As an assignment for the “Visual Media Studies” course (GenEd course offered by the Faculty of Communications Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand), students from various faculties and departments (Architecture, Communication Design, Psychology, Engineering, Literature…) were asked to explore the concept of “windows on time in a single place” developed by American cartoonist Richard McGuire with his two stories titled “Here” (1989 in the pages of RAW, and 2014 as an extended graphic novel). The complete groundbreaking graphic narrative can be read on this post: “Here” by Richard McGuire.
Here are some of the results, tackling topics such as Thai political turmoil, adoption, Black Lives Matter, but also time travel, family ties and… cats. Many more results from the CommArts students are also posted on this page.
PS: click on the comics pages for higher resolution.
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!
One of the main creative assignments of the “Imaginative Communication” course [a Comparative Media course in which we explore the theme “How to Tell 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] is for the students to compose and produce a group performance based on refugee narratives. After visualizing refugees’ journeys graphically [see previous assignment “Refugee’s Grid and Gestures“], watching some related footages [Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 The Immigrant, Wilfredo Rivera’s immigration choreography The Golden Bird Cage, or PositiveNegatives’ animated zoom-comics North Star Fading], reading/watching comics and webcomics [Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Marc Ellison and Didier Kassai’s immersive graphic novel House Without Windows, or our former students’ refugee comics dice], discovering refugee installations [architect Mohamad Hafez’s multi-media installation Unpacked] and analyzing and comparing Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel and animated feature Persepolis, students were asked to compose a live pantomime performance of 3′ to 5′ [depending on the number of team members]. The constraint was that their refugee characters had to remain silent, voiceless, muted by the trauma, unable to speak the language of their ‘host’ country, or fearing to speak their own language and have their illegal/foreign status revealed.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis and while productions were well underway, performances couldn’t be presented live anymore for obvious safety reasons. Early March, students were asked to film and edit their performances as video footages so that their works could be screened online. On Wednesday March 26 in a virtual classroom, our 40 students introduced and displayed their video performances which were evaluated and commented by songwriter, performer and former [Performing Arts] CommArts student, Namtarn Jinwara (KhopKhunKhrap!) and yours truly.
I am really proud of these works, sometimes created under unexpected COVID-related logistic constraints. The brave team of exchange students -while scattered throughout the world to reach safely their native countries- managed to create an imaginative piece on their way home or while held in quarantine facilities… Below, you can discover film stills from the students’ projects, but also some of the actual performance videos. Here are the numerous choreographies, but also some creative short drama films, which sadly -and timely- echo the ongoing and future displacements of refugees caused by Climate Change, COVID-19 and other crises. Ajarn Nicolas Verstappen
Namtarn’s comments and mine were usually revolving on issues of clarity and meaning. Some performances could have been made more engaging and relatable through the narrative and recurring use of simple objects [as in the Dardenne brothers’ films] or indentifiable gestures developed as motifs. Another point was the lack of “feeling of space” which might be a crucial element in refugee narratives (belonging, borders, in-between…). Most performers move through wide empty rooms and one reason is, of course, related to COVID-19 constraints: most teams couldn’t find a safe, fitting and available location for the shooting. Yet, as we discussed during the session, there were some simple options. I mentioned the German Expressionist films‘ painted set designs which could be emulated with some black and white paints on cardboards.
Another reference provided was the set design of Lars von Trier’s 2003 feature film Dogville. Bold white lines on the floor may end up being quite effective.
Questions were also raised about production as I felt some works were slighlty too slick, sometimes missing the roughness of the refugee experience. On the other hand, some students were concerned that the quality of their videos had been impaired by production problems caused by the COVID crisis. I mentioned that improvisation and DIY approaches actually benefited the production; and I mentioned the DIY aesthetic of French director Michel Gondry on numerous music videos and movies, and mostly his lesser-known 2008 Be Kind Rewind feature film. Some excerpts were screened: The Chemical Brothers’ Let Forever Be MV, The White Stripes’ The Hardest Button to Button MV, Massive Attack’s Protection MV or Björk’s classic Bachelorette MV.
As a conclusion, I mentioned that all performance videos had a grim and dark tone and that other approaches were possible. Thinking about a Martin Parr aesthetic, I mentioned Dario Fau’s colorful and caustic music video Dégueulasse by Caballero and JeanJass. But all in all, I’m a #ProudAjarn, as I was so impressed by the involvement and dedication of my students on this meaningful project in a time where the fate of refugees is even more thrown into jeopardy, and invisibilized in the main news outlets. Ajarn Nicolas Verstappen
The graphic narratives produced by my Thai [and exchange] students were inventive and striking, as some explored not only the COVID-19 crisis but addressed social and political issues in a straightforward way, revealing Thailand’s traumatic decades made of military coups and bloody crackdowns. I guess the assignment came timely, capturing the frustrations of a new generation of young adults, revealing visually the overburduning and endless cycle of coups and sociopolitical struggles. With my students and with Richard McGuire’s approval, we decided to set the assignment as a challenge and invite everyone to take part, as we believe that in these times of self-isolation, it might be interesting to widen the limited and constrained space we now inhabit by exploring it through time.
“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.” (Art Spiegelman, in: Conan, N. (2011). MetaMaus: The Story Behind Spiegelman’s Classic; radio interview, Oct 5)
So here’s the layout that you are free to use [click on the image for larger version], and please add the hashtags #MeanwhileHereComics and/or #การ์ตูนที่นี่ (‘KatunTiNee’ which means “Here Comics” in Thai language) so that we can follow your artworks online.Thank you in advance for joining!
“Time, as cut into minute sausage slices and laid out on the [comics] page in an array from which larger connections and patterns may be sensed, is the cartoonist’s ‘paint’ or ‘clay.’ […] Trying to communicate the hugely incomprehensible yet indescriptibly fine texture of life in little reconstructions sort of mirrors the way we remember it… Really, when one come right down to it, in the end, that’s all we have: our memories!” (Chris Ware, in: Why I Love Comics. The New York Times , 2015)
OUR STUDENTS’ COMICS
#MeanwhileHereComics pages by students of the “Creative Writing Section 11 [Experimental and Fiction Comics Composition]” course. More will be added soon. In the captions below some pages, I’ve introduced links to some local/Thai events referred to in the graphic narratives. PS: I’m proud of my students’ hard and meaningful works. #ProudAjarn
As these “constrained comics” & concept are quite challenging, composition was achieved over a couple of weeks, and with the submission of several drafts commented by yours truly… via the Line app due to current COVID-19 crisis. If you want to spot the differences, and see how every minute detail [from color to fonts or encapsulation] matters in comics composition where “each element is thus: one with everything” (Nick Sousanis in: Unflattening, comics dissertation published by Harvard University Press, 2015).
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:
#ToSomeExtentChallenge: in-class creative assignment (“Introduction to Communication” course), at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) on Monday 13, 2020; the 46 fresh.wo.men were asked to create -in teams of 2 or 3 participants- a graphic narrative within an imposed L-shaped layout, and to consider the spatialization of the narrative elements. Duration: 60′.
The constrained comics exercise was developed for the first “student” edition of the international comics residency-lab atPierre Feuille Ciseaux on January 2019. The L-shaped layout is based on two comic strips dating from 1895 & 1905 (see below) found on the website Töpfferiana.
CommDe fresh.wo.men @ work!
And if you want to play with us, here are the 4 different layouts (with 4 or 5 panels).
It was a challenging but wonderful 4-hour workshop on “Polyptych Constrained Comics” in Taipei with amazing Taiwanese and Malaysian cartoonists on Sunday, 22 September 2019. They did great on one of the most complex comics structure [where narrative sequences unfold on a continuous background]. It was such a pleasure to work and share with these talented folks! Thank you all for participating, Huang Pei-Shan and Slowork Publishing for the invitation, Carole Wenyao for translating, and ASW Tea House for hosting!
The inaugural post explaining the constraints of the #UltraVioletChallenge exercise is available HERE.
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.