or “…”, in a couple of pages)
2. Text substitutions by CommArts students; respecting the order of the imposed lines but not their strict succession (distribution of the imposed lines before and after text retained from the original comics page).